Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Runner's High and Humanity's Lows

This past weekend, four of my girlfriends and I went up to Scotland to run the Edinburgh Rock N' Roll Half Marathon.  If you aren't an avid runner and haven't done a race that requires that kind of training, you should think about it.  No matter what shape you are in.  It's a feeling of pride, of pain, of personal gratification that is rarely felt.  My girlfriends and I trained together, spending a few hours each weekend and several afternoons during the week chatting and running.  Through this training, I found out what kind of friends I have and what kind of friend I want to be.  It's more than just training for a race - it's also amazing bonding time.

After our race, through the wind and the rain, hail at a few points (seriously, Scotland?  Hail in April??  I was on your side with haggis.  I gave you a chance to be amazing.  And then hail??  That's not cool), we pushed and struggled and pushed some more.  We gave high fives to little kids, thanked policemen who braved the elements to stop traffic, waved to people on the street who cheered us on. 

And then today, I woke up still sore and groggy and checked Facebook while procrastinating work.  That was when I saw about 20 posts about Boston.  "WTF happened in Boston?"  My heart sank.  Who bombs a marathon?  My first thought was "May God bless our children and the world that they will grow up in."  Columbine happened when I was in middle school.  A guy killed himself in my high school parking lot when I was a senior.  A girl gave birth to a baby and drowned it in the girl's bathroom.  9/11.  Shootings at Virginia Tech.  Shootings at a movie theater.  Shootings at an elementary school.  Violence surrounds us.  My heart seems to sink lower and lower and I find myself wondering how we can ever change it.  How can we ever go back to a place that can simply celebrate what is good in our world, in our every day lives, in the simplicity of being happy?  After a weekend surrounded by Scots with their adorable accents where I would not have ever thought that I was in danger, I turned on the news to see violence in my home country at an event where people raise thousands and thousands of dollars for charity.  And someone bombed it. 

Whoever you are that did this, where ever you are, you are a hateful person.  You destroyed lives and families.  People will never be the same because of you.  I pray for those who were injured.  For those who were hurt.  For those whose lives will never again be as bright or as hopeful.  For you, I pray for happier days, for healthier tomorrows, for the support of your friends, for all of the good things that this life has to offer.  For you all, I say an extra prayer.  And for the person who did this to my country, to my fellow runners, I pray that God has mercy on you - because you must have no mercy of your own.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Wine Tasting in Avellino

I decided that we don't go wine tasting enough locally.  We always seem to be driving up to Tuscany or Umbria to drink wine up there.  We've got land here in Campania!  We've got vineyards!  Let's save the gas and tolls and just drink here.  And so we did. 

I found this winery, Tenuta Cavalier Pepe, outside of Avellino - about an hour away from Naples.  But we got lost, so it took us about 2 hours.  Whoops!  Milena Pepe, the owner, is a Belgian-Italian and probably one of the sweetest women ever.  She took us around the vineyards, explaining the various different types of grapes, how they are classified, etc.  Her 3 or 4 year old son, Angelo, was riding around on his little plastic Ducati motorcycle screaming the whole time.  In true Italian style, this child was wearing about 10 layers of clothing, including a puffy jacket, despite the fact that it was nearly 70 degrees outside.  But Italians have this magical date, before which it is unsafe to walk around outside without a puffy coat.  
Because you'll probably die.  Never mind that they allow their children to ride on Vespas with no helmets, at least that kid is warm.  Angelo kept saying "Momma, fa caldo!"  (Mommy, I'm hot!)  and she would smile and say "Si, Angelo."  No wonder this kid is hot!  He's wearing like 8 layers of clothing more than he needs!!  Maybe we're foolish Americans.  Maybe we just don't understand how to dress appropriately.  But I was wearing dress pants and a short sleeved top at the time and was very comfortable.  And somehow, by the strength of my immune system, the amount of wine, or divine intervention, I'm pretty healthy right now.  It's a mystery!

So Angelo is dripping sweat and we're all hot, Milena judging some of us for wearing sandals in March.  After a glass (or two) of prosecco, we caravaned to lunch.  The thing about Italian meals that is hands down the most amazing is any time they don't have a menu.  This is when you know that you are going to eat very well.  The tour + wine tastings + lunch was 40 Euro a person and we definitely got our fair share of everything for the price!  Plate after plate after plate of antipasti arrived.  Sausage, eggplant, cauliflower, cheese, goodness upon goodness.  Milena brought a few cases of wine and about 10 decanters and they just kept arriving like clockwork.  Some were disappointing but consumed regardless.  No point in wasting it!  We tipped generously, convinced that Americans were being cursed everywhere based on the sheer volume of wine that was consumed. 

One gloriously long (read: 4.5 hour) lunch later and we stumbled back to the winery to purchase wine.  Milena loved us extra upon our return, seeing the growing boxes of stock that she was off-loading.  Our good names were restored, at least temporarily!  Below, our friend, Eric, photo bombed me with his butt.  This pretty well sums up the end of the day.

Monday came all too quickly and most assuredly, painfully.  But we had a lovely day with great friends, amazing food, and a hearty amount of laughter.

Cin cin!

All Roads Lead to Rome

We've have those legendary trips to Rome where we sprint around the Eternal City with guests in tow seeing all of the sights.  At a break neck pace, we've eaten a good meal, snapped requisite pictures, rested our weary feet each night, and then taken the train back home.  This was kind of one of those trips. 

Our wonderful friend, Deacon, foolishly signed up for the Rome Marathon a month before the race.  We decided that this foolish plan required lots of sideline support to help him make it through.  But it also happened to coincide with my first weekend off from grad school and a massive wave of relief.  But it ALSO happened to coincide with my new, dear friend, Lindsey, coming to Rome as well!  The stars aligned, the Roman gods of old smiled down upon us and we converged on the city!

I think the idea of taking the train is something that the modern, budget airlines have, in my opinion, eradicated the idea that I once held (long reinforced by American baby-boomers) that the train is the fastest and most affordable way to travel throughout Europe.  I mean, we do it every one in a while, but  it's kind of a pain.  And, as a lady of class and of what I hope will someday evolve into means, we took the bullet train.  The benefit being: you get there in an hour and they give you a glass of prosecco. 

We spent Saturday eating.  I kid you not, we ate and drank our way, lazily, leisurely, throughout Rome.  First outside of the Roman Forum, then in the Piazza Navona, then in Campo Dei Fiori, then near the Coliseum.  It was crazy! 

Day 2 was all about running.  Lindsey and I are both training for half marathons in Edinburgh, Scotland (but in different months.  Drat!) and decided that a 7:30 run would be a good idea.  And you know what?  It was a great idea!  7:30 AM in Rome is a magical time.  The streets are empty and quiet.  We stopped along our 5(ish) mile run at the Pantheon, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Roman Forum and took candid iPhone photos.  When these prime tourist locations aren’t crawling with American college students, they are so amazing to take in!  If you ever find yourself in Rome or Paris or London or wherever, go running early in the morning and just marvel.  It’s such a wonderful way to experience the city. 

After running 5 little miles, we geared up to watch our friend run 26.2.  I felt even more whimpy.  I love cheering on runners in races.  Having done 1 full marathon and a handful of half marathons, I find that the motivation from people on the sidelines is amazing.  My husband chased me all over San Diego when I did the marathon there and I firmly believe that he’s the only reason that I finished.  Not stubbornness, not shame, not dedication, just the knowledge that he’d be worried about me at the next mile marker if I didn’t make.  That said, we camped out at the 20K mark for Deacon.  
Each runner had their name and country on their race bib so I screamed, SCREAMED, I tell you, as they passed me.  “GIUSEPPE!!!  BRAVISSIMO!!!”  Marco, Pasquale, Anna Maria, Silvana, Luigi, Anotonio, Luisa – Lindsey and I screamed for them all, while on-lookers snickered and Tom hung his head in shame.  And then at last, we saw Deacon!  In the rain, pushing through, and I lost it!  Screaming like a mad woman, my hands bright red, my voice practically gone!  We chased him across downtown Rome and got to see him 2 more times, the only souls cheering along the way.  But you know what?  I don’t know those people!  I don’t really care if they think that I’m crazy.  I mean, partially because I am a little crazy, but also because you grumps couldn’t be bothered to clap for someone.  Judge away, I had a marvelous time.  And Deacon finished the race.  And even smiled, when he saw us!

As always, Rome was a glorious time.  We laughed a lot with Lindsey, who lives here with her husband and not another American around for hours, helped her to get her fill of Americans, and even got to eat Indian food!  I mean, all in all, that’s a big win!