Sunday, December 23, 2012

The End of the World

I have a confession to make.

For one entire year, I fretted about the last round of doomsday predictions.  When I say "round" it is because this was not the first "scare" that I have lived through.  There was that big one in 1960.  Kids on the school bus talked about it, I honestly lost sleep over it.  To a twelve year old, fears of death were just starting to ripen and all this talk from the older and wisers, the eighth graders, resulted in abject horror, too great to even share with my parents.  I held it all in and when I woke up on January first, my new life began and I was just as carefree and certain as I had been taught, that there would be no warning, that the thief would come in the night and that we should live our lives ever-ready for that night.

Then came the big promotion for the newest prediction.  This one had some teeth to it.  Not only was there Nostradamus, but now there was the Mayan calendar.  The Mayans, uneducated, unsophisticated, they did not even have a pencil......yet, it was they who were going to tell us that the world was going to end on the exact date of December twenty first, two thousand and twelve and not a day before or later.  Who could possibly argue with them? First of all, there was not one Mayan around to question and then, well, they did such a great job building an entire civilization without Sears Roebuck at their Mall.  Amazing feat by infallible people, skilled mathematicians, who eventually made calendars after completing the civilization project to a tee.

Supermarket check out lanes were lined with news proclaiming that the time would soon be upon us.  Books were written.  Movies were made.  Time was ticking away.  Each hurricane, typhoon, earthquake and disaster, natural or made at the hands of mad men, affirmed my own belief that things were getting worse and worse and surely those Mayans were dead accurate.

I actually started taking comfort in the thought that soon, it would be curtains for all of us.  No worry about bills, no fear of chronic disease.  Travel, live it it all before December of 2012.  I even took some comfort in thinking that soon I would see my mother again.  I went as far as telling my friends and they were starting to believe me.  I became a regular Daughter of Doom and I was ready for the big day.

But, the day came and the day went and nothing happened.  Slowly, I began to recall that those who had tried to give us hints and let us know that the Mayans did NOT intend for the world to end, might be right.  Did they simply run out of chalk?  No more stone tablets?  Did they have other great objectives for a new calendar style after December twenty first.  Perhaps the Calendar Management team got distracted?  A strike in the village?  One can only guess and take a deep breath.  We can all sleep better now....or can we?

Mayan calendar be damned.  December twenty first, it will come again and again but there is some truth here.  It is the end of time as we have known it, especially if one is considered a Baby Boomer.  We had our time and it was magical.  We had very few cares or fears.  Our parents did all the scary stuff just a few years before when they bravely lived through a world war but our time, it was post-war and we thought it was pure bliss and we feared nothing other than the stern discipline of our parents who were determined to keep our world safe and beautiful as they climbed toward prosperity.  We played on the streets in our neighborhoods, went trick or treating with our friends, went to the movies on Saturday afternoons.   Our world was amazingly simple and we thought everyone was perfect.  It was years later that we learned that our friends parents had drinking problems, gambling addictions, unfaithfulness, depression, abuse or hosts of other imperfections.  Well-hidden.  What we didn't see, did not exist and we would never have looked beyond our Ginny dolls and Schwinn bikes.

It is the end of time as we knew it and we all know what I'm talking about.  The world ended a long time ago and it keeps on ending and we keep on thinking that we can blame it on a bunch of innocent early civilizations.  But we can't.  They didn't have airplanes to fly into towers of buildings that they also did not have.  Nor did they have guns or wars or simplistic solutions to big problems.  People in schools with guns, good guys ready to turn bad to shoot bad guys who thought of simple solutions to their own complex problems.  Brains, in the wrong heads, weapons of mass destruction.  They kill us, we kill them back.  Dumb.

All the Mayans had was a calendar that became a weapon of mass hysteria.  Perhaps, the days they ran out of should have stayed run out.  They knew we didn't need a calendar to end our world. Smart.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Phoebe, Just Phoebe

It isn't hard to understand why I have been so focused on my two granddaughters this particular week.
In the aftermath of this nation's most horrific tragedies, we hear and see stories and photos of the twenty beautiful children who became the latest victims at the hand of the child of another mother.

The tiny victims were so close in age to my sweet and innocent grand babies, most of them we're told, no older than seven, the majority, only six years old, first graders.

But this is not about sadness and horror.  That has another place in my heart.  This little post today is just about Phoebe.  Phoebe Grace Colket.  Sweetness in a tiny package.  My own Velcro Monkey.  Our family Baby.  The Second Child who is preparing herself for her very own place in life, living in the shadows of the First Child, her sister Lucy.  Two children of the same parents, amazingly different in looks, spirit and personality yet both very capable of totally stealing the hearts of grandparents and great grandparents, not to mention their own parents.  Youngest member of the Abraham Lincoln fan club.  Ask her anything about him and you will be amazed and fall in love if you haven't already, when the discourse begins and the tiny mouth and big bright eyes reveal wisdom beyond years. Kiddie puzzles outgrown a long time ago.

Again, I'm back to Phoebe.  Tiny wonder.  Blonde hair.  Blue eyes that will never be anything but true blue.  Blue eyes that are the only trace of her Italian heritage.  Eyes she acquired through a strong gene that has come to her from the beautiful mountains deep in Abruzzo, Italy. When I look at those plates of blue, my heart skips a beat, knowing that there was a great-great grandmother who would have cried with joy each and every time she saw our Phoebe, wearing her eyes.  A brilliant mind. Always thinking, way ahead of everyone else. Kind and considerate, that's Phoebe.  We already have a catalog of precociously kind words that she has used at the exact right times in her life and she's still only not quite five.  Kisses on the telephone.  Delicious.  Phoebe. Easily bored with the mundane.  Never tired of the brilliance.

I often think that Phoebe is a direct descendant of a high-order angel.  Both babies were sent from Heaven but this one.....she remembers being there, I swear she does.  She's a lightweight but a true heavyweight in the spiritual world.  How could she care so much about her great, great grandfather who she affectionately calls "Louigi Porco".  She knows where he is and she knows that one day, she'll find him first.  He must be thrilled when she talks about him as if she has sat on his lap.Maybe she has. She tells us that it is very sad about Louigi because he is "dead".  The secret is hers.

Merry Christmas Little Phoebe and an extra special hug from Louigi.  He wants you to know that you don't have to worry, everyone there is okay and smiling right back at you. xxxooo  

Monday, December 17, 2012


Every year at Christmastime, my mother, who was an executive in her company, hosted a Christmas party at our home.  It was always a great event, something that we all looked forward to and enjoyed because her party usually marked the real start of our Christmas and we knew that very soon, the Big Day would be arriving.  Our home was ready, our plans were made and both of my parents had a very, very nice time at the party.

In addition to all of the festivities, there was another big part of this party that I grew to enjoy.  My mother, despite the fact that she was the "boss" to many of them, had a host of wonderful girlfriends at her place of work and it never was it as evident that they enjoyed each other's company as it was on the day of the Christmas party.  I grew up with such an appreciation for girl friends, just by watching my mom and hers.  She loved them and they, her.  Rarely was there a week that would go by that would not include several good times spent with good friends.  Bowling clubs, church dances, coffee and cake get-togethers, you name it, it happened and it was always a good time.

As the years went by, my parents had fewer friends.  Folks moved away.  Friends retired.  Illness and eventually, deaths, one by one, broke up their friendships until, at the end of my mother's life, there were no more.  My father has outlived all of his friends and now has only memories and even those, he selectively recalls.  It must be a mechanism employed by the very old - they screen out memories and drop from their thoughts all that are too painful.  It's hard to believe that my father, who once shared so many of those good times with my mother, is totally alone now.

I love my friends.  I've always had a great number of them.  I inherited that from my mother and have also enjoyed many good times with great people. I have categories of friends, old and new, here and there.  My oldest friends have been with me through every phase of my life.  I call them my own Cemetery Club.  In fact, we've been together since before we were all in the fourth grade.  We've shared milestone birthdays, weddings, births, divorces, deaths......just about everything thus far.  It's a sad reality that one of us will be the first to die.  We never discuss that but we do discuss other things and we laugh a lot, a lot.

Yesterday, my first born granddaughter was in her dance school's production of the Nutcracker Suite..  It is always a joyous event for the family, a rather new ritual. After all, she is only six years old.  We love watching her and are always in awe as we think back to her babyhood and realize that it has passed and she is growing into a little girl, no longer a baby.  She has a life that, each day, becomes more her own.  She makes decisions, has opinions, and now has her own little friends.  Her friends who came to see her perform yesterday.  Her friends who, hopefully will go through life with her just as mine and her mother's and her great grandmother's.  It was a great joy seeing Lucy with her friends, three beautiful girls, bursting at the seams with love for each other.  I hope and pray that they will have the opportunity to stay together.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Opera Museum

Joe and I have a little policy that allows us each to be free to say to the other....."go do your thing, I'll meet up with you later" when we are traveling.  He tends to be happy visiting museums that house military artifacts or heavy works of medieval art, moving along slowly, reading captions under objects or on walls, while I have an intense dislike for "shuffling" and anything that requires a good attention span.  So, on one of our beautiful days in Verona, we parted company for a few hours in the morning and met up later for lunch.

The poor dear man, I honestly cannot remember what it is he did with his time....although he did tell me, because I was so intent on bringing him to my "find" of the day, knowing that he would be utterly delighted and that we could comfortably share an afternoon of museum visiting.

While Joe was busily shuffling along, doing his diligent museum tour, I was walking briskly around the fair city of Verona, window shopping, people watching, and generally enjoying my day.  We had decided to meet up at the German Christmas Market and I knew he would not be there at the appointed time, so I had lots of free time and I used it well.  I use my camera as if it were a body part.  In fact, on this trip, I have taken over three thousand photos which will take me the entire winter to edit.  Snap, snap, snap.....I twist and turn into alley-ways, I sneak up on people and snap their faces or their backs should they turn before I catch the moment I was aiming for.  In other words, I'm always looking for something unique and I use my great little Canon as if it were a gun, tracking down something I really want.

As I cruised along the streets of Verona, gasping at each new sight, I spied yet another courtyard.  This one held the promise of something truly unique because there, a few meters from the sidewalk entrance, stood a huge sphinx, just begging me to come further.  As I entered the quiet courtyard, I found gigantic statues of red roses which kept me snapping and exploring further.  Where am I?  Why is there a sphinx from Aida here?  What's with the giant roses and the other signs of eccentricity?  I followed the path that led away from the courtyard and just as I  discovered that this was a museum, a young woman exited the building and greeted me.  "Would you like to come in?  This is the opera museum".  Be still, my heart, " I'm going to find my husband and I will return this afternoon"...and so, we did.

The Arena Museo Opera is brand new.  It opened in June, 2012 in the Palazzo Forti, the former home of the Museum of Contemporary Art, once inhabited by the Forti family and then used as a home by Napoleon for his visits to Verona.  In fact, there is a mirror in the museum that has a crack in it, made during a Bonaparte visit and never repaired.  Each room in the Palazzo is ornately decorated with gorgeous high frescoed ceilings, original tile floors and marble fireplaces. Surely, this was not as suitable a home for the contemporary art collection as it now is for the collection of precious, rarely seen anywhere else, opera artifacts. This was THE place for the collection and it was getting itself ready for the biggest opera celebration Verona has ever seen, the 100th anniversary of Aida, in all its glory, promising to bring dedicated fans from all over the globe to Verona's ancient Arena for a performance to end all, this summer. The multimedia presentations housed in the museum added to the growing excitement about this event.

The Vernonese take their opera seriously.  Each summer, from June through September, they have a full season of performances in the death-defying open air arena that dominates the center of the city.  It very much resembles the Colosseum in Rome and has not changed since ancient times when it was used for less bloody assaults and more cultural entertainment.  No handrails, no elevators.  When we toured there, ascending layers and layers of hard rock seating, we wondered how the senior citizens or for that matter, anybody over age forty, safely get to and from their seats but apparently, they do, thousands at a time..  The museum bears testimony to this in photographs and videos of past performances.

We were the only visitors on that afternoon. Thus, we were assigned our own personal guide who brought us through fifteen rooms, each one dedicated to a component of an opera. We studied seven sections ranging from the libretto through to the representation (performance) stages.  We viewed original scores, librettos, sketches, gorgeous costumes and massive props, all from Aida, each with a commentary in writing and in the words spoken by our lovely and knowledgeable guide who clearly loved her work.  Together, we listened to and viewed videos of five major arias, each performed at one time at the Arena.  This, we did in a quiet room with a huge screen in front of us.Two rows of music stands, sheet music cleverly covering a button which, through the wonders of modern technology, turned on the aria, accompanied by beautiful videos were at our disposal.  Pure joy.

Now, if you have been reading my blog lately, you know that I am convinced that my recently deceased mom sent me to Italy this year, followed me everywhere I went, and oftentimes, was accompanied by my grandmother.  I'm sure they delighted in my reflections and gently pushed me in all the right directions along the way.  So, having said that, it will be of no surprise to learn that opera was very much a part of my childhood.  In fact, it is the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, that figures into one of my earliest and clearest of childhood memories.  His name was Milton Cross.  He broadcast live, every Saturday afternoon, from the Met and on countless Saturdays we listened to his radio show.  Our background music.  Comfort food for our ears.  Beautiful music with commentary at intermission and always an introduction to the day's performance.  Years later, my parents purchased one of the first Hi-Fidelity record players and I'm almost certain, the first LP album that was played by my mother was "Madame Butterfly".  I still melt when I think of it.  I still lose my breath when I hear anything from " La Boheme" and take enormous pride in the fact that my own daughter inherited an appreciation for the genre and that my first granddaughter was born with a Puccini aria playing in the background. The first thing she ever heard in the outside world.  A joy, beyond joy.  Both of my granddaughters seem already to have a sense for the beauty of the opera and have their own recordings, now on CD's, the Hi-Fi, something antiquated that they will laugh about one day.

It makes me smile when I think that one day, I too, will be looking down on my own little legacies, two beautiful little girls who will become exquisite women, living their lives in ways they have chosen.  I'm sure that they will continue to have an appreciation for things like music and art, and I hope that they will travel and see the world and I know that I will be with them, every step of the way, perhaps leading the way as I have been taught to do.

Go back to a much earlier post....the one about the "teachers"'s all making sense now.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Journey, Well Ended

When I was in high school, I had the very good fortune of attending a small, private school for girls.  Nestled on a gracious campus in the heart of the City of White Plains,  The Academy of Our Lady of Good Counsel provided me with not only a very fine education but an introduction into the world of tradition and gentility that could only have come from the Sisters of the Divine Compassion.  The sisters lived on the campus in a convent that held many of the rich traditions and was always a source of wonder to we students because in those days, they were semi-cloistered and the convent, the beautiful chapel (in which I was eventually married), and the "ladies" of GCA, were their whole world.  They were beautiful examples of piety and they were very different, as a group, from any other set of vestal virgins known to me at that time.  My impression of nuns was tainted due to my earlier scary and negative experiences, so when it was time for high school, my parents were shocked and waited with baited breath every moment for my demand to change schools....but it never came.  My four years at GCA flew by all too quickly, bringing with them a deep love of the sisters, the school and its traditions and rituals, so many of which I recall to this day.  It also brought my very best friend into my life so I was blessed and fulfilled as a result of my decision.

Throughout the years at GCA, we honored the patron of our school, the Madonna, in our case known as Our Lady of Good Counsel.  Her beautiful picture was everywhere, not simply in our chapel.  We sang to her every First Friday as we attended mass, little lace chapel caps on top of our 60's styled hair.  Following Mass, we returned to class and had milk and freshly delivered crumb buns, breaking the requisite fast for we had all received Communion during Mass.  I enjoyed this ritual and still can remember those fresh buns as if it were yesterday, over fifty years ago.

Years later, my daughter, Sara, chose GCA and entered into the world that, while it still had its traditions and rituals, had changed so much from "my day".  Some things did not change.  The nuns, no longer in their mysterious garb, were now in simple habits or street clothes.  There was a new gym and some other modern additions to the high school and campus.  Rules were relaxed and uniform skirts were rolled up to reveal teen aged knees without fear of "detention".  Friendships were formed and still exist, just as in my case.  On her graduation day, it was I who handed her diploma and hugged her so tightly for so long that she had to remind me that she was to return to her seat and could not remain in my proud embrace for the rest of the program.

The year before I started high school, the campus chapel, shared by the sisters, the high school, grammar school and Good Counsel College, had undergone a complete renovation.  It still stands today, exactly as it did the first time I entered.  No further renovations were necessary.  The chapel is beautiful and the highlight is the lovely altar and the painting of Our Lady of Good Counsel.  It's an iconic painting, flat and softly colored, taken from its original fresco. It shows a mother, cheek to cheek with her baby, his arm stretched to the top of her head and his other hand, softly holding on to the top of her garment.  Its an intimate picture of a mother and child, the child perhaps about to nurse.  It is the picture that gave meaning to all of the things we were taught and the sisters were proud of it and all it stood for.

Perhaps because I am of Italian heritage, I remembered all these years later that the sisters told us many times that the original painting, the one attached to a great miracle, was located in Italy.  Oh, how they wished they could see it for themselves, but they did not travel at that time, rarely off the campus and then only for doctor or dentist visits.  So, they dreamed, and once in a while, they heard from alumni who had taken the time while on holidays, to visit the town of Genazzano, Italy, to see for themselves.

I've returned from my five week journey, accomplished all that I set out to.  During my stay in Assisi, I was living a semi-cloistered life in that I rarely stepped out of my personal time zone.  Instead, I used my time alone to reflect, to look for teachers, to listen and to live, if only for a short time, in a culture foreign to me but not to my spirit.  I know that my own mother, now in Heaven with her own mother, planned my journey and guided me along the way.  Many times, I had the feeling that I was channeling both Mom and Grandma, that they were showing me parts of a life lived long, long ago and that I was fulfilling a dream that my own mother had, to spend time in the homeland of her own parents.  She never did get the opportunity so she allowed me to.  I felt her presence every moment of every day and was comforted and confident.  My spiritual work was completed and it was time to move on with the arrival of my husband Joe.

Before we left Umbria, I had one more inspiration.  We had some time, we had a car and we had an internet connection which allowed me to locate the story of Our Lady of Good Counsel and her miraculous arrival at a little church in a town, little known to tourists, called Genazzano.  The love of a great man made the excursion happen and off we went...

Located about an hour south of Rome, Genazzano Italy has its origins back to the times of Roman emperors.  You can find out so much more about its history here:  The purpose of my story is not to fill in the blanks but the history is interesting and Genazzano, a beautiful little walled town that allows one to step back in time and understand better what an Italian town and it's inhabitants truly consist of.  No Disney Wold Italy here.

Because it is a walled town, Genazzano, as most of the others, allows only residents to drive in beyond the tall walls that lead, naturally, up a steep hill.  The church I was seeking, Santa Maria Maggiore would be, I assumed, in a piazza at the very top, typical of all walled Italian towns.  We could not drive in.  Nor could we, savvy travelers that we are, leave our car with luggage exposed.  We found a parking lot at the base of the town and Joe waited as I made one more excursion on my own, into the world that was being revealed to me by my most beloved dearly departed's.....despite the promise that I had made when leaving Assisi of "no more major climbs up stairs".  Up, up, up, I went.  My legs allowed me to keep going.  My desire to get to the top, climbing countless cobblestone steps, past doorways to private homes which were perched on small landings.  The path upwards twisted and turned. One more flight, no, another....don't give up, you can do it!!! And finally, as I rounded the last corner and climbed the remaining steps, I saw was a the light of the sun in a piazza and there were people there, enjoying a little Christmas fair, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, one of Italy's biggest religious holidays.  A few inquiries, a simple set of directions, and I was off to the next piazza and there before me stood the object of my pilgrimage.....Santa Maria Maggiore, her doors open, a baptism just ending, the chapel of Our Lady of Good Counsel, open for the family of the newly baptized baby.  Was it luck?  I took full advantage of whatever it was and there, before my eyes, in a glorious setting, surrounded by flowers and total beauty, was the glass enclosed Our Lady of Good Counsel.
The original. The very one that was delivered to the church, according to the legend, miraculously, and to this day, the eggshell thick fresco rests on a very small ledge, unattached to the wall, floating on air.

I won't go on about the miracles prayed for, the prayers answered, the adorations and the truth versus the legends, but I will tell you that for me, this was a moment to remember.  Fifty years later and still going strong in my mind.  Our Lady of Good Counsel.  How fitting for me to be here now, asking for all the help I need to give my own good counsel to my father, mother in law, my children, my grandchildren.  Good counsel.  Good words of wisdom in a world that is becoming more and more confusing.  Here was I, enjoying one last gift from my own mother, remembering the words to the hymn.....

Oh, Virgin Mother, Lady of Good Counsel, sweetest picture artist ever drew.  In all my doubts I fly to thee for guidance, Mother tell me, what am I to do?

To the people of Genazzano who allowed me to enter their home town for a few moments, to the family of the baptized baby who I am sure wondered who the strangera with the camera was, to the nun who opened the chapel for the baptism and to the husband who patiently waited in the car for my return and who made the visit possible, thank you for helping me to close circles, to accomplish what I set out to and to give me yet one more story.  My mother told me what to do......

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Romeo, Romeo......

It might very well have been a scenario in his imagination but if the fair Juliet and the handsome Romeo had existed, they surely would have lived in Verona.

Known as piccola Roma (little Rome) for its importance in imperial days, this little gem of a city became more important during the 13th and 14th centuries when the Della Scala family led it through its golden age.  It was during this time that there were family feuds and thus, the idea for Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet was born.

Verona is, without a doubt, the most beautiful city I've ever, ever visited.  When our friends from Padua heard we would be visiting Verona, they told us that it is considered to be THE most beautiful city in all of Italy but even then, I was not prepared.

Each piazza outdoes the next.  Beautiful architecture, once privately owned palazzos that still stand proudly, Italian colors, cobblestone streets, flowers......if it is a thing of beauty, it is found in Verona.  And, the approaching Christmas holiday makes it extra beautiful.  Tastefully decorated shop windows and entrance ways are but a small part of what is happening in preparation.  Right now, there is a huge German Christmas market and everywhere, festive touches, happy and prosperous people.

The retail life in Verona is alive and well.  Narrow streets that traverse the city, decked out for Christmas, sell expensive and gorgeous articles of clothing, jewelry and accessories.  The women are all very well dressed, head to toe and the gentlemen, dressed like gentlemen of a forgotten era.
Couples walk arm-in-arm and everyone carries a shopping bag or two, holding a recent purchase from one of the fine stores that line the vias that lead down to the famous via  Cappelo where Juliet's house is found.

Juliet's house, of course we know it is fictitious, but for one moment in time, it becomes the very home that the two star-crossed lovers put on the map for all of us to enjoy.  Yes, there is a balcony and a courtyard and it is in the courtyard that the statue of Juliet gets her rubs.....legend has it that if you rub her breast and make a wish for a lover in your life, your wish will become a reality.

I already have my Romeo.  No need to rub Juliet.  But let me tell you, if I were in the market for a nice life, Verona would be the place for me and I would be there in the courtyard, looking dreamily up to that balcony, rubbing and wishing for a man like Joe.

The next time you find yourself in Italy, find your way to Verona.  I'll meet you there.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Ci Vediamo

Have not forgotten to blog...just busy getting from Bologna toVerona to Fabbri and the warm, welcoming arms of good friends.

I'll be back here soon to write about Verona and the lovely Museo d'Opera.

Until then, hold us in your thoughts

Monday, December 3, 2012

Full of Bologna and Loving it

I don't have anything clever to say and haven't written in this blog in a few days and that is husband arrived in Assisi on Thursday night and we've been busy together ever since.  Thursday was an excruciatingly long day for me.  I knew that Joe had left Boston in the afternoon of Wednesday and that he had a Boston to New York to Madrid to Rome journey and that his plane landed safely in Rome but beyond that.....I knew nothing but the fear and anticipation that comes when there is no communication.

Years ago, this would have been the norm, wouldn't it?  A person would tell another the day of arrival and magically, without the assistance of a GPS, iPhone, iPad, text message or pay phone, that person would show up and everyone would simply be happy for the safe arrival.  Well, times have changed and everyone is plugged in, tuned in, messaged and beamed up in some way. So, when Joe arrived in Rome and picked up his rental car, we entered a dead zone.  His phone does not work in Italy and I had the Italian cell phone.  All we had was an agreement.  He would arrive at our friend's place of work and they would call me when he did.  But it felt so strange.  Joe, off my radar.  Me, off his.  All I had in between was my faith that he would arrive safely and when he did, I offered a prayer in thanksgiving.  Safe and sound.  A bit tired but very happy to see me and to be back in Umbria.

We spent two days visiting our favorite places in Assisi, a visit to our favorite trattoria and a Sunday lunch to a new favorite place with an old favorite friend and then, we were off on what I call "Joe's Vacation" to a new place, together, in our rental car, side by side with our GPS mounted on the windshield and our cell phone tucked inside my purse.  Bologna was the next stop and as we drove away from Assisi, we knew we were ready for a new adventure.

Bologna is a lovely, lovely city.  The old and very large university of Bologna is responsible for the culture here.  Thousands of students and educators everywhere.  The average age of the person on the street seems to be twenty.  Everyone has a dog.  You would never have to ask a shop clerk if any item comes in black.  Its all you see, everywhere.  Even the kids, all who are well behaved and happy, wear dark colored clothing.  Its lively, and alive, every minute of the day. A medieval city, without walls, with all the stops pulled out.  It looks dangerous but it is very safe.  It looks gritty but it is genteel and pretty.  It makes me think I'm in Barcelona, not in Italy until I pass yet another cafe or bar, all of which have the distinctive smell of coffees that can only be found in Italy.
And, while this is THE food capital of Italy, no, the world, I haven't seen any seafood so it can't be Barcelona!

If there is a custom that makes Bologna even more special, it is the "Aperitivo".  The Italian version of "tea", the meal between lunch and dinner.  Aperitivo bars are everywhere and always full in the early evening.  Some come, enjoy a drink and a snack and move on.  Others come, drink and snack for hours.  Bar owners use the finger foods that they serve along with the drinks as their competitive edge.  The guy who has the best, wins.  So, two drinks, a mini-meal that can be called "dinner" will set you back all of fourteen euros if that much.  So, why aren't these people fat?   Why are young Bolognese women all slim and nice looking?  It remains a mystery.  Or is it that they eat and live like Italians, not like Americans eating Italian food like Americans.  The women wear more make up than I've seen in any other part of the country and everywhere, you see couples embracing and kissing.  They all seem to be in love all the time.  Maybe that bears truth to what I was told by my new Danish friend Elna.  If you love yourself, you take care of yourself.

We're loving every minute.  We've walked, taken a tour bus through the city and had a walking tour graciously offered by three of our best Italian friends, Giorgio, Cinzia and Cristina Luxardo, who met us for Sunday lunch yesterday at a very local trattoria.  They gave us a good overview of the city. Two of them lived here as university students.  They told us about the quirky things that make Bologna what it is.  They shared their love of this city and when we parted, we knew so much more and had so much more to learn.

We leave tomorrow but for now, its time to digest and rest up because tomorrow, we're off to what has been described as THE most beautiful of all the cities in Italy.

We're starting to sound very Shakespeare or is it "Kiss me Kate" that's running through my mind..... We're off to Verona.......