Monday, January 21, 2013

Northward Bound!

To celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (as well as the Inauguration of the President of the United States!), we ventured northward to Tuscany in our trusty little Honda Civic.  Poor Gabby (said Civic) has really gotten some serious kilometers put onto her since moving here.  Poor thing....  Maybe deep down she's an adventurous soul.  [Note to self: stop personifying your vehicle]

Our first stop was in San Gimignano (pronounced: Jim-en-yawn-oh) - a cute little town of about 1,000 people, which Rick Steeves hates with a passion.  His description of the town, as "faux rustic" and a "tourist trap," led me to believe that everything here was fake.  What we did learn is this: traveling to Tuscany in mid-January is ill-advised.  The hill towns are almost entirely shut down.  "Where do all of these people go?"  Somewhere else, is obviously the answer.  People were hard to find.  Open restaurants were even harder to find.  We found one.  Just one.  And, thankfully, a woman who ran a very niche market hair care and beauty appliance store which was open until 7:30 pm, so I was able to buy a spendy (but necessary) brush to replace the one that was ever so carefully left on the bed during packing.  Hmmm....

San Gimignano is a walled medieval city with towers, which were once the marker of prominent families.  The town's steep streets and beautiful buildings made for a quaint stroll and a chance to actually see the stars, out and shining with an inherent lack of smog like we have here in Napoli.  Tom and I spent the evening recharging our batteries, feeling incredibly confident in my Italian language skills.  Here's the thing: you know when people say "Just try, the locals really appreciate that."  Those people were in Tuscany.  In Tuscany, the locals really like you more when you speak Italian, even broken Italian.  In Naples, they correct you.  "Il conto, per favore."  Waiter: "No, Il conto.  E 'il cooooooontooooo.'"  The clarification of pronunciation is normally done a) in an asshole-ish manner, implying heavily that you are a complete idiot and b) sounds exactly the same.  "Listen, friend, just bring me the damn check." 

Somewhere the weather turned from drizzling and cold to snowing and sweet merciful Mother of Pearl freezing!  Tom and I shivered, sniffled, whined our way back to the car, where we ate mini-pizzas and cookies from a local bakery (note the only place that was open at 12:30 on a Saturday) and blasted Gabby's heating system.

Onward to Firenze, or Florence. 

Tom: Why don't we call it Firenze?
Lynne: You can call it Firenze if you want.
Tom: But no one else does. 
Lynne: I don't know, honey. 

So here's a life lesson: Don't EVER drive in Florence - it's bad for your marriage.  We've gotten an inflated sense of badass-ness driving in Naples.  But our hotel's garage was down this one way street which switched directions at almost every stop light and, overwhelmed by both the amount of lost, the number of pedestrians in the middle of the street, and the number of Italian men who yelled the equivalent of "You shouldn't be driving here, idiot" at us, I put the car in park, started crying, and forced the keys on Tom.  This is where things got bad.  I'll skip to the part where we got to the hotel, thankfully still married but muttering hateful things about each other's inherent flaws under our breath. 

Our hotel was lovely!  Sigh, we loved each other again.  Our room looked out at the Duomo in all of its glory.  We spent the next two days strolling through galleries, looking at a ridiculously large number of naked men in sculpture form, and eating very good food.  When you think of Italian food, you are normally thinking of food from the Tuscan region.  Tortellini, ravioli, really amazing beef stew (ok, I'm sure that's not what you were thinking of, but it was legit delicious!) - the food up north has a lot more spices and flavor than our food here in Naples.  Which is still very good, but it's also very, very simple.  Fish tastes like fish.  Red meat isn't very prominent on the menu.  So, the ability to have that kind of variety was amazing! 

The same driving in Florence pitfall marked our drive back, which was terse and passive aggressive.  Again, in case I didn't empahsize it enough, don't drive in Florence.  When people say "ohhhhhhh you drove in Florence?"  - it's because their marriage has also been on the brink of collapse while driving in that city.  Just save yourself the trouble, the heartache and the hours of passive aggression, and take the train.  And then see a bunch of naked men.  And snicker.  Like children.  It seems to help.  If all else fails: drink.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Ringing in the New Year!

Ever since we moved here, we've heard one thing: Naples on New Year's Eve is crazy.  Since we spent last year back in the States with family, we took the opportunity to really take in the evening from our balcony this year.  And my goodness, it didn't disappoint!

In case I haven't stressed it enough, Italians (Neapolitans especially) LOVE fireworks.  Love them!  It's traditional to shoot off fireworks for the birth of a child, to commemorate the hour of their birth (even if it's 10 AM on a Tuesday), or because you had extra fireworks and want to celebrate.  Throughout the day, we heard the familiar blast of fireworks for test runs.  I should have known then that no one was holding back.

As the sun set, some of our neighbors started mini-displays with bottle rockets and sparklers.  By 8, that number had increased.  By 10, they were going off every 10 minutes.  At 5 of midnight, we grabbed several bottles of prosecco and our coats and made for the porch.  When midnight came, the skyline of the Bay of Naples lit up.  But in true Italian style, it was really around 12:05, that grace period between on time and late when the fireworks started for real.  Below is a video of 10 seconds of the crazy.  This went on for nearly 2 hours!  Explosions over our porch, out on the horizon, behind our building, below our building.  Seriously, there was not one single place that we could turn and not see the familiar sparkle of light and feel the shudder of each boom.

And so here we go, into another new year with resolutions and goals and plans to fill our post-Christmas blues.  With one year and some random number of months left of our time here, I'm trying to find the adventure, the possibility, and the wonder of each day that we have here.  Whether it be that my fruit lady doesn't let me actually touch the produce or in having a stroll through the park by my house.  There is potential in each day and I'm determined to find it. 

Cheers!  Auguri!