Wednesday, August 22, 2012

You Bet Your Ass(isi)

Let's be honest that I'm probably going to hell for this blog title.  But come on!  Assisi?  My inner 7th grade self just couldn't resist.

So it's hot here in Naples.  And everyone's gone.  And I wanted to be gone too.  Our apartment is stagnantly hot.  It's miserably hot.  There's that weird smell of hot things probably spoiling around me, the source of which is less important to me than the idea of sitting within inches of a fan's rotating blades.  With all of that in mind, we packed up the Civic and headed north to Umbria, which was equally hot, so perhaps that wasn't our best plan BUT there was crazy effective AC running in the B&B where we stayed, so va bene!

Totally unrelated to Assisi but, as I was drying my hair on the world's least efficient hair dryer at our B&B, I'm not ashamed to say that I mused.  And mused and mused.  I had recently read an article about the Spice Girls defining our generation on HuffPo, my go-to source for celebrity gossip (which I openly refer to as "the news"), and fancied that if this chick could get published writing about the Spice Girls that I certainly had career potential in the online writing world.  (I mean, at some point in time I'll end up getting more than 36 followers, I hope.  Not that I don't appreciate every single one of you who continue to read my mindless drabble each passing week(ish))  BUT ANYWAY!  There I was, using this horrifically slow hair dryer and thinking about how it looked like a Harry Potter wand and that if I was a witch at that time-honored school, I would be a Hufflepuff.  I know, it's not fancy and EVERYONE wants to be a Gryfindor, but I'll say it, I would be a Hufflepuff.  And my patronus would be a floppy eared bunny named Pugsley because, why the hell not?  [At this point, I was at like minute 7 of the 25 minute hair drying experience.  Tom had shoved a bar of soap into the wall-mounted hair dryer to force it to stay on because I was whining.  I know, I know, me... whine?  Shocking.  And almost impossible to imagine.  On rare occasion, it does happen, though.  And poor Tom just watches the crazy unfold.]

Still drying my hair, I then began to ponder the European shower experience, having just completed it for the day.  Showers in Europe have these strings with a little plastic thing at the bottom.  For a long time, I thought it was for travelers to hang their clothes on when they wash them in the shower.  You know, you're putzing around Europe for a month and want to wash your delicates.  And then someone told me that it's an emergency signal.  Which made me begin to wonder if there is a rash of shower-related injuries in Europe.  Are people falling all of the time in these confusingly small little showers?  They drop the soap and in an attempt to bend down to pick it up they get stuck?  I mean, it's plausible.  The "space pod" shower is very popular....  I was now entering minute 17 of hair drying and began to ponder pulling the emergency cable, just to see who would come.  The little hamster that runs my brain saw it like the Beacon of Gondor from Lord of the Rings letting all of Middle Earth know that they need assistance.  I expected the Rohirrim to crash through the door to my aid.  (If you haven't seen LoTR, first of all, watch it.  This instant if you can manage.  By fiscal quarter is really the best way and director's cut.  I'm always available.  [Puts LoTR Marathon in my calendar as "Important Meeting"])  Anywho, I'm a chicken shit and didn't pull it.  Because as I was pondering pulling it, I remembered that time that I called 911 as a child just to see what would happen and you know what?  911 calls you back!  And lectures you.  And that's scary.  So, I just forsaw the Rohirrim getting all decked out and riding in from New Zealand just to discover that I wasn't in any peril aside from a case of the crankies and my hair still not dry and how their lecture would probably be REALLY scary.... 

But Umbria!  It was great!  That about sums it up!  Of note:

1. We had the most fantastic meal at Redibis in Bevagna.  New-Italian, the bastard child of Italian food and openly called such by "real Italians," is amazing.  You know what?  In America we bastardize everything.  And we love it that way!  So I thought that this place was freaking amazing.

2. At the urging of my co-worker, we went to Santa Maria degli Angeli (Santa Maria of the Angels) cathedral just outside of Assisi.  There's this monstrously huge church there, built in 1776 (holler, America!).  Inside of this monstrous church is a little church, supposedly St. Francis' original church.  It was weird.  One of those things that my co-worker told me was the most amazing thing and when we saw it, Tom and I both said "That's kind of weird, right?  That they built a church around a church?"  Also, if you are sitting just behind the little church, good luck seeing what's happening on the altar.  You are just going to have to picture it mentally. 

2.5 days, 6 hours of the weekend spent in the car and 6 cases of wine later, we returned to Naples and... wait for it.... someone broke into our car again.  Mother effing Hubbard.  They stole my headband from Pier 1 and the cable for our GPS which was in the glove box.  I keep hoping that who ever broke my window is wearing that headband and it's given them lice.  Special lice that hasn't taken to my hair but will flourish in their thieving hair.  It's cool, I'm sure that's what you're supposed to think after spending the weekend in a city of churches....  Now go forth and do great things.  And let me know if you've pulled the emergency beacon cable before, because I'm super curious if you've met the Rohirrim!

Buon Ferragosto!

It's August in Italy which means that most all of the Italians are gone somewhere south of Napoli, lounging on a beach somewhere.  But!  There was a big festival this week which managed to keep a few in town for a moment longer!

Ferragosto is one of those holidays that I have never experienced before.  On August 15th, Italy shuts down to celebrate the Assumption of Mary (which for you heathens is the day when the Virgin Mary ascented into Heaven).  I ventured up to Monte di Procida with a few girlfriends (taking a day off of work mid-week) to see what all of the fuss was about.

At 10 AM a crowd of no less than 2,000 Italians had gathered outside of the main church in this little town of Monte di Procida, waiting for a statue of Mary to be carried out and then to process through the entire town, making stops at four other churches along the way.  We were watching the crazy from a bridge above this crowd, just waiting and speculating which way Mary would be carried throughout the town.  At 10:30, (it was supposed to start at 10 but let's be honest, 10:30 is close enough for Italian time!) clapping ensued around us and a hodge-podge band of children, adults and elderly men began to make their way through the crowd.  A collection of elderly men followed closely behind the bands, making sure that the mob ahead of the group cleared a path.  Behind them, groups of younger men dressed all in white with yellow scarves around their necks held hands along two lines - they made a passageway for a group of priests wearing microphones and chanting.  The microphones were linked into speakers that broadcasted their prayers and chants throughout hte entire town, allowing the mass of thousands to sing the responses regardless of their relative location to the parade.  And finally, there was a probably 6 foot tall statue of the Virgin Mary on a platform carried by several Italian men.  Behind her, around her, in front of her, there was a mob slowly walking, some holding hands, some fanning themselves from the unrelenting August sun.

It was one of those moments where spirituality has truly gripped me.  There is something about being in the middle of a group so large and so devoted to their faith that moved me nearly to tears.  It was beautiful.  I honestly cannot even put into words how amazingly spiritual it was to be in the middle of this event, to hear thousands of responsorial songs and prayers to the Virgin Mary in Italian.  It was amazing.  And crazy.  And exciting.  And about 10 other emotions all at once.

The day concluded with prosecco and one of those amazingly large Italian lunches that makes you really appreciate the need for riposso (the mid-day nap).  I can honestly say, it was just such a wonderful experience that I am so very glad to have been a part of it and experience a little piece of Italian culture.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

It's all Greek to me!

I never thought I'd say it: I came back from Greece and actually let out a sigh of relief upon hearing Italian again!  "At least I can sort of eavesdrop here!"  Greek is a tough language.  Somewhere between what sounds like Arabic, Russian, Italian and made-up language is where Greek lies to my ear.  I think it's all an elaborate rouse to make tourists feel foolish.  Maybe I'm a bit too paranoid, though...

Tom had a work meeting on the island of Crete so I tagged along the weekend prior to explore a bit.  Observation: Greek food is heavenly.  Everything was so flavorful and interesting.  Italian food is good, don't get me wrong.  But Italians love things to be very simple.  If you are eating pork, it should taste like pork.  Everything tastes like the best  version of itself.  Which is nice and all, but sometimes, I like to hide my food under layers of spices and cream sauces and tons of herbs.  Greeks, it turns out, do too!  We have so much in common already! 

Crete is a hard island, made harder by the blazing sun, 100+ degree temperature days, being overtaken by Romans, Turks, Germans and being in the middle of the ocean!  The people, much like Neapolitans, have struggled and persevered and somehow come out on the other side. 

We stayed in Chania, pronounced "Haan-ya" which is bustling with tourists, fishing boats, and tons of shopping!  It seemed like Sorrento, walking down the leather goods alley, with all variety of purse, wallet, jacket and sandal hanging outside of stalls until midnight or later.  The streets were narrow, made of stone and crammed with people!  In our very European way, we dined at 9 or 10 at night, conducting an independent study on tatziki, dolmas and vegetable fritters at each place.  Shockingly, Tom was a fan of all three! 

Before we left, I found a horseback riding company on TripAdvisor which was very highly rated and emailed the owner to set up an appointment.  He emailed me back to tell me that I was crazy, that his establishment was far from Chania and again, that I was crazy.  I booked it anyway and we spent a hot day driving through the coastline and exploring the ruins of Knossos, King Minos' palace where the Minotaur Labyrinth is said to have been.  The whole place was 4,000 years old but had been rebuilt in the 1920's to look like it might have looked back in the day.  We thought it a bit hokey, but did relish at the site of a German man, in a white linen suit with beach flip flops.  Now that's how you do business casual in Germany!  So after judging the German, seeing an ancient site and eating approximately 40 dolmas, we made our way to the horseback riding place. 

It was all in all, a pretty fun little trek.  The landscape was lovely, full of olive trees and little farms, Greek children stared at us as we rode by on our horses, shouting inaudible things to their mothers.  The owner of the horseback riding company was a fairly insane man, foul mouthed and raunchy but very generous at the same time.  Tom's horse, picture above, was bat-shit crazy (and that's putting it nicely!).  He was constantly about 1/2 a mile ahead of the rest of the group, his horse likely to freak out if another one came too close to him.  It was all a bit odd, but we got to spend some really quality time in the car (the town being some 2 hours from Chania), me singing Tom various whiny Indi songs from my college days and having serious discussions about future Christmas plans.

One thing to know about Tom: he hates the sun.  Loathes it.  Thinks Italians (and me) are crazy for laying in its rays for hours on end, seemingly enjoying that form of torture.  Now me?  I LOVE the beach.  It's my favorite place to be.  I'll spend hours swimming and floating and lounging and swimming some more.  It reminds me of my childhood, of building drip-drop sand castles with my mom and my sisters, finding enormous pieces of kelp (which we invariably called "Lioney" each time) and dragging it all over the beach for hours.  My mom thought we might have been part fish.  I took this with me, this constant love of the water and the sun and the lazy days at the beach, onwards to Greece.  We spent a day, surrounded by the Tower of Babel clad in various levels of Speedo.  The clearly northern Europeans already blotchy from the sun, laying out again as proof of their Greek vacation.  Tom hid beneath our umbrella, covering it with our towels just to be sure that no sun snuck in.  I swam and swam and floated and swam and read and swam and drank several beers.  It was my favorite day in Greece.  It was perfect.

Now back in Naples, I find myself missing those lovely beaches, complex food and relatively courteous drivers!  But I also have that feeling of familiarity that comes with living somewhere for over a year.  Our brief sojourn in Greece was lovely!  Some day, when our internet is working again, I'll add the rest of the pictures.  These are uploaded via my iPhone, so please forgive the quality!