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

Friday, September 26, 2014

Clooney in Venice

Yes, George and Amal have arrived!  

No looking back: George and Amal hugged affectionately as they waited to speed off for the start of their lavish four-day nuptials

In hot pursuit: Boats full of photographers surrounded the stars as they sailed along the city's canals in taxi boats

photos www.dailymail.co.uk

#Venice #Clooney #ClooneyNuptials

Brought to you by the letter F

For the last several months, I have thrown myself back into my Italian studies with a vengence.  Frustrated with not being able to speak well enough, I've made it my mission to focus on conversation this year. I'm going to be fluent if it kills me- and it just might!

Besides studying daily, I've added a few new things into the mix. I have a twice weekly conversation session with an Italian teacher via Skype, and I also have my twice weekly immersion sesisons with the Pink Lionesses while we row. Both have helped me make incredible progress, so I am pleased. 

I also look for all sorts of little ways to add to my learning. One that I find useful is the  Italian word- a- day email I receive in my inbox  every day. And that brings me to one of the words I learned this week. 

FANGO- the Italian word for "mud".  Many days, the word of the day is one that I already knew. But Fango, this was a new one.  Why hadn't I learned that one yet, I wondered?  I love the sound of it. The way it rolls off my tongue. And so close to Tango, I had images of people dancing in mud. After I repeated it over and over, including the use of it in the practice sentence, I mentally tucked Fango away in the back of my mind, believing it was a word I probably wouldn't get to use on any regular basis. Little did I know!

Just two days after FANGO invaded the recesses of my store of Italian vocabulary - tucked way way  back there in some far dusty corner of my brain, Venice experienced a very freak hail storm. Not just any storm, mind you, but a storm of biblical proportions. Hail literally covered the streets like it was snow.  The hail was followed by horrendous thunder storms and high winds. The next morning while Mike and I were ambling back home from a stop at Gina's, our neighborhood hang-out here on Sant'Elena, we heard a mother shouting to her 4 or 5 year old daughter "No, non vai lì!  Tutto FANGO!"
(No, don't go there, it's all mud!)  

She was right, there was mud everywhere - a remnant of the previous night's tempest.  I was able to put my new vocabulary word to use!  Did the weather god's plan the week's Italian word-of-the-day just for me? I'd like to think so.  And now you can roll this lovely word around on your tongue too. FANGO.  (FYI- it's a masculine noun, so that's il FANGO). 

Strictly coincidence, out of all the other new words I came across this week, another F word struck my fancy that I will share with you also.  FORCHETTATA.  It means a forkful, or a bite of something. Mi dai una forchettata. Give me a taste.  It's feminine, so it uses the definite article la or indefinite article una.

Today being Friday, I thought it was an appropriate day to share my favorite F words with you this morning.  

What language learning tricks do you use?  Do you create flash cards, either on 3x5 cards or electronic ones? Do you write all your new vocabulary in a notebook? I'd love to hear whatever tricks/systems you use to help you remember and use new words. 

Grazie!  Now .. let's all go find some Fango to play in today!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

A sunny day

Ever have a day when things just didn't go as you planned?  Well, today was one of those for me.  From the minute I left the apartment, nothing went right. I probably should have stayed in bed. 

If you have been reading my blog for awhile, you might remember that I had knee replacement surgery a few years back. For the last few months my other knee has been giving me all the signs that it too is ready for some modern technology. I knew I couldn't put off seeing my orthopedic surgeon any longer, so the other day I visited my regular doctor to request a referral.  At the same time she wrote a prescription for an x-ray, as I will need to take a current x-ray with me to the surgeon.  

This morning I got up early in order to be one of the first at the office for the x-rays.  I intended to have this done at Giustinian,  the medical facility over in Dorsoduro.  However, when I got to the vaporetto stop I had just missed the 5.2 boat going to the Zattere, the closest stop to Giustinian.  If they weren't doing construction on the Sant'Elena vaporetto stop, I would have been there in time. Instead, I had to walk up the fondamenta a bit farther, which took me a few more minutes. End result =missed boat. Knowing I'd have to wait another 30 minutes for the next boat  (thanks to the newly reduced winter boat schedule effective September 15), I switched gears, ran over to the other boat dock and waited for the 4.1 boat headed towards Fondamenta Nove, planning instead to get the x-ray done at Ospedale Civile. 

Once at Ospedale, I had to navigate the giant maze called our hospital to find the Radiology department.  Inside  that building, I waited my turn at the in-take clerk, only to be told I needed to make an appointment to have the x-ray.  I racked my brain, but for the life of me I did not recall ever having to make an appointment for  x-rays. I thought for sure I just took the prescription in with me.  I'd only had x-rays at either Giustinian or Fatebenefratelli, and the last time was 3 years ago, so perhaps they'd changed procedures since then.  This is Italy, and I'm learning I need to just go with the flow. I'll never understand how anything operates in this country. 

Nothing is ever easy. I then had to get myself back into the maze, wander around a bit, and luckily located the right office for appointments.They have been doing a lot of renovation at Ospedale ( a good thing) which means it will be even more confusing that it normally would be.   On one hand, this was good because I needed to make an appointment for the surgeon anyway. Good, I'll kill two birds. But on the other hand... not so good. When it was my turn, the girl behind the desk making appointments laughed in my face when I asked if it was possible to get the x-ray done today. No, three months from now, she tells me. I should have expected nothing less, seeing how my morning was going. 

With some magic, she managed to find an appointment for me with an orthopedic surgeon on October 7. That's promising. The appointment is somewhere on the Lido, and I have no clue where that hospital building is, but who cares. I'll deal with that fiasco on October 7.  I tell her to book it.  With that done, she managed to find an appointment for an x-ray on September 29, at Giustinian.  Wonderful. Thank you. At least I'll be able to have the x-ray to take with me when I go to the surgeon, otherwise his visit would be for naught. 

Not happy that I wasn't successful getting the x-ray as I had planned, but thankful that I at least had made some sort of  progress, I exited the Ospedale building into one of Venice's most beautiful campos,  San Giovanni e Paolo.  The campo is empty, the caffe's are just getting awnings out, and it's sunny. I decided I've earned myself a little treat, so I stopped for tea in the campo. 

There was only one other table occupied at Bar Colleoni when I sat down. Wouldn't you know it? It's a gorgeous day and I don't have my camera.  The photo above is mine, from some previous day of wandering.  Sitting with this marvelous statue in front of me, relaxing with a cup of tea is a pretty good way to spend my morning. I took out my notebook and started to write. I wrote the blog I intended to post today. A blog about yesterday's adventures.

I dragged my tea break out for well over an hour, just enjoying the sun and my surroundings.  Instead of heading to the closest vaporetto stop, I chose to walk most of the way home. I meandered my way from Campo San Giovanni e Paolo back to San Zaccaria. Along the way I popped into New Zealand's Architectural Biennale exhibition, where I had the best time meeting and chatting with  the two women running the exhibition. We've made plans to meet again in a few days.

Sunshine. Tea. New friends. Not such a bad day after all.

And that blog I worked on?  Saving that for tomorrow.

How did your day turn out? 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Regata Storica 2014

Not a cloud in the sky, lots of sun- it was the perfect day for the Regata Storica. This is one of Venice's most spectacular festivals, the culmination of the rowing season AND a parade down Venice's main street, the Grand Canal.  But this isn't just any parade, it's a fabulous water parade of 16th century style boats filled with rowers and passengers decked out in period costumes. 

This is a festival for and by Venetians, and they certainly showed up for it this year. LOTS more boats lining the Grand Canal and people hanging out of the palazzo windows from St. Mark's to the train station and back this year than in previous years.  This was different- in a good way.  I too, was doing the Regata a bit differently this year.  In years past, I've watched from canal side at San Vio and by the train station. Both were great viewing posts, but not the optimum.   I have also had the pleasure of watching from in a gondola, in the water,  tied up near the Rialto bridge and I thought that was as good as it could get. This year, I got the golden ticket.  This year, I rowed in the historic parade- the Corteo.  Yes, I was not only IN the water, I was in the parade itself.  

For the last few weeks in August the anticipation had been building, and finally the day was upon me. I could barely believe it was true. I was going to row down the Grand Canal along with the Corteo in the Regata Storica.  Sunday morning I was ready. My gym bag was packed by the door. I practically wore a hole in the floor pacing until it was time to leave for the boat yard. 

Finally it was time to go.  As the vaporetto Mike and I were on motored past The Bucintoro, I spotted our dragon boat waiting on the fondamenta and several Pink Lionesses already in their rowing outfits outside finalizing their preparations. In just a few more minutes, I'd be there too.

I think I flew off the vaporetto and raced to the boat house.  As I entered, I was greeted with hugs and kisses from my fellow Lionesses and enthusiastic greetings. Many of them had been away on their summer holidays for the month of August and this was the first time seeing them since they had gotten back.  That's when it hit me. I wasn't just rowing in the Regata Storica this year. I was rowing with my fellow lionesses. That made all the difference.

(Me, with our beautiful dragon)

 Even our dragon boat was ready for a special party! Several of the lionesses had spent the previous afternoon decorating our two boats for the occassion.  We not only had a full dragon boat of lionesses, we also had our smaller boat filled with guests, other women in pink, from Chioggia, Mestre and Montebelluno.  The small boat was lifted into the water, fully loaded with excited women ready to row.
 Next the larger dragon boat was lowered into the water, with  only  4 rowers and our helmsman on board.  The rest of us marched down the street to where we normally board. Today we not only had ourselves loading up, but also Nina, the grand daughter of one of the lionesses, who would be up front beating the drum cadence for us during the Regata, and lots of sacks full of food and wine.

 Finally, we were off, paddling towards the Grand Canal.
 Once on the Grand Canal, we took up our position behind the elegant historic boats, the ones filled with rowers and passengers in period costumes.  As we headed towards Rialto, we passed by the judges stand at Ca Foscari, where we, like every other boat, raised our oars in salute.   All along the route people stood and clapped  in recognition of  the women in pink as we rowed past.   I couldn't have been more proud of my lionesses!

Having rowed the entire length of the Canal, we then turned the boat around, heading back towards the Accademia Bridge searching for the best spot to tie up along the banks to watch the afternoon's races. After slowing down at several possible locations, the ladies finally agreed on the spot they thought would be perfect, just before the San Toma vaporetto stop. We tied up alongside several other boats, and then the party really got started.  The women in the front of the boat dug into the sacks of food, passing plastic cups and plates down the rows from front to the back. Bottles of prosecco were popped open. Amidst lots of  Salute's and Cin Cin's  (toasts) we had ring side seats to view  the historic boats as they completed their return trip down the canal. Next, mortadella paninis (sandwiches), olives, and pizzettes (small pizzas) were passed down the line. When I thought  we couldn't eat more the tortas (cakes) came out.  Peach torta, apple torta and even a nutella torta.  And cookies.  In between it all, the prosecco and red wine circulated from the front of the dragon boat to the rear. Things were being passed from our boat to the boats along side us, and vice versa.  

All along the Grand Canal Venetians just like us were celebrating, eating and drinking in their boats. This is how Venetians do it, and here I was, right smack in the middle of it all.  I had a grin plastered on my face from ear to ear that lasted the entire day. This was beyond my wildest imagination. 

Races in several categories - children, older youths, women, six man teams and finally two man teams round out the rest of the afternoon. The last race, the two man teams of gondoliers in gondolini (shaped just like a gondola, but specially constructed for competitive racing) is much anticipated all year long. Everyone in boats or on the sidelines cheers madly for their favorite team, and the competition is fierce.

I had the perfect perch from which to observe all the action!  And "action" is not quite the appropriate word to describe the last race. It was a nail biter! The two rival boats were neck and neck as they passed me on their way up the Grand Canal, and they were within inches when they came back past me towards the finish line. The race ended in a photo finish. It was that close. The sheer muscle and athleticism required to perform at this level is indescribable.

Add to that, if you can just imagine, the setting: the Grand Canal, empty except for these boats, with the pink hues of the setting sun behind the palazzos as these racers headed for the final few feet at Ca Foscari.  An amazing ending to an amazing day.

For me, it wasn't quite over yet. We had to row back to the boat house, in what suddenly seemed like rush hour at Grand Central Station.  Every boat was back on the canal, rowing at the same time!  Bedlam!  It only took seconds for the local police to be directing traffic so we all got to where we were headed safely.

After putting the dragon boat away for the night,  we headed up to the locker room to change clothes. Reflecting on the day, and not really wanting it to end, all I could think about was how different this experience was from the year prior.   I've somehow, miraculously, gone from being on the sidelines to being right in the thick of it. I'll take that.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Two Americans in a boat

Yesterday, I was a little late arriving at the Bucintoro for our Wednesday afternoon rowing practice. As I was just about to the door, I could see that  most of the Lionesses were already out on the street with oars in hand, getting ready to climb into the dragon boat, and they were all making a fuss, yelling to me "Karen, Karen, hurry up, hurry up!"  (Note: YES, the lionesses ALL call me Karen!)

I ran upstairs, changed quickly, grabbed my paddle and life vest, and ran for the boat. I was nearly tackled by lionesses, all clamoring at me, all at the same time. They were all trying to tell me that we had a special guest rowing with us that afternoon, a fellow breast cancer survivor dragon boater from Philadelphia.  The head of our group, Anna, wanted to make sure that I understood I would be the one rowing next to this woman, Lynne, and that I should translate for the rest of the group as we rowed.  Oh, this should be a lot of fun, I thought.  When all of them get speaking a mile a minute at the same time, I don't do so well with my Italian. I said a quick prayer to the patron saint of Italian language learners and hoped for the best!

While in the boat, Lynne explained to me that she and others from her Philadelphia group had been competing in dragon boat races in Ravenna during the previous week, and now she and her husband were wrapping up their vacation with a brief two day stay in Venice.  On Tuesday afternoon, while taking a walk down the Zattere, they happened into the Bucintoro and noticed photos on the wall of the Pink Lionesses. Lynn asked someone at the clubhouse about the lionesses, and was directed to talk to Marissa, one of our lionesse who by happenstance was also there at the club at the same time. Marissa doesn't speak any English, and Lynne doesn't speak any Italian, but somehow they managed to communicate for about 30 minutes, during which time Marissa invited Lynne to show up on Wednesday to row with us.

What a happy coincidence this must have been for Lynne!  Isn't it wonderful when worlds collide unexpectedly?  The lionesses were ecstatic to be able to share some rowing time with a fellow cancer survivor.  For Lynne, it might have been an opportunity of a lifetime.  As we rowed the boat onto the Grand Canal, she was as awestruck by that moment as I am every time I get the chance to row on that canal.  Something about it just takes your breath away.

While we rowed, Lynne bombarded me with  questions about our group. She was particularly interested in our boat, commenting on how beautiful it was compared to the boat her group rows in back home, and also that this was the first time she had been in a boat with cushions on the seats. What a luxury!  I agreed wholeheartedly! Those cushions are a godsend after you've been rowing for about an hour. Another first for her was to be seated in the boat while it was being lifted in a crane to go in and out of the water. Lynne thought we had some high tech methods over here!  They normally push the boat into the river where they row.

Lynne is competing in the International Breast Cancer survivors regatta in Sarasota, Florida which will be held in October. One of our own lionesses, Tiziana, will be making her very first trip to the US to compete in that race with the Rome team. Lynne got a chance to connect with Tiziana during our row, both promising to meet up again in Florida.

At the end of each of our normal practices, the boat is lifted out of the water, and we all pitch in to wash and dry the boat in order to get all the salt water off of it before it gets stored in the boat house.  Lynne was invited to join with this task.  Her group never  has to wash their boat off.  While we were washing, the lionesses wanted to explain to Lynne what we were doing.  In sort of mime fashion, they demonstrated  hosing down the boat and using the  sponges to soak up the water inside the boat. Lucia, one of the lionesses, asked me how to say that we were cleaning and drying the boat with sponges, in English. (Fyi, sponge, in Italian, is spugna) As I got the word "sponge" out of my mouth, Cristina, working  next to me, started repeating what came out like "Spuuun-ge"  "Spuuun-ge", making a very Italian sounding end to the word every time.  We all had a little English pronunciation lesson right then and there, with everyone saying "Sponge" "Sponge" "Sponge",  in between laughing and drying. Sort of a little like "Whistle while you work"... lioness style.

Lynne certainly had a unique Venetian experience Wednesday afternoon!