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

Friday, December 31, 2010

Auguri a Tutti! Buon Anno Nuovo

Happy New Year to all!!!  I want to wish everyone a healthy and happy 2011!!!!

Here in Venice there is a great celebration about to kick off in St. Mark's square for the countdown to midnight with entertainment and fireworks over the lagoon.  This year, we stayed in.

Today marks two weeks at home after the knee surgery, and boy it's been two busy weeks.  My orders from the doctors and my physical therapist were to walk, walk, walk, and do my exercises every day, so that's exactly what I've been doing.  We walked in the snow. We walked in Aqua Alta.  When it's been really too cold, I walk a circuit in the apartment with my dog Sam trailing behind me every step of the way. 

Every day gets a little better and there is a little less pain. I spend most of my day working my knee- either walking, or doing exercises, followed by an ice pack break. This week I did my first walk outside solo.   After the holidays I will be returning to Fate Bene Fratelli for a few weeks of outpatient rehab.  

There are people in the streets yelling, and setting off small fireworks. It's that time!  Auguri, tutti!!!

Fate Bene Fratelli - Part 1

The transfer from Ospedale to Fate Bene Fratelli in Cannaregio may very well have been one of my most Venetian experiences ever.  It was scheduled for 5pm on November 21, but the boat was late, it was more like 6:30 pm when two paramedics with a wooden wheelbarrow type chair arrived at my room.  I wish I had a photo of the chariot they use.  Literally, it's a wooden chair, with two long wooden handles attached to it. You get sort of dumped into the "chair", and they haul you off!  In my case, getting me settled into the chair took a little bit of doing, as my left knee wasn't able to bend.  What the paramedics did before we took off was to attach my right leg to the end of the right side handle using a nylon strap so it was hanging down from the handle. For the left leg, instead of dangling it under the handle like the other leg, they sort of tied the leg directly to the handle so it didn't move as they wheeled me.  And then we took off.  One paramedic handled the ride from my room to the boat dock and I just hung on for dear life, in absolute amazement. We zoomed through hospital corridors and out the door at the Emergency Room exit, where the ambulance boats all dock. 

At this point, before I knew what was happening, the two paramedics lifted the chair up and they climbed up onto the duckboards (high water platforms) that were lined up from the doorway down to the dock.  One of them explained that a few hours earlier there was Aqua Alta!  Glad I missed that.  We got to the boat, where there were 3 other men.  My paramedics lifted me up over the side of the boat, still in the chair, handed me off to the other 3 men who put me down into the boat, and pushed me through two doors into the covered inside part of the boat, which looked to me just like an ambulance.  One of the paramedics who had come from my room also rode in back with Mike and I. 

The ambulance boat then took off, with blue lights blazing.  I was annoyed it was too dark out to get a good look at where we were going. I could tell we were riding parallel to Fondamenta Nove for awhile, then turned left onto a smaller canal.  About 15 minutes later they pulled up along side Fate Bene Fratelli.  The whole getting me into the boat routine was reversed, I was lifted up onto the street, still in my chariot, then wheeled inside by my two paramedics, followed by Mike.  The paramedics did some check-in procedure with the man at the desk, and I was told we would have to wait a little bit, they weren't ready for me just yet, but someone would be down to get me shortly. 

While we waited, my poor left leg was in major pain.  One of the paramedics kept asking me how I was, and I kept telling him I was in pain.  He bent down to his knees, unhitched my left leg,and cradled it in his arms, trying to make me more comfortable than to have it strapped to the handle of this chair gizmo.  In about 10 minutes, a guy arrives with a wheelchair for me.  The object was for me to be transferred to the wheelchair and the paramedics could leave.  Unfortunately, this particular wheelchair didn't have any attachment to it that would allow my left leg to be out straight, and I couldn't bend it.  Bottom line, the wheelchair wasn't going to work. So, my two paramedics wheeled me to my room, unhitched me from the chariot, and lifted me into my bed.  The one who had held my leg in the foyer downstairs  told me he was sorry for my pain.  I thanked him, but I sure hope I run into him again someday so I can thank him again.  I will never forget his small kindness.

So- here I was in my new home for the next 3 weeks. Room 123.  The nurse, a guy named Antonio, did some additional paperwork with me and then asked if I was hungry.  YES!  He arranged for some dinner to be brought to me, and then he proceeded to show me how my automatic bed worked.  What? an automatic bed? The whole bed goes up and down, the back elevates, and so does the foot.  Have I gone to heaven?  I don't have to ring for a nurse to arrange the back of the bed here?  This is good.  Also, the bottom of the bed had this little hood like thing on it, designed to hold the bedcovers off of your legs. This gizmo proved to be one of the greatest little comforts imaginable!

When dinner arrived, it was very good, another pleasant surprise. 

When we first learned I'd be moved to this facility, Mike and I made a little joke about the name Fate Bene Fratelli.  We called it Fate Buono Fritelli instead, which translates to Make Good Fritelli.  This is particularly meaningful to me, as I love the Venetian treat, the Fritelli, which is made only at Carnevale time.  Essentially a Fritelli is a donut, stuffed with things like zabagone, crema, or, my favorite, ricotta with pinenuts and raisins.  Oh, this is one heavenly little treat!  Fate Bene Fratelli, on the other hand, means Make Well Brothers.  Great name.  And I can tell you that over the next 3 weeks, I had first hand experience at how well they did with that. 

Note: Thanks, Yvonne for sending this great photo of Fate Bene Fratelli.  I took a few, but this one is much better.

More on six days in Ospedale Civile

When my surgery was scheduled originally, I was told I would be in the hospital 7-10 days, then have 3 weeks of rehabilitation. So I had prepared myself for a long 10 days in here. I asked if I could have my laptop- no. I asked if I could have my cell phone- probably not, no signal in the building. Hmm. This was going to be more of a challenge than I thought. I brought the cell phone, and decided I'd be optimistic about it. And, on rare occassion, I actually got a signal.

Ospedale Civile is an enormous building. I get lost in it every time I go there. It's located inside the Scuola Grande di San Marco, in Campo Giovanni e Paolo. Zillions of tourists stop and stare at the incredible facade on this building every year, and walk past it never even realizing it's our hospital. So.. deep inside this monstrous old building, which became a hospital in the early 1800's, I spent six interesting days.

A few immediate impressions:

- Everyone, without exception, wears white scrubs. In the USA, I am so used to seeing nurses in colorful tops- bunnies, flowers, birds, santas. You name it, it will be on some nurse's garb. Not here. It's all white- V neck tops and white pants. Everyone wears the same blue sweater if they are cold.

- Hospital food is hospital food no matter where you go. It wasn't anything to write home about. For breakfast there was the normal pastry with a cup of tea or coffee. Lunch was usually a pasta or soup for the first course, followed by a meat and vegetable for secondo. Dinner was pretty much the same as lunch. Ususally there was also fresh fruit available.

-Italian nurses seem to know how to stick you for blood with alot more precision than I ever experienced in the US. I was used to nurses taking 2, 3, 4 attempts to get a needle in, and me always having an incredibly bruised arm afterwards. This never happened here.

During the course of my six days, I got to know several different shifts of nurses, and some of them were quite the character. My favorite was the big burly bald headed guy with a goatee, who reminded me more of Hulk Hogan. I wish I could remember his name! Everyone knew I was "The Americana", and that was usually the topic of conversation whenever a nurse was with me, either to stick me for blood or change the sheets, they were all asking me why I was there. Some of the younger nurses knew a tiny bit of English. One particular day one girl asked me if I needed more drugs and my answer was "Oh yeah!!" She repeated "Oh yeah", and from then on everytime she was in to visit me she'd ask me some question or we'd be talking about something or other, and she would always say "Oh yeah".

On one day, this young nurse and the big burly Hulk Hogan guy were at my bed, hooking up the knee machine for me to use. Hulk Hogan heard us talking, and he says " Colorado" out of the blue. Oh, you know Colorado? With a big smile, he says "Si, and Frank Sinatra!" He was singing "Strangers in the Night" as he walked out of my room. Gotta love it.

Talk about Strangers in the Night.... some strange stuff goes on in the hospital at night. I'm not a good sleeper, so I needed them to give me medication. What I was hoping for was to be knocked out so I could get some good sleep. Not going to happen. My roommate snored. Big time. Besides that, there were two women down the hall who screamed "Aiuto mi" (Help me) all night long at the top of their lungs. And I have not yet figured out what the nurses do after they put all the patients down for bed. The nurses station was across the hall from my room, and while I was up all night, I would hear them laughing and eating all night long. I wished my leg was working so I could have gotten up and gone to hang out with them.

They did give me sleeping medication, but what they gave me didn't do a thing One night having nothing to do but stare at the ceiling, I made notes on what I thought would make a great Saturday Night Live skit--- notes for a Do it yourself Knee replacement Kit, for all those poor folks without insurance but need to have the operation. That same night, as one of the nurses made her late rounds she stopped and asked me why I was still awake. And then she says,"We can put you down with the two screamers if you like! " No thanks, I'll stay right here. After night three, they upped my sleeping medication dosage, and I did sleep. Whatever they gave me left me a little less than lucid in the morning also.

On day 3, I spent what seemed to be most of the day getting transfusions, since my blood pressure was so low. I learned to say "Gira in testa" (my head is spinning/ I'm dizzy) real fast.
My orthopedic surgeon visited that day, the ace bandages on my leg were taken off, the dressing changed and the drain removed. He told me everything went well, it looked good, and I had to be getting up. Yes, I wanted to be up also.

The getting up didn't work so well. I managed to get about 10 steps from the bed before I got so dizzy I nearly passed out. The two nurses with me got me back into the bed. I continued to use the knee machine that was brought to my bed to move my knee, but I wasn't up walking.

On day 4, a nurse informed me that I would be moved in two days to Fate Bene Fratelli at 5pm. That's all she told me. What??? I had no clue what Fate Bene Fratelli was. Fortunately, the daughter of the woman in the bed next to mine was there at the time, and she explained to me that Fate Bene Fratelli is a rehabilitation center in Cannaregio. Her mother had been there the year before, and would be going there again when she was released from the hospital in a few days. She told me the staff was wonderful, and it was a very good place. My roommate was an adorable little elderly woman named Loredana who was in for a hip replacement.

The pain medication was wonderful. It was administered by IV, and whenever I said I felt pain, a new bottle was hooked up, and I felt good again. Aside from the low blood pressure problem I really felt pretty good. I was hooked up to the knee machine twice a day to keep my knee moving, and on day six, I actually was able to get up out of the bed and walk down the hall and back to my bed with two crutches and the assistance of the physical therapist.

My husband Mike came to visit me twice a day, making the trip by the number 42 boat from Piazzale Roma to Fondamenta Nove and walking the rest of the way. On days when it wasn't exceptionally foggy and the #52 was running, he could take that all the way to Ospedale.

On day six, I was disconnected from my IV, and around 4:30 pm I got ready to be moved to Fate Bene Fratelli., which was supposed to happen at 5pm. Finally out of a hospital gown and into my own clothes!!! That felt good. We waited, and waited, and finally a nurse came and told us the move would be delayed, there were no boats yet, but one would be coming. The next chapter in my adventure was about to begin.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Buon Natale a tutti!!!!

If you have been keeping track of Venice weather, then you know we have been having a run of Aqua Alta. Last night at midnight the water was extremely high, 140 cm. Tonight at midnight it's estimated at 120 cm, so because of that Christmas Eve midnight mass in ST. Mark's will be held at 10 pm instead of midnight.

We're having a very low key holiday this year., staying home. It's about all I can manage. Mike put up and decorated the Christmas tree while I was in the hospital, so it was great to come home to alittle holiday spirit. I normally hang lights on our balcony. Next year!

Buon Natale!! Merry Christmas to all. I hope you all have a very special holiday season.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Surgery day

I don't remember a whole lot of November 16, but what I do remember needs to be recorded here.

I was having full knee replacement surgery, which involves inserting a metal substitute for the knee joint into the two leg bones. I knew ahead of time the make and model of the knee joint I'd be receiving- an American made prosthetic. I also had lots of fears. Would my legs be the same size when they were done? That was a huge worry in my mind. Would the new knee be the right size for my leg? Would I be able to wear high heels ever again? Would I be able to sit indian style on the floor ever again? All these thoughts were running through my head as I was being wheeled off to surgery on the morning of November 16. Thankfully, those magic happy drops the nurse gave me took such an edge off, the answers to all my questions weren't very important at the moment.

It was a short gurney ride to surgery. I'd never seen anything like it. You enter an area that is entirely stainless steel, with one big open slot in one wall. There is a nurse on the other side of this slot, I could see her. My gurney was wheeled up to the slot, lined up, and with a one, two, shove, I was moved off the gurney, through the slot, and onto another gurney on the other side. I recall the two nurses having some sort of conversation, and then my gurney was moved a bit, and a doctor walked over to me. He had colorful glasses. Green frames, and he wore a colorful surgical cap. I remember telling him I didn't speak much Italian. He made some small talk, then told me he was going to give me an ansethetic that would only numb me from the waist down, I'd be awake otherwise. A second doctor was in front of me, I was now sitting on the gurney, while the anesthesiologist inserted a needle into my spine. It seems like only a few minutes later and I didn't feel a thing in my legs, and they wheeled me into the operating arena.

I could see all sorts of equipment, trays of instruments, numerous nurses and doctors all moving around, getting things set up. They put a dark green piece of material screen-like thing in front of my face so I couldn't see a thing (thank goodness), and things started to happen. I heard lots of chatter, nothing I could particularly remember afterwards, but I know everyone seemed to be happy. Doctors were singing, one of them I know for sure was singing this popular Italian song "Ancora". What I remember most the sounds of lots of drilling and sawing, which seemed to go on forever. I was imagining Santa's Elves with dremel tools making toys. Really.

The next thing I remember is arriving at my hospital room being moved off a gurney into the bed. My left leg was wrapped in ace bandages. I was told the surgery itself was about 2 hours. I was in recovery a bit longer. The very first thing I did was put my two legs together and look at them to try to determine if they were still the same length. They appeared to be, so I felt relieved. One worry I could tick off my list.

What I expected next was that later that day or the next morning I would be gotten out of bed. I had read that getting out of bed early was necessary with knee replacement surgery. Unfortunately for me, that did not happen. I had pretty severe low blood pressure, which made me extremely dizzy, so I wasn't able to get out of bed that day or the next. I'm someone who has had high blood pressure for years, and wouldn't you know it, now it was just the opposite!

Back home, catching up

It's been over a month, the worst is behind me and I am home recuperating. I had no access to my computer the entire time or I would have been blogging religiously, as this was some experience! Unfortunately, no computers allowed where I was, so I wrote on paper.

What I will attempt to do over the next several blogs is record my last month. These are times I never want to forget. Not sure how I'll blog in reverse, but I'll give it a shot.

First, though, HUGE THANKS, to all of you who keep up with my little adventures for emailing me during this ordeal. It was amazing to hear from everyone, and the little notes and emails kept me going on some tough days!

When I posted last, I described the days of going to give blood in preparation for surgery. A week later I was to check into the hospital, so that's a good place to pick up.

I was scheduled to check into Ospedale Civile here in Venice at 8:00 am on November 15, have tests during the day, with surgery set for the morning of November 16. I had been told ahead of time to bring a suitcase of personal items like pajamas, underwear, and toothpaste, and also two important items: stampelle and monocollante. Stampelle are crutches. Monocollante are these very thick stocking/sock- like things which you must wear to reduce the possibility of blood clots after surgeries like this.

For both of these items we visited our local farmacia. Our farmacista has been fabulous, so we knew she'd be able to tell us where to go for these things. Fortunately, she handled it for us. She had stampelle, Mike purchased a pair for 30 Euro. She told him she needed to make measurements of my legs, so I had to return laster that afternoon. I showed up at the farmacia, she took me behind the counter and proceeded to measure around ankle, thigh, calf, and whole leg measurement. She got on the phone, made an order and told me to return the next day, with 42 Euros for each of the socks (you must have one for each leg). Done. Little did I know then that these sock like things were going to have an important role during the next month! More on that later.

With my bag packed, stampelle and monocollante included, on the morning of Nov 15 Mike and I left the house at 6:30 am to catch the #52 boat to Ospedale. Wouldn't you know it that morning, because of fog, the 52 wasn't running! So, we caught a 42 for Fondementa Nove and walked the remaining distance to Ospedale, which caused us to be about 15 min late.

Being late didn't seem to matter, even after we ran around several floors trying to find the right place. We eventually located the waiting area for Orthopedia and rang the bell. No one came.
A few nurses went in and out, I spoke to each one explaining I was here to be checked in and no one seemed to know what was going on. We continued to wait. After about 2 hours, a nurse finally came and told me that there were no beds for me available that day, I would have to return tomorrow, but first had to go have x-rays taken. A nurse came, took me off to x-ray, and left. When the x-rays were completed, I walked myself back to Orthopedics, told the nurse I was finished, and she said "go home, be back here at 7:30 am tomorrow". I had expected to meet the dr. who would perform the surgery that day, and told the nurse this. She said, "ok, talk to the dr, he is right there. " OK. In my halting Italian, I asked the dr a few questions. He opened my file and handed me a 3 page document I had signed earlier which described all the complications possible with a surgery like mine. What I had wanted was a little explanation of what would happen during the surgery, not what could happen as a result of it. The nurse handed me a form to sign, which essentially was giving my permission to be released overnite, and off we went home.

To be honest, I was relieved to be sleeping at home that night. It took alot of the nervousness away for me.

The next day, we repeated the trip to Ospedale Civile and arrived in plenty of time. I rang the bell at Orthopedics. This time, a nurse came right out for me, and ushered us inside. She explained that I was first in line for surgery that day, there still was no bed for me, but there would be one by the time I came out of recovery. They had me change into a hospital gown, and the nurse put a few drops of something into a little plastic cup for me. She said this would relax me some. She was right. Whatever was in that cup was perfect. My fear and nervousness were miraculously gone, and I was on that gurney ready to go! Mike had my bag and stampelle, he was going off to wait in the waiting room, and I was wheeled off to surgery- feeling quite happy. There were alot of days after that I wished for more of whatever those magic drops were.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Getting ready for knee surgery

I'll be checking into the hospital here in Venice on Monday morning, and having my knee replacement surgery Tuesday morning. It's not exactly the kind of Venetian experience I'd always planned to be writing about, but, heck, it's happening in Venice, and it surely is going to be an experience.

About a year ago, I made my first visit to the Orthopedic Surgeon here. In the years before I moved here, I'd had injections of synthetic joint fluid in my knees, which worked nicely. It was time for that to be done again, so I asked my primary care doctor here for a referral. All that went down like clockwork. After looking at my x-rays, the surgeon told me it was definitely time for knee surgery, he didn't think delaying it any longer was a good idea. So, he made me an appointment with the hospital.

The way things work here is that you are referred for surgery, then you wait for the hospital to call you. They set up appointments and schedule surgery dates. When I got my phone call, the woman on the other end of the phone was highly disappointed that I wasn't fluent in Italian. In fact, she told me to get someone who can speak the language to call her back.

To make a long story short, I finally was scheduled for a surgery date in March. For a number of reasons, that was not going to work for me. The girl in the scheduling office, Daniela, told me to call her back in September. Since my surgery was not a matter of life and death, this worked for me too.

In the beginning of September, I dialed Daniela's phone number. She remembered me and was very pleasant. What surprised me is that she didn't tell me to go find an Italian speaking friend. My Italian had improved enough during the interim that I could understand her, and could manage to make myself understood. She gave me some additional information, and told me to call her back on October 25.

On October 25, I made another call to Daniela. She's starting to feel like a good friend by now! This time, she has a surgery date for me. Two days later, I get another phone call, from another woman at the hospital, who has dates for me to go give blood. Again, I am able to handle the phone conversation without getting help from a native Italian speaker. Yahoo! There was only one part of the conversation I had to keep asking for help on. I thought she told me I was not to have breakfast or eat anything that morning, so I wanted to be sure. I asked her to repeat it, she did, and finally what she was saying sunk in. I CAN eat and drink. I repeat back to her exactly what she said to me, and she says " Yes, you can eat and drink." In English! And she laughs. Still, I end the phone call thinking I've done very well.

Everything is scheduled, I'm getting excited. I am to go to Ospedale on November 5 and again on November 12 to give blood. Got it.

I arrive at Ospedale on the morning of November 5 about 20 minutes before my appointment. I knew I was going to need that time to find the office I was supposed to go to. This place is huge, and very maze-like. I get lost every time I am there, and I know I must not be the only one who does. This morning there is another girl lost right along with me, and she is a native Italian speaker. We were both looking for where to give blood, and we kept seeing each other as we crossed hallways and stairwells searching. Turns out she only needed to have blood tests, while I needed to donate lots more, so we needed to go to two different places.

After finally tracking down the office for Central Transfusions, I got checked in with the secretary in charge, and waited my turn. I was called into an office by a different woman. I start off by apologizing to her, that I cannot speak Italian fluently. She says back in Italian: " It's ok, I speak some English." Between the two of us, we managed to get whatever information she needed from me for the forms she was filling out. She takes me across the hall to a room where several people are laid out, already with tubes in their arms, blood running from them into pouches. Oh boy, I'm next. I never do well with blood tests ever, I pass out.

Before the technician sticks me with the needle, I inform her that I get faint usually, and may pass out. I'd practiced that sentence in Italian before I left home. She said "No problem". She stuck my arm, I made sure to scrunch my eyeballs shut so I couldnt see anything, and it began. I was doing pretty well, I thought. All of a sudden, from across the room comes a yell "Signora, Occhi aperto!! Occhi aperto!". Crap, she's yelling at me. She wants me to keep my eyes open. Ok, I open my eyes, but look to my left, so I can avoid seeing whats going on over in my right arm.

About 10 minutes later, another technican comes over, I ask How much longer. She says, "Almost done", and I realize I am getting faint. I tell her I'm not feeling well and will probably pass out any minute. I know when it's going to happen, this is not new to me. She says, "No, you won't." I say, "Yes, I will". The one who yelled at me to open my eyes comes over and lifts my legs up so they are completely vertical, and lowers the head part of the bed. I'm thinking, I hope this works. The next thing I know, that friendly little technican is slapping my face, hard. "Signora, stay awake. Signora stay awake", she's saying to me loudly. What ever happened to smelling salts?? Don't they have that in this country???

Things got much worse before they got better. I threw up several times, which prompted visits by two doctors. They put in an IV. An hour and a half later, my blood pressure had come back up to normal levels, they had stopped slapping me, and I felt better. One of the doctors returned when the IV was empty, and said to me, "Don't come back on the 12th. You get too sick." Hey, that works for me.

I spoke with Daniela again the other day, just to check on what I need to bring with me when I check in at the hospital. In this country, you must bring your own pajamas, robe, slippers, toiletries, all that stuff with you. I love this system. I also had to go buy crutches and some special sock like things called monocollante. I'm all set.

I'm even prepared for more face slapping. But who knows what adventures await me in a few days! Light candles for me!!!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Yes, there was just a hole in the ground!!!

I happened across this "toilet" the other day and just could not resist snapping a photo and putting it here on my blog. Yes, you have heard about them. This is living proof. Is there a name for these things??

I don't come across too many of this type of bathroom facility, more commonly I find the one's that have a little low bowl and no toilet seat at all. The range of toilets here never ceases to amaze me! I would think that in the country that is home to the Lambourgini and Ferrari, and top designers in fashion, furniture and architecture, not to mention marble, that there would certainly be top of the line toilets everywhere.

There's been a project brewing in the back of my mind lately- I think Venice needs a map which identifies restaurants with good or bad toilet facilities. Who has a bowl, who doesn't have a seat, those kind of details. I think this could be a very useful tool for tourists.

The difference between I and E

It's no secret we've been trying to learn to speak Italian, and making slow progress. I know, it doesn't seem possible that we live here, and still haven't become fluent yet. There are a few reasons for that. The biggest one is we just don't practice enough. We took several months off from our weekly lessons, and we've just started back up again in August.

On the plus side, we are making progress. Seriously. We understand just about everything we hear, even at full Italian speed. We read and write fairly well also. It's opening our mouth and speaking back in a conversation that we don't do well enough for our liking, even though we are told we do ok. Still not good enough, secondo me (in my opinion).

And every once in awhile, we have a particularly interesting language experience that illuminates to us that no matter how hard we try, we may just never become as fluent as we would like to be. Here's two recent, laughable cases-in-point:

I went to the farmacia (pharmacy) to purchase arthritis medication for my elderly dog, Sam. I'd purchased this medication at this same farmacia before several times, and each time I had taken the medicine box with me to show the pharmacist, just in case I needed it. This time, I didn't have the box. I just said her, in my excellent Italian, " Ho bisogno Rimadyl, per il cane". And I pronounced Rimadyl just like I think it should be -- RIM- A- Dill. Simple. No. The pharmacist looks at me and tells me she doesn't know what I am asking for, but would I please write it down. So I write it for her- RIMADYL. She looks at me, smiles a big smile and says, "Si, Si, Reeeam - a- deeeeal". Thank goodness for pen and paper, or my poor dog might still be without his arthritis medication today.

Only a few days after the farmacia adventure, Mike went to the vet to obtain the name of a pet sitter, as he has seen a flyer on the vets wall the last time he was there. The vet didn't personally know this particular pet sitter, but sent Mike over to the dog food store to ask the woman there, because she thought this pet sitter and the dog food woman were friends. Mike goes to the pet food store, and in Italian he asks the woman there if she can recommend this pet sitter. But he pronounces pet sitter just as we would in English. Those two words on the printed flyer were exactly as we would write them. The woman says she doesn't know what he is asking for. He writes it down for her, and she says, "Oh, si, si... Pet Seat-ter". Pet Seat-ter. Of course! Why didn't we know that???

There is no doubt in our minds, after these two events, that we have not learned the difference in the pronunciation of I and E. I need to go study a few more hours this week.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Reflections on 2 years...

I get questions every day from people I meet --- Why did you do it? What's it been like? Do you regret moving? How could you give up your jobs? What do you miss most?? What was the biggest adjustment you had to face? Are the locals accepting you?? It's occurred to me that these are all great blog topics... so here goes..I'll be writing on these topics in upcoming blogs.

To start out, I'll summarize. Every single day in Italy, in Venice, has exceeded my wildest expectations. That kid in a candy shop feeling just has not worn off. Mike and I wondered what we would do when we faced the day the fantasy faded, but, it just hasn't. I don't expect it ever will. I'm one of those who has been bitten by the Venice bug, bitten badly. I am head over heels crazy about this place.

And it doesn't make alot of sense, when you get right down to analyzing it carefully. We gave up every convenience, every luxury we ever had to move to a place that is incredibly difficult to exist. Well, compared to Baltimore, this is not an easy place to acclimate to, nor it is an easy place to live an everyday existence. Let's face it, having to live life without a car is in itself one major change in my routine.

I could make a long list of the things we have had to do without. You'd laugh... the clothesdryer is tops on that list, and yes, tootsie rolls make the list too. Look forward to seeing " The List" in an upcoming blog. I have a much longer list of all the wonderful things I have been able to add to my life though, and those have become so much more important.

Looking back, I have to say definitively- the decision to move was worth it. I have no regrets. Zero. Ok, Ok. somedays I do long for a clothesdryer, and maybe someday I will have one again. Just not now. I have learned to live without one, and I manage just fine. I traded in a very ordinary life- full of stress from work that was beginning to cause major health problems and full of the trapings of living "the American dream". I would describe myself as just going through the motions of life Getting up each day, going to work, coming home, ... existing. Marking time.

What I traded for is an extraordinary life. I pinch myself every day, in disbelief that I am living in such a marvelous, incredible place, but even more so because we MADE it happen. We somehow, miraculously, found the guts to dream of what a better life for us would be, and to do everything we had to do to make that dream a reality. I traded a stress laden life, with over the top high blood pressure, to one that has just about zero stress. Instead of spending 10 hours a day in meetings where nothing gets accomplished (yes, that's Corporate America), I spend my hours walking in one of the most beautiful cities on the planet. No more office walls, no more meetings, no more horrible commutes for me.

The journey hasn't been easy, in fact there were some very trying days. Persistence has been my middle name for the last 2 years! Most of the difficult tasks are behind us, and we're beginning to really feel at home. Yes, home. It feels pretty good to be able to say that.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

New Vaporetto dock at San Marco opens

In a city that is all old, old, old, it's just plain odd to see something so new. It sticks out like a sore thumb, but, I must admit I understand the need for it. Just opened this week is the new Vaporetto dock at San Marco-Vallaresso, and I thought I'd give you a visual tour of it. It has a design very similar to the new stop that opened up on Burano last season. It's open and airy, with lots of covered space. Much better than the exisiting docks which can get too cramped with people while waiting for the boat, especially in hot weather like we've been having the last few weeks.
Only the #2 and the LN embark and disembark at the new dock. The #1 still uses the older existing Vallaresso stop. It seems the city is encouraging the use of the #2 for tourists, and that is a good idea, as most of them want to move between the train station or Piazzale Roma and St. Mark's anyway.

There is a brand new ticket booth located inside the waiting area. I like the new wooden finish to it, instead of the old white booths. Complimenti to whoever came up with the whole design.

The wide open waiting area has plenty of bench space. I'm liking not being packed in like sardines anymore here!

I also like the new electronic boards which tell you when the next boats are arriving. This is a welcome addition at all the vaporetto stops all over the city this season.

This photo just caught my eye while standing out on the new pier. New pier, old cardboard boat signs!

Here's a view of the loading area, taken while on the vaporetto. Compared to all the rest of the vaporettos stops, this new one is huge.

And one final glimpse, taken as the boat was pulling away headed down the Grand Canal. Despite the fact that I don't particularly like to see new construction here, I will admit this is a much needed addition. The Vallaresso stop was always a crowded madhouse during the tourist season, and this will relieve that situation. That can only be happiness for all of us, tourists and residents alike. I would have only requested that they design it to look like it fit in with the rest of Venice. Where's Walt Disney when you need him??


Ciligie! Dark Cherries!! It's cherry season here in Venice, and this year they have been absolutely delicious. We can't stop eating them, I've been making a trip to the market every day for another kilo of ciligie! Eating them is sheer bliss. I am not looking forward to the day I go to the market and discover the cherry season has ended. So, in the meantime, I plan to enjoy every bite!

Something unusual on the Grand Canal today.....

Most days, I don't have my camera with me, but wished I had. Today, I was on a mission. I had a photograph in mind and needed to take my camera so I could grab the perfect shot while I was at the Rialto market. On my way home, I had a front row seat on the #2 vaporetto, and it was a bright sunny day, so I started snapping shots. There are never enough photos of the Grand Canal! But today, I witnessed something a bit out of the ordinary on the canal. Right in front of us, there is a guy paddling some sort of board- kind of a surf board, kind of wind surf board, sort of big boogie board. Is this a new sport? Anyone know? I actually had seen the same guy about a month ago, doing the same thing on the Grand Canal, however that day he was being followed by a film crew in a boat. The next day, he appeared in the local papers. Today, he doesn't have an entourage, he's just paddling down the Grand Canal solo. It's fairly common to see kayakers on the canal, and I've thought that might be a perfect way to experience this magnificent canal. This guy today has one- upped them! The sight of him just made me smile.
I had to snap a few photos, even as we passed him. I wanted to yell out "Thanks for thinking this one up" to him. While I really think this mode of transportation is cool, I already am certain I never want to see hordes of paddlers like him swarming the Grand Canal- god forbid this turns into some kind of a fad. But, at the same time, I'm enjoying his ingenuity. As for a mode of transportation- it's quiet, it's peaceful, it kind of suits the Grand Canal actually.

I'm really happy my camera was with me today!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Mauro Vianello- the glass guy

This adorable little penguin was made last week by Mauro Vianello at his shop in San Polo. It took Mauro about 10 minutes to make it, while we watched. I'm always in awe when I see a glass blowing demonstration on Murano of blown glass, but the small figures I see Mauro making are even more awesome. Mauro, who has been blowing glass for over 30 years, is a delightful character. He's always more than happy to make something on requestfor you when you go to his shop, so you can see him perform his magic in person.


White peaches, figs, dark cherries, berries.. the fruit this season has been absolutely delightful!

Christening a new gondola... Roberto's Varo

I've been waiting almost a year for this event- the launching of our friend Roberto's brand new gondola. I think I'm almost as excited as he is- no, not quite! But I consider myself very fortunate to have been able to share in the process. It's been like anticipating the birth of a new baby, watching the slow progress of the new boat over many months, as it transforms from just a pile of pieces of wood, to the stunning sleek gondola that sits waiting to be launched.

At the squero of San Trovaso in Dorsoduro, new gondolas are meticulously made by hand.

Below is the very first photo of La Maria II, Roberto's gondola. Now fast forward about 9 months .....

and here she is, waiting in the boatyard on the day of the Varo (launching). Family and friends are invited to share in the happy event. The boat is on display, everyone admires the workmanship of the boatmakers, and anticipates the moment La Maria II will slip quietly into the water.

The gondolier chooses the many elements of the boat, from the design of all the carvings to the fabrics used for the furniture. Here is the backpiece of the seat, a carving of Roberto's family crest.

Here the same crest is used on the front piece.

The fancy gold horses ....

the fero (metal ornamental piece on the front of the gondola),....

the fancy hood ornament,...

and the forcula (oarlock).

A bottle of Prosecco is tied to the back of the gondola, it's almost time....

But first.. food! Roberto has arranged a huge spread of delious food from Antico Pignolo- including traditional Venetian dishes of Baccala, Bigoli in Salsa, Sopresso and Pane, tramezzinos, and delicious deserts from Rosa Salva. And, lots of wine and Prosecco, of course.

At last, the moment we've been waiting for! The workers at the squero prepare the gondola to be slid into the water, placing rollers under the bow, and away she goes!

Roberto hops onto the back and takes her on her maiden voyage down the canal, testing out how she handles.

Family and friends in the squero cheering him on.

Roberto and his family all get in the boat, and he takes them off down the canals to St. Mark's square, which will be this gondola's new home. Mike and I also made our way to St. Mark's so we could greet them when they arrived. What a great day this has been. Another unique Venetian experience for me, one I realize may be truly a once in a lifetime event. To be able to watch the evolution of a gondola from start to finish has just added to my love of Venice, and all things Venetian. To be present at the time of the launch, and share in that celebration with the family- I'm not sure I have words for how honored I feel.

As we waited for Roberto and Marie to arrive back at ST. Mark's, my husband Mike caught this shot - it's the perfect image to end this blog. Ciao, tutti.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

My italian fashion

There is no question that Italians have their own sense of style. As an American, I seem to have been left out when it comes to being fashionable, and I've been reminded of that by my landlord. More than once, I've gotten a little bit of a lecture from him on the topic of my fashion, or lack thereof!

My blue jeans seem to be particularly offensive to him. My favorite Faded Glory jeans, hauled over the Atlantic to their new home in Venice, just don't make the cut, evidently. It's more than obvious when I walk down the street that I am a foreigner, I don't even have to open my mouth.

My landlord doesn't sugar coat the situation one bit. I love the conversations we have about my clothes, they usually go something like this:

(When reading this, try to find your best Sopranos accent, or think of Father Guido Sarducci! That will give you just the right idea of how this sounds in real life over here, with my landlord using his very best English!)

Landlord: "You-a must trow all your-a clothes in the bag, Karen"

Me: "What???"

Landlord: "The blu jeans-a dat you wear-a are-a no gooood-a".

Me: " Why?"

Landlord: " It is the time for you to dress-a like-a the Italian. The blu jeans-a must-a be on your-a skeen very tight. "

Me: " I don't know, I still have clothes I brought with me that are in good shape, I can't go buy a whole new wardrobe."

Landlord: "NOOOO! But-a you-a must! No more wit-a dees-a baggy pants-a for you. Please, now, you go shopping. Trow every-ting a-way-a now. "

As much as I really want to fit in, I'm not quite ready for a big shopping expedition, or to get rid of everything I brought over with me. Maybe next season!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Seppia Nero aka. Cuttlefish

Seppia Nero. Yes, it's one very ugly creature.

Every day, at the Rialto Fish Market, and also at local fish monger's stalls in more remote parts of Venice, you will see Seppia Nero in a variety of sizes. And it's on every restaurant's menu every day for lunch and dinner. Several traditional Venetian dishes are made with the seppia, however it's probably the meal least chosen by tourists. Can you blame them, it's loaded with black sauce, for God's sake!

Being curious, I consulted Wikipedia for details, and discovered the Seppia Nero is in the same class as Octopus and squid, they are among the most intelligent of invertebrates, and have one of the largest brain-to-body size ratios of all invertebrates. Wow, I'm impressed. They surely don't look smart to me. I'm going to be looking at these guys in a whole new light from now on.

What I do know, is that once you can get past how nasty they look, they taste great! You'll see these in several Venetian dishes, such as Risotto with seppia nero, Spaghetti with seppia nero
Seppia nero with polenta, to name a few.

I even recently had a lasagna with seppia nero, which was beyond my wildest imagination, and by far the best lasagna I have ever eaten.

Yes, I sound like the spoke's person for Seppia's, I know. I've been converted, I admit it. I've even been enticing people into trying it for themselves. Not many people take me up on it, however, just the other day Mike and Anna from Colorado, who were here in Venice earlier in the month, sent me a few photos of their trip. They took me up on a restaurant recommendation, and ventured out on a limb to try Spaghetti with Seppia Nero, and even sent me the evidence!

Here's Mike, complete with black sauce all over his mouth, enjoying his dinner at Osteria al Diavolo e L'Aqua Sante on Calle della Madonna at the Rialto. They loved it! Thanks for the photo, guys! I'm proud of you!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Had a breakthrough this morning!!!!

So far today has been absolutely glorious, and it's taken me completely by surprise. Truth be told, I was geared up for the worst, as my first mission this morning was to go to the bank. The bank here is always my undoing. Something that you think would be so easy just isn't here, because of the language barrier.

Yes, I've been studying Italian. But as much studying as I've done still doesn't make me fluent, or even close to fluent. I understand well, also read and write fairly well, but the my own conversation is frustratingly not so hot.

So, today at the bank, I decided to speak only in Italian. Even if I had no idea what was going on, I was going to try to muddle through. The gods were smiling down on me, because the whole transaction happened smoothly, and I even got a "Buona giornata" as I was leaving.

Having had such a positive experience, combined with it being an absolutely gorgeous morning, I decided I would head to the Rialto to pick up some things for dinner. I hopped on the #1 vaporetto at Piazzale Roma, and got a seat at the front of the boat even. There is nothing better than to be going down the Grand Canal on a beautiful sunny day, on the front of a boat. Thank you, God.

At the Rialto Mercato stop, I left the vaporetto, heading first to the fish market. After taking a quick look around, I decided on some fresh tuna, at the stall of one of the fish mongers over on the side of the street, one I've shopped at before. I asked for what I wanted, and we even had a little discussion on how big a piece I needed. He sliced off a piece, showed me, weighed it, and then told me what the bill was. I decided I also wanted some shrimp. At the end he even did a little math for me adding the two together to get a new total, all in Italian!

Next stop was the vegetable stall next door. I asked for mixed greens, cucumber, tomatoes, zuccini flowers, lemons and red pepper. Of course, they do this one item at a time when you are shopping at the outdoor market. After each item, the vendor will ask "Dopo?", meaning, what do you want next. As I was finishing up, the woman behind the vegetables asked me where I was from. I decided to continue my conversation in my halting, embarrassing Italian, I explained I was American,and now Italian, living here in Venice. She smiled and told me to come back often, so we could practice speaking more! Made my day!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

A visit to Orsoni, a manufacturer of glass and gold mosaics in Cannaregio

Sometimes, wonderful things happen to you when you least expect them. I've learned during my last two years here in Venice to be more open to these moments, and to truly enjoy every second of them when they do happen.

Quite unexpectedly just a couple of weeks ago, I received an email from a woman named Joann telling me she had put a link to my blog about the Artichoke Festival on the Orsoni Smalti facebook page, and she invited me to come tour the Orsoni furnace. Not knowing what the Orsoni furnace was, I checked them out on Facebook and Google. I discovered Orsoni is where glass and gold mosaics are made, at a 19th century furnace using methods handed down over the centuries. Don't you just love the internet? It turns out, this chance occurrance opened a new door for me that day.

Gorgeous mosaics are common in Venice. Just take a walk down to the Basilica of San Marco. I hadn't ever considered what it took to MAKE the mosaics before, and now I had someone offering me a chance to go look and learn. I couldn't wait, and contacted Joann to go ahead and set up a meeting.

The following week I got on the 41 vaporetto from Piazzale Roma, disembarked at Guglie in Cannaregio, and with their address written on a piece of paper clutched in my hand, I set off to find the Orsoni furnace. After making a turn at Sotoportego dei Vedei, and then onto Calle de Vedei, I soon located the place.

The door is marked with a gold mosaic name plaque- Orsoni. This must be it. My heart is skipping a beat as I prepare to ring the bell, but wait... .this isn't it. My paper says 1045A, and this is 1045. The sign above the bell says Domus Orsoni. Not what I am looking for. I continue down the street, thinking 1045A must be here somewhere.

Ahhh.. here it is...and my heart drops just alittle bit, only because that fabulous gold mosaic sign was so inviting. 1045A is a very different door than the one just up the street. This one is one you would easily walk right by. Hmm...., typical of Venice, actually. I knew that often behind very unassuming doors there is something incredible to see. And, I was not disappointed. I rang the doorbell of 1045A, and was invited in by a man wearing blue jeans and a white T-shirt, clearly his work outfit. He pointed the way to another doorway on the other side of building when I told him I had an appointment to meet Mirta.

I could see the factory was on the right side of the entry way, and I was itching to see what went on there, but he directed me to the left, down the garden path, so off I went. I had to pass through a lovely little garden as I found my way to the doorway he was pointing to.

The garden is a little oasis of tranquility, and surprises. On the wall I spotted gold mosaics in frames, a column covered in glass tile pieces which turned it into a piece of art, and even the flower planter sported colorful pieces of glass. Every where I looked I could sense a bit of magic in the air. I could only imagine even more magic as I awaited Mirta.

I was introduced to Mirta, and off we went through the factory. Unfortunately, the day I was there, the furnaces were shut down for repairs. She explained that one week out of every 5 or 6, the furnace had to be closed, and it took a few days for the temperatures to get back up for production work. In my mind I was thinking already I have an excuse to return!

Crucibles used to hold the liquid glass in the furnace line the entry way. To me, they are like art in themselves.

The following week I returned to Orsoni, when the furnaces were working. They were in the process of making gold mosaics this week. This is even more unbelievable than making the glass tiles! First, huge glass bubbles are blown (see photo above), in the color glass to be used for the mosaic. On this day, it was purple. These bubbles are incredibly thin glass. The bubbles are broken into small squares, about 3 x 3 inches. Then, a square of gold leaf is affixed to each square of purple glass. I was in awe watching the woman who does the laying on of the gold leaf this task, as this is delicate, meticulous work. After, more glass is poured around each purple square. After cooling, these are broken into mosaic tiles. The majority of this work, including all the breaking into small square tiles is all done by hand. It's mind-boggling, and fascinating! Unfortunately, I was not able to take photos in the furnace area, or where the women were cutting tiles. I wish I could have videotaped the entire thing, as my words and photos just don't do this justice.

Next we toured the color library, a large room with rows and rows of cubby holes filled with glass tiles of every color and gradation of shades you can imagine. Thousands of them. The tiles are stored by color, shade, and batch number. I learned about how the large tiles are made, how they are cut down into squares, and then into smalti (smaller tile pieces), how people can buy both large uncut tiles and also smaller pre-cut ones, and also how matching of color pieces are done if an artist needs more tiles of a particular color. I had a very difficult time leaving the color library room.

Back in the office building, I had time in the gallery room, where there is a mini-exhibition of fabulous mosaic work, and this portrait of the founder, Angelo Orsoni.

The photo above is part of the sample board Angelo Orsoni took with him to the Great Exhibition in Paris in 1889.
Our last stop is upstairs in the classroom. Fortunately for me, during both visits to Orsoni, there was a class going on. The first time, students were learning how to make Filati, long thin strands of glass, which are then broken into tiny pieces for use in mosaic art pieces. The work these students were doing was unbelievable!!! This week the students were creating with smalti, the smaller tiles. Again, what I watched them do was breathtaking.

They were all gracious enough to share what they were working on, and allow me to take photos.

Special thanks to each and everyone of the Orsoni family- Joann, Mirta, Lianna, Antonella, all the staff , and students. This is such a magical place!
Orsoni holds a series of classes from beginner to master level, see their website for more details - http://www.orsoni.com/.
Also, recently opened is Domus Orsoni, a fabulous little bed and breakfast in Cannaregio, located right at the foundry. It's quiet, peaceful, idyllic surroundings. It's like finding a bit of heaven in Venice, if that were possible!! For more information see their website http://www.domusorsoni.it/.

As I write this, I am already planning to attend a class over the winter, and have some ideas for a first mosaic project in mind!