Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A One Woman Regulatory Commission

As you are well aware by now I was recently traveling with my daughter. She is a great lover of the law and has a healthy respect for rules and government regulations probably due to the fact that in her line of work she sees on a daily basis how these things can be put to use for the protection of the average Joe. Well, that's here at home. While we were in Italy and Greece she was exposed to a different way of doing things.

There aren't hard and fast rules for tipping, or parking, or driving. There are however very strict rules for important things like visiting the Vatican and ordering espresso. 

The hazy rules made my daughter a little uncomfortable...

"Who is in charge of this?"

"Isn't there any code enforcement?"

"These people just do whatever they want!"

"That's a disaster waiting to happen!"

As we climbed Mt. Vesuvius, I picked up some rocks to bring home.

"Mom, what are you doing? That's contraband. You can't take that out of the country!"

In a classic case of mother-daughter role reversal, I rolled my eyes.

She had some issues. In Naples when our bus was heading up the side of Vesuvius, the tour guide pointed out that the volcano is 5 years overdue to erupt. The government has declared a large area at the base a "red zone" and prohibited any building. There are literally thousands of houses there, all built without any inspection or oversight of any kind.

The look on her face was priceless. 

A certain mother was entertained. :)

This same mother couldn't help wondering how a child who flouted and disregarded every rule ever laid down by parental authority came to have such a high regard for rules.

Go figure.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

When in Rome...Or the General Vicinity

I really like a good plan, but when traveling it's best not to get too attached to one.

Our little jaunt from Sorrento to Brindisi (in yellow) to catch a ferry for Greece was disrupted by trouble in North Africa. The new plan was to drive north across the Apennine Mountains to Ancona (in pink) to catch one, making the drive a bit longer and doubling the length of the ferry ride.

We are not talking Staten Island Ferry here by the way but as my daughter put it "a baby cruise ship."  More on that soon from Mr. Suitcase.

I had the original route of this trip etched in my mind, but with the changes I now had no idea where we were. I asked around to see if anyone had a map of Italy. No one did. Someone had purchased a souvenir magnet with a map...too small. Another student had picked up an apron for her mom with a map of Italy on it, several of us used that to get our bearings.

One must improvise.  

All of this making things up as we went along and rush, rush, rushing meant that on the day of this drive lunch was at an Italian gas station, not unlike American ones that include a hot lunch only instead of fried chicken or a ham sandwich, you can get a panino (panini is plural) or pasta.

I roamed around looking at the line of Italian construction workers who were, naturally overjoyed at having a busload of tourists invade at the exact moment of their lunch break. I always feel the same way when that happens to me at Cracker Barrel. I had a lot of trouble making a decision. I finally settled on something that I'm pretty sure qualifies as an Italian Lunchable. I spied a bottle of wine for 25% off. That excited me. In my state you can't buy wine at the gas station. I wondered if they would open it for me. As I paid I asked the cashier if that was possible. She instantly handed it to her coworker who took a corkscrew out of his apron, opened it, and handed it to me.

 I love Italy.

 I realized just in the nick of time that I had nothing to drink it out of and asked for a couple of cups. Outside while the bus driver finished his cigarette I sat on the curb and ate my gourmet convenience store lunch. Can you imagine how this would look at home? Can you imagine if I hadn't thought to ask for the cups and had to drink my discounted wine out of the bottle?

The Housewife, sitting on the curb at a truck stop, drinking wine out of a bottle in the middle of the day.

Oh, that would have gone over big at home.

"Hey Dad, look what Mom was doing in Italy!"

You can see I was trying to look as dignified as possible (not easy) on the curb with my bottle. The plastic cups were a nice touch, don't you think?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

What I Picked Up on My Recent Travels


But isn't he adorable? Young enough to be my son this travel companion was funny, smart, and talented. He made me wish I had another daughter.

Actually this post is about shopping.

Now you know how much I love a bargain, and that nearly all of my wardrobe comes from that charming little boutique, The Goodwill.  Even when I travel I want a good deal, though the money is a little easier to let go of when I'm thinking I may never be back here. So in Rome we marched straight from the Spanish Steps to the most expensive street in town, Via Condotti.

Prada. Gucci. Valentino. Armani. Dior...

We took pictures of the storefronts and kept going. I moved quickly because a stunning little turquoise bag in one window was positively screaming my name.  A couple of streets over were more reasonably priced stores. A sale sign and dresses for twenty euros was much more our style. We bargained for hats, gloves, and scarves on the street from vendors. Try to haggle as I may, I always feel as if I've still paid too much.

My inability to multi-task makes it hard for me to speak Italian, negotiate a price in euros, and imagine if I have anything to wear it with at home.

The premier find of this trip however was not an article of clothing but something we found in a little home store. A topper for my daughter's wedding cake! Highly whimsical and unusual, it made us smile.

And no. You may not see a picture of it.

You'll have to wait until after the big day. The bride likes secrets and surprises.

In a glove shop (A GLOVE SHOP! I love the Italians.) my daughter bought me the most beautiful pair of plum colored long gloves as payback for a favor I'd done for her recently.

We bought the requisite souvenirs, picked up some wine, and food items. And then of course at some point along the way I picked up the most expensive thing of all.


At least I didn't have to figure out how to get it home.

Friday, March 25, 2011

A Pirate Poste

I had planned in advance what I wanted to wear on Vesuvius/Pompeii day (sounds like a Latin Club event in high school). A scarf was going around my head to cover a bad hair day, sweater, vest, black jeans. I got all dressed and added my new (previously written about) boots with the jeans tucked in. I stepped over to the mirror...

Hm...It was a little, well...piratey looking.

My daughter came out of the bathroom.

"You look like a gypsy."

"I was thinking pirate."

"No, Gypsy. It's the scarf."

We went to breakfast and I decided I would subject myself to the scrutiny of the other fashionable twenty-somethings.

As I passed each table I asked the girls "What do you think this outfit says; Pirate or gypsy?"

To my fellow breakfasters I announced the results. "I got 2 pirates, 1 gypsy, and a super cute!"

We gathered our things, I threw on my trench coat to avoid carrying it and headed for the bus. While sitting there my daughter saw across the street, a postbox. She had been sending her fiance a post card every day (which happens to be a lot of work) and she started wondering if there was time for her to mail it. Someone had forgotten something so there was perhaps a one or two minute window to decide and act. She hesitated, I grabbed the card from her hand and ran off the bus to find Guilio our driver and tell him that I was running across the street, actually two streets in an odd bit of city planning where traffic merged into an odd roundabout, to mail a postcard. He looked at his watch and nodded.

I dashed across the first street. Running felt good in those new boots and as I ran my trench flew out behind me. Lights changed just in time for me not to have to stop, I quickly checked for crazy Italian drivers (which is redundant). I arrived at the median and after a double look each way I ran across to the sidewalk. I arrived at the box dropped in the card, and turned back to repeat the process. I was feeling a bit heroic, and slightly silly, always a winning combo. I knew the entire bus was probably watching to see if I could survive my foray into Italian rush hour on foot.

When I was near the bus I slowed my pace to normal and looked up at the buildings as if I did this every day.

I stepped onto the bus.

"Pirate!" the front of the bus said.

Hah! I knew it.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Out of Control In Rome

After some grueling flights, a bit of time waiting on a bus for our other groups to arrive, and a brief visit to the seaside town of Ostia, where Carnivale was in full tilt (which includes parades and adorable children everywhere dressed up in costumes the way we do for Halloween), arriving at the hotel to a chaotic room sorting out debacle in Rome, my daughter and I commented from time to time, "I'm glad Dad's not here."

We weren't being mean, it's just that this kind of travel means maintaining a cheerful disposition while embracing the chaos and relinquishing control. Things most men aren't great at. For a man whose gift is administration, attention to detail, and organization, the kind of flexibility required is especially difficult. I'm not telling you anything he wouldn't say himself.

Since we've returned home, he has occasionally commented while listening to us recounting parts of our trip, "I wouldn't have liked that."

"Yes, Dear. We know."

After dinner, completely exhausted, we returned to our tiny but charming room and collapsed into bed. About 2:00 AM I was awakened by loud noises, shouting, and the sound of people rearranging furniture, or air conditioning units coming from the roof. Or maybe Godzilla and Mothra were fighting out some Apocalyptic battle up there.  I sat straight up in bed.

"It started about ten minutes ago." my daughter said in the dark.

"What are they doing?"

"I can't tell. A party, maybe?"

"Can you imagine if your dad was here?"

We broke into hysterical laughter by the light of the moon through the open window. We imagined him trying to find someone to call to complain and all the colorful commentary that would ensue. He, we knew, would not be laughing. We carried on this way for a few minutes. I shut the window to drown out the noise and we fell back asleep very amused with ourselves.

Those comments were repeated from time to time when there were early wake up calls, rushing from one tourist stop to another, and because our trip doubled in size due to trouble in Egypt, at times having 4 women in one room. At one point there was 1 semi-clean communal towel.

A sense of humor in such situations is not a luxury, but a necessity.

But these little hardships become woven into the tapestry of travel memories, and enrich them. For all my husband's desire for smooth sailing one of his favorite stories is a hostile hostel experience in New Orleans on New Years Ever many years ago. He loves to tell it because it is funny. What kind of story is --We got there everything was perfect, the weather was beautiful, etc?

A boring one.

Four women and one bathroom...did I mention that?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Engagement Photo Shoot

I was all prepared to just plow right through many posts about my trip. Then this happened...

We got the disc back with my daughter's engagement photos on it, so what's a mother to do? Share them with you, of course! I'm speechless but it doesn't matter. You won't need my commentary.

               Love and happiness lovely.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Passing Human Parade

When you return home from traveling everyone wants to know what you saw. Tourist destinations, ruins, natural and man-made wonders get rattled off in quick succession. But one of my favorite things about travel is the people you see. It's a bit more difficult to document them. I didn't want to offend our maid in Rome by taking her picture.

But oh, how I wanted to. She was adorable in her black and white dress and apron, wild hair tied up over her head, carrying her pail and mumbling in exasperation under her breath. She was perfect. When we couldn't find our room she became the friendliest most helpful creature imaginable exuding kindness across the language barrier. If I were a man I would have fallen instantly in love with her. She was straight out of Hollywood casting.

I was mesmerized by housewives in aprons doing their ritual daily chores; sweeping, throwing the bedding over the balcony railing to air, hanging the laundry out the window many stories up.

While shopping in a trendy clothing store in Rome my daughter and I stepped out of dressing rooms to look at ourselves in the mirror and were instantly set upon by the sales girls. They chattered in Italian as they flew around the store grabbing the accessories they thought we needed, adjusted our clothing, and in general worked magic. I had on a conservative gray sweater dress and she pulled it off one shoulder.

"Sexy." She announced.

I tried to imagine wearing it that way at home...

But still she made the sale of the dress and the black leather belt she suggested, I wished I could bring her home.
I so desperately need a style wizard.

I tried to make mental notes of the man who made my machiato, the waitress who explained our food in detail, the tour guides. I wondered about their lives. 

I enjoyed the fountains and ruins, basilicas and piazzas, as usual, but I enjoyed people watching and interacting, most of all. What is even, an eternal city, without the people who bring it to life?

Monday, March 21, 2011

A Poste Post

My most favorite ever, in Assisi
I'm attracted to post boxes. I stop if it's possible and take pictures of unusual ones I see especially when traveling. As much as I love the instant communication that technology makes possible, there isn't anything quite like a hand written note from someone who has thought of you.

I've written before in Love Letters and Moral Dilemmas about my adoration for all things hand written including how much I enjoy reading compilations of published letters between friends. When it came time to redesign The Professor and The Housewife blog I created a background that reflected the fact that we were essentially writing a series of modern "letters."

My daughter "posting".
While traveling in Europe with my daughter she was determined to send her fiance a postcard every day. Which she did. Sending even one is a bit of work; choosing the card, finding a place to buy stamps, then finding a poste box. I had a little adventure one day sending one off for her, which I will tell you of soon. 

This little metal post box was outside a home in Delphi. I loved that it looks like a little house!

The Vatican has its own stamps and post service so it's kind of a big deal to mail a card from here. I sent one of the Sistine Chapel to my artist son from this box.

I scanned the post mark when I got home so I could share it with you.

Britain has some of the most charming poste boxes I've ever seen. This one became the "Comments Welcome" sign for our blog.

This one is from our hotel overlooking Rome on my first visit.

Closer to home this one is at the Greek Orthodox church where I studied Greek with the most delightful retired priest.

Closer still, is this one which hangs beside my own front door.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

These Boots Are Made For Walkin'...Volcanoes!

Remember when I posted all my brilliant advice about packing for travel? Well yours truly got her butt kicked in the preparedness department, shoe wise.  My last trip to Italy involved walking Venice, museums in Florence, and the Vatican. I took good walking shoes. I took cute flats. Good to go, right?

So when my daughter asked me to help her pack I told her to do the same.


Rome was freezing. Everyone was wearing boots. Our last night there after walking all day we lucked up on a shoe store just around the corner from our hotel. It's March, ladies. You know what that means. Winter Clearance Sale! The four shoppers in our group got cute new boots for

drum roll please...

Twenty euros!

Our rugged Italian tour guide.
The next day when we got dressed to climb Mt. Vesuvius and visit Pompeii we wore our boots. It was a good thing. Nothing prepared us for the sheer physicality of that little sightseeing trip. In America at the entrance of anything so grueling you'd have all these warnings suggested by lawyers not to climb if you were pregnant, a heart patient, and so on.

In Naples the government has restricted the building of houses on the side of the volcano, which is 5 years overdue to erupt. There are literally thousands of houses there. They aren't real big on following rules, let's say. So maybe they just don't see the problem in not letting people know what they are in for.

While I gasped and grumbled I thought of famous forced marches through history and pressed on.

It was worth it.

With every step I was so thankful for my new boots at the top I offered up a little offering to the goddess of a good deal. ;)

My daughter in her new boots

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Anti-Wallpaper

I painted two rooms in my house and wanted something unusual. More than just plain paint but not anything over done, and certainly not anything so difficult to undo when I tire of it as wallpaper.
I remembered in an episode of Foyle's War (one of the best things I've seen on television in years) that in a manor house there was this white wallpaper with enormous Fleur di lis in black. I was smitten by it. It rattled around in the back of my brain just waiting for an opportunity to present itself. Black and white was a bit cold and stark for me. I like warm walls and wanted something more subtle.

I came up with this. The walls were painted a friendly shade of yellow and I made a giant fleur di lis stencil. I then used clear protective coat to roughly apply the pattern randomly.

The effect is very tone on tone and the giant French icons appear and disappear as the light in the room changes.

Some of them are only partially applied fading away into the ceiling or a window.

I did it haphazardly being a fan of imperfections in decor which I think lend character.

After the cost of the paint this design idea cost me about five dollars for the cost of the clear protective coat. The stencil I cut from leftover cardboard from one of Mr. Snarky's school projects.

Start to finish, the application took around an hour.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Love is Smelly

You want to hear fun stuff about my recent adventure with my daughter, I know. I'm getting to it. But my brain is foggy, my body is weak, and my snarkiness depleted while I've got this danged pneumonia. It's the kind of illness that had me lying in bed for 24 hours thinking the ceiling was the most fascinating thing in the world, in Athens. Upon re-entry when the immigration official asked where I'd visited I was really tempted to say "hell", but they never look very jovial.  Once when re-entering in Atlanta I asked the guy "Is the country full?" (which I, of course found hilarious) He never cracked a smile and said "No. But some of these damn people comin' in here need to go back where they came from."

Alrighty, then.

When I deplaned the other evening (What day is it?) I only wanted to see my husband. I'm not a big fan of these contrived little holidays where we are all supposed to drum up some romance on cue. While I've been lying in bed feeling loved and pampered I've been thinking about...well, love.

Here's what the real deal looks like:

Your woman gets off an international flight looking like a refugee (truth be told probably smelling like one too not having showered in a number of days too embarrassing to mention) and you treat her like she's the best thing you've ever seen.

She has a raging fever and cold chills and you wrap your entire body around her and hold on tight until it stops and she can sleep.

Endless patience for endless requests.

Any man can talk a good game, come through with the occasional appropriate gift, and tell you you look great when you are already pretty sure yourself that you do. But there's that whole other side of life. So...

Perfume? I mean we won't turn it down.

Flowers? Bring 'em on.

Chocolate? Currently makes me gag, but you know normally...sure.

But by comparison to being taken care of when you can't really take care of yourself...they pale to the color of my face right now.

There. My one sappy sentimental post for the year. We will soon return to our regularly scheduled snarky programming.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

I'm Whining, Okay?

I've been living a lie.  I'd like to be completely honest with you (since we've become so close and all) so I feel the need to confess. I was going to use my closet as a makeshift confessional but if you saw my previous post entitled "How Much is Enough?"  you'll understand why that didn't happen.  Now my Dear Reader, take a deep breath and brace yourself....I have recently purchased and have been wearing for some time...reading glasses.  Shocking, I know. Are you okay? Perhaps I should have told you to sit down, but you are at your computer (so I assumed...). I put it off as long as possible, then I hid it.  Recently I decided to come out,  so here I am. What fun to get to add glasses to wrinkle cream. I am simply beside myself. 

My daughter has been trying to get me to give up the illusion of being able to read at a normal distance for some time. "Mom, it's no big deal I wear them because my eyes get tired after a while and it helps." Well OF COURSE it isn't a big deal to the 24 yr. old. When she puts glasses on to read people are going to see; intelligent, adorable, and sexy like the secretaries in movies who take off their glasses and take down their hair and are instantly transformed into ravishing beauties. Uh huh. At my age when I put on glasses people are going to see one thing: OLD.  Although in these pictures I'm contemplating whether they make me look smarter...I think I just look confused, don't you?

Now I must admit the ability to look over my readers at someone is a very powerful move.  What's better than looking old? Oh yes, looking old and authoritative, and angry (and on a really bad day, possibly bitter).  Now I know that those of you who wear glasses all the time don't see the big deal and just think I'm whining...but a lot of the aging process are things I have some amount of control over.  That control thing, I really like that. 

I've always read and watched television at the same time. I know, I know that is technically multitasking which we all know I can't quite pull off but let's move on.  One night about 2 years ago I was reading and looked up at the TV screen and .....I couldn't see it. It was blurry! Now my first reaction was that I thought I'd had a stroke or blown a blood vessel or something truly terrible, but when I later relayed the story to a friend she said, "How old are you?"  When I told her she said, "Oh well that just happens with age."  All casual just like that.  Like it's nothing.  Oh it's something!  I'm actually kind of surprised at myself for making such a big deal out of it. Oh, if you could could have heard me  20 years ago or even 10. I used to say the most absurd things like - "When my hair goes gray that's it, I'm not coloring it!"  What was I thinking? I can't imagine, and neither can my hairdresser.  I now say the same thing about all sorts of other things and wonder how long I can hold out on those.  

Like I said at the beginning, whining.  Sorry, but when did I say I wasn't shallow and vain? 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Florence, Italy

 Mr. Suitcase has kindly contributed today's post from his archives.

Okay now. Back to Florence, no they didn't go back to Florence but I got sidetracked for a couple of posts.

They started the morning with a breakfast that included blood orange juice, which My Owner was pretty sure was the best thing she had ever tasted. She and her friend couldn't get enough, and croissants with Nutella, food can really make those two happy. But food shall be covered in its own post coming up shortly.

They had a guided tour in the morning of some of the more important points of interest including The Duomo,then after a perfect lunch at an outdoor cafe, the afternoon was free for museums and shopping. Mo was amazed at just how much got done on this day. Easily one of her best days ever.

Basilica of Santa Croce:
Now MO had been waiting a long time to come to Italy. Her whole life really, and she knew that probably at some point she was likely to have a little emotional flare up. (Generally not her style but sometimes it can't be helped.) She thought it would most likely be in Rome, perhaps at the Coliseum or maybe the Vatican. But see that church up there in the picture? For some reason wile standing in this lovely square she burst into tears. Inexplicably. Suddenly. And for apparently no reason at all. Unless of course, sheer joy counts.

The Ponte Vecchio: a medieval bridge over the Arno River...

This bridge is a famous place for lovers. They write their names or initials on locks and attach the locks to fences and other structures on the bridge. They then throw the key into the river symbolizing their eternal love. I can't help but wonder how many of them wish to go diving for them later on.

Loggia della Signoria o dei Lanzi:

Many famous statues like this one, The Rape of the Sabine Women, are here.

The Uffizi: My Owner will relay a story about that, here.

Galleria dell'Accademia: This is where Michelangelo's David resides alongside countless other masterpieces.
Later in the evening walking back to the bus after dinner, a fellow traveler asked her what her favorite thing was she saw that day.

"David. I'm ruined for all other men."

Oh brother.

The Duomo: 

                       Interesting Side Notes

Literally in this city famous for housing so much of the world's great art, the art is everywhere.

This is on the street.
  Remember the woman who told MO they shared the "same energy?" Well she had told them she was a psychiatrist and had asking them all sorts of odd questions, which they might have answered if any of them could have stopped laughing long enough. In the end it turned out...she only needed one. 


While in line for the Uffizi a gypsy hag approached the group of travelers and began saying something they couldn't understand but panhandling and accosting tourists is a universal language so they all just said NO! repeatedly. MO's friend somehow managed to offend the hag during this process and the woman got very angry made some weird hand gestures spit in her hand and threw a curse at her! 

     ...and museum ticket sellers with attitude.  

 After waiting to get into the Uffizi they finally made it to the ticket window and MO and the leader of their small group were rejected and told they would have to go back out to get into another line. Mo was thinking perhaps that curse outside had bounced off her friend. The woman was very rude and seemed angry with them. She called her supervisor (an attractive Italian man) over to explain to them (since they were obviously stupid Americans) WHY they couldn't enter just then, even though their friends did. He looked at MO and The Fearless Leader, the lady was chattering in Italian and they could only imagine what she might be saying about them. Suddenly he cut her off, and began to yell at her and say (some things are universally understood) "YOU WILL let them enter, you will stop being a bitch, and you will do it while I'm standing here." The look on her face said it all.  MO and Fearless Leader were overjoyed. They had come to Italy and a man had fought for them! This idea made them very happy because of course, they are women, and such things amuse and delight them.