Friday, December 29, 2006

Kyla wearing her pink coat

Our granddaughter: Isn't she the most adorable kid ever???

They're Coming!! 12.29.06

Well! Not without a little extra added excitement (or should I say "stress!") my sister and her girls left Denver yesterday afternoon. The weather forecast predicted yet another big snowstorm but thankfully they got out of there before it got bad again. We decided she would only call if she did not get on the flight and as I haven't heard from her and I've checked her flight online, I can only assume that they are on their way and the flight will arrive on time tonight in Naples.

Today Bob and I have decided to drive up to the Observation Center on Vesuvius. To keep myself occupied mostly from being too excited to sit still and just to check it out. Our last venture was a disaster and we never found the right road. This time we've done a bit more research and hope to get close to the crater.

Assuming my family arrives tonight, I probably will not write much, if any, while they are here. Thanks again for keeping up with us and our adventures!

Rosemary & Bob

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Views from Piero's boat in the Bay of Salerno


Passing between the Due Fratelli rock formation

Mietri sul Mare, Marina di Vietri & Raito

Antica Torre Guarding the Bay of Salerno

A Boat Ride on San Stefano's Day 12.26.06

Bob and I walked down to the beach this morning after breakfast. There were many people out and about on this day after Christmas and we saw Piero, our upstairs neighbor out in his boat fishing. He waved and pulled the boat closer to the rocks where we were standing and Bob asked him how the fishing was going. He replied that it was too windy for fishing but asked if we would like to go on a little ride with him. Thrilled, as we have wanted to go out on a boat here, we gladly jumped in! He took us along the shore towards Salerno and the views of Vietri and Raito above were delightful. The color of this water has to be seen to be believed. It is so clear and clean and today looked alternatively turquoise and deep blue depending on the direction of the sun. Along the beach there were even people swimming and sunning themselves and he told us that it was warmer up there, protected by the cliffs and that it was windier the further out to sea you went.

When we returned to shore, Bob and a few of Piero's friends who happened to be passing by helped him pull the boat up onto the sand. What a great gift! We were so happy to have had this opportunity.

We stopped at Martine's coffee bar and told her we had just had a little boat ride with her husband and ordered two cups of espresso. We sat outside with the sun on our faces counting ourselves fortunate indeed to be in this place at this time.

In three more days my sister and nieces will be with us! I cannot wait to show them this area and all the wonderful things we have seen.

Buone feste!
Rosemary e Robert

View from the Bay of Salerno from Piero's boat


Pulling Piero's boat ashore (note the little guy behind me helping)

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Christmas morning musings 12.25.06

It's Christmas morning. The sound of firecrackers woke me. This is a tradition in Italy, shooting off noisemakers in celebration. Some of the cities put on fireworks displays but the kids love to light firecrackers. Some of them sound like big bombs going off. Around midnight we heard a long volley and then again this morning.

Yesterday was a lovely day, if a bit cold, at least the sun was shining and the sky was blue. In the morning we walked around Cava de'Tirenni, a town I like more and more every time I go there. I especially love the main arcaded street, now decorated for Christmas, it's just so festive. The day before we joined the rest of the crazy last minute shoppers at the big supermercato there. It was a zoo as you might expect in any grocery store the day before Christmas and I started making up my own words to the Christmas classic "soon it will be Christmas Day" - "Children screaming, people coughing, Panettone piled high" get the picture. The buying and giving of the Panettone is quite a phenomenon here. I wonder if Italians actually do any baking in their own homes, there are so many wonderful sweet things to be found everywhere. The more gorgeous (think "expensive") ones of course are in the windows of the pasticcerie, the bakeries. I saw one gold wrapped cake, paired with a bottle of expensive wine with a whopping price tag of 70 euros! Everywhere you go there are piles of these boxes of Panettone cakes, in all sorts of flavor combinations, and shoppers with at least one or two in their carts. The basic one comes with a little packet of powdered sugar to sprinkle on later. The expiration date of these things is, like Easter I think. There is the classic one, of course, with candied fruit and raisins, one with vanilla cream inside, one with chocolate, one for diabetics, without sugar, and more than I can remember now.

Historically, from what I have been able to find out, they were first made in Milan. The Panettone is THE symbolic Christmastime cake in Italy.

One of the big bakers of these cakes is a company called Bauli ( They are based in Verona and we went there before we left that city. We bought a cake to take to our friends Sergio and Rita, thinking it was a pure Veronese treat, but came to realize that these cakes are everywhere. Like the Perugina chocolates, you can buy them anywhere it Italy (and around the word I suspect!). Last Christmas, Elio's brother Salvatore took one of the plain ones and cut it into a Christmas tree shape and added rum and other things to dress it up and created a very gorgeous dessert. The actual cake part of it seems a cross between a yellow cake and a loaf of bread. I've had fun this morning reading online some of the legends surrounding its origin. Here are a few excerpts from one of the sites ( (to our friend Dennis in Phoenix, this is for you)

"The most accredited story regarding the invention of panettone features one of Ludovico il Moro's falconers named Toni, who was in love with the daughter of a struggling baker. He sold off two of his lord's hunting falcons (which could have cost him his life) in order to purchase some butter. Having found work as an assistant in the family bakery of his beloved and having renounced his "nobler" origins, the young falconer began to make his special dessert bread, flavoring it with butter, eggs, candied fruit and raisins. He then sold it to the local clients, who became growingly enthusiastic about his creation. Thanks to this invention he was graced with love, success and wealth, and "pan di Toni" ("Toni's bread") soon became the most popular dessert among the Milanese, who took up the tradition of giving it as a gift during the Christmas season."

Here's another:
"Another story, another protagonist. In this last case, a humble nun called Suor Ughetta, who wanted to make a tasty gift for the poor. To her bread dough she added eggs, sugar, candied fruit and raisins. When she'd baked this special bread (the top of which she'd sliced in a cross form as a blessing), she realized how delicious it was... as did all the townspeople, who began to make generous offerings at the convent just so they could get their hands on a slice of this very special dessert."

Very sweet stuff.

Rosemary e Robert

More Christmas Lights

The presepe in Positano

The lights of Marina di Vietri

Our tiny tree and Rosemary wearing her new Christmas present

Bob's Birthday and Christmas Lights

Bob's birthday (I was taking the photo so he had to light his own candles!)

The arcaded streets of Cava de' Tirreni

This overhead net of lights went on for at least a mile through a curving street near Sorrento

The colorful lights of Atrani, near Amalfi

The twinkling lights of the Amalfi Coast

Christmas Eve 12.24.06

Christmas Eve is Bob's birthday. It has always been the tradition in our family to be sure this day is celebrated and Bob is given his due in terms of being treated special on his day and not just lumping it in with Christmas. I fixed a nice roasted chicken with potatoes, onions and carrots, basted with vin santo wine and broth that we feasted on. It was just the two of us but it was lovely. We spoke to our children and granddaughter who called to say Happy Birthday, and to my brother, a few friends called with their greetings. Our neighbors upstairs came down earlier to invite us to come with them to their son's house but we had other plans and declined. We hope they weren't offended. Our tradition on Christmas Eve has always been to celebrate Bob's birthday (this year, with a Panettone cake!) and then dive into Christmas by going out to look at the Christmas lights. This year, we planned to drive the Amalfi Coast to do it!

We headed out the door around 8pm. The streets of Vietri were almost deserted by this time, with a few last minute shoppers scurrying home. Most of the stores were closed tight, their windows dark. But the Christmas lights twinkled and the city looked so sweet. On the main streets in Vietri they have strung lights across from one side of the street to the other - in a wave of blue lights with white ones hanging down. I told Bob it reminded me of the waves of the sea with reflections of the stars twinkling. He told me I was a dork. There was some traffic on the coast road, but not as much as normal. Every little town along the coast is decorated for Christmas. We passed Cetara, with white lights and stars on the seaside, Maiori's main promenade and shopping street ablaze with lights as we drove past. From Ravello up high we saw bursts of fireworks.

The crescent moon was golden above where the coastline wraps around to Amalfi and Bob stopped and took out his tripod and made a few photos. Which he did several times on our drive. Atrani was like a Presepe (Nativity scene) come to life, with colored lights on the houses and the little churches up in the mountain above the town. Amalfi glistened. Positano had a wonderful Presepe set into a side of the mountain with a net of stars above the little houses. The city itself was like a fairytale to me, Christmas lights glowing from every tier of this steep and layered city, down to the sea. There were more fireworks there and we tried to find a vantage point but they were over before we could. Each little town was quiet and still, the inhabitants celebrating indoors with their families, a few tourists wandering around, happy expressions on their faces.

We spoke to our daughter Jessica and I tried to describe to her what was before our eyes. We thanked her for the lovely gifts she had sent. A jacket for me, a book for Bob and a couple of scarves she had knitted herself that we both love. Chris sent us a gift certificate so we can shop for ourselves.

By 10pm we were getting tired and decided to take the faster route home, north to Naples and then south along the autostrada back to Vietri rather than retracing our route along the Amalfi Coast road. We were home before midnight ready for sleep! Today we have been invited (and accepted) to go with Antonio and Nunzia and their little 15-month old son Manuel, to Nunzia's parents' house to celebrate Christmas Day with her family in Cetara - one of my favorite cities on the Amalfi Coast. We are looking forward to it very much. Now it is after 9am and I think I'll go make my morning cappuccino and step outside to see what the weather is like. The sun is shining and there are only a few wispy clouds.

Buon Natale!
Rosemary e Robert

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Random Observations from Vietri sul Mare

Marina di Vietri and Vietri sul Mare at dusk from the hills west of town

The door/window that was being repaired. The large opening above the door normally is covered. The orange thing outside the door is the screen that comes down completely covering the window.

We had an umbrella that lost a battle with the wind and found in Cava de' Tirreni a man who repairs them. He said he has been doing this work since he retired in 1988. He charged 1.20 euro to replace the broken part. We were glad to pay it and happy not to just throw away a good umbrella.

Squadra Spazzini = Garbage Collectors

Spazzina = Garbage Collector

Window repairs and other observations 12.24.06

I forgot to tell you that the window screen got fixed that day they were supposed to come. Instead of the older guy who seemed befuddled by the whole project (the same guy who did such a bang up job on the door lock) a couple of young guys showed up on Wednesday with a new device but because the new version is bigger than the old one they had to break open the concrete door frame to make it fit. We have heard this sound in just about every place we’ve lived now. It goes something like this: hammer hammer hammer (pause) hammer hammer hammer (pause) hammer hammer hammer, and so forth, for hours on end. It is the sound of a chisel and a hammer breaking out concrete or plaster.

What amazed us the most was the speed at which they worked and the fact that they inserted the mechanism and mixed up the batch of plaster that one of the guys patched up the hole with (seemed like he could have used some of that plaster on his rear end at the same time, but that’s just a fashion comment), before testing said mechanism to see if it worked. We were certain they were going to have to rip it all out again when it didn’t, but it did in fact work like a charm! I must say the workmanship leaves a lot to be desired (a lot) but the landlady seemed fine with it and arranged to pay them later. I guess it’s just going to stay that way. This slap-dash approach to this type of construction project is something we have noticed everywhere in Italy I’m sorry to say. In fact, outside our door there are 3 sets of wires (for the TV? The lights?) taped together in a most casual, non building-code sort of way. Some things don’t quite match up and patches are made with whatever happens to be handy.

Ongoing Observations on Trash

On one of our walks we observed a very clever use of an old box spring, as a gate – affixed with wire to the opening. Not sure how functional that is, but I guess it works as well as any metalwork to keep an opening closed. Kind of a recycling program. Of which we are totally in favor. In Borgo Roma, in Verona, they recycled damn near everything. We had very little actual garbage that didn’t fall into one of the categories for which there are trashcans on absolutely every street. They recycle glass, metal, plastic, paper and, the one we really thought was great, food waste, but no meat. We had four different garbage containers in our apartment to keep it sorted out. In Sicily they recycled plastic and glass. I believe it was the same in Perugia. I am definitely all for recycling.

Which reminds me of the garbage here. They do have recycle bins here for glass but we’re not sure people are really using them. And periodically, like in Naples, the garbage piles up. Our neighbor told us that they go on strike when there is no more room to put the garbage at the dump. I don’t know what they are doing during these periods, jumping up and down on it? throwing it in the sea? I have no idea. But it definitely piles up. And then after a couple of days the garbage crew is back and they take it all away. Yeah! This has now happened twice since we have been here. I am always excited to see the garbage truck arrive, as I really hate the sight of that. I hate to make generalities about this but there definitely seems to be more of a problem in southern Italy with trash than in the north. In the north it seemed like they were a bit over the top obsessive about it (I swear one day we were driving through a mountain area and they had a truck out there that seemed to be cleaning up the forest, but I could be mistaken!) but down here it’s like they don’t even see it. I look at people passing by and I wonder: “How can you put up with this??” And then I think they are just “abitudine” a word we learned from Elio in Sicily which means, “to be used to something.” They must know that eventually it will be picked up, so why get upset about it. Seems to us they need a better recycling program but also there must be a way to make less garbage, to crush down what they have, to buy stuff without so much packaging, but in our modern society can it really go in that direction?? I’d like to think so.
Anyway, it just kills me that here is this gorgeous area, this wonderful sea and at times the garbage can be a real distraction for me.

In Perugia we used to enjoy seeing the clean up crew arrive every morning in Piazza IV Novembre to clean up after the revelers from the night before. I never could understand why they allowed them to make such a mess in the first place but at least every day they started with a clean slate. Then there were the street sweepers who came every single day and swept all the streets, picking up dog doo and everything else. This we saw in Perugia and in Marina di Ragusa as well. I have not yet seen a street sweeper here and they could certainly use it. Bob and I will say to each other “If I ruled the world…things would be different.” This really is a little bit of paradise here, I would just like it if everyone was a tad-bit neater about it!

Happy Birthday Bob

It’s Christmas Eve. And it’s Bob’s birthday. Strange topic of conversation I suppose for this day. My sister should have been here and she is not. I’m about to go and put a chicken in the oven to roast for Bob’s birthday dinner. Not at all a traditional Christmas Eve dinner in Italy and especially near the sea where fish is the main attraction. But this is what I have planned. Then we want to take a drive to look at the Christmas lights. Our neighbors Antonio and Nunzia from two flights up invited us to join their family in Cetara for Christmas Day dinner tomorrow since my own family can’t be here and we have accepted. That should be interesting. I baked one of my “cockeyed chocolate cakes” to bring to the celebration – maybe even more cockeyed since my oven is so wacky and I’m not sure what temperature I’m cooking at!

We’ll say once again Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Cool Yule, Happy Winter Solstice and all of that. We hope your holiday is a happy one, whatever you are celebrating.

Buon Natale,
Rosemary e Roberto

Saturday, December 23, 2006

More photos from Napoli

Stained Glass window to honor those fallen in war. In the church of San Lorenzo Maggiore

Shopping for Presepe on via San Gregorio Armeno

Caravaggio's "Flagellation of Christ"

Friday, December 22, 2006

Holiday visit update etc 12.22.06

The latest news is that Suzanne and the girls will leave Denver (fingers crossed!) on December 28 and stay with us until January 11. Not the Christmas we had hoped for, but still good even if we have to wait one more week to see them. As it turned out, the area where she lives outside Denver got at least 24 inches of snow. Thanks to her neighbors, and to her daughter Sam and Sam’s boyfriend Chris, who shoveled her walk and dug out the car and lit the fire in the fireplace and to her little 10 year-old Maddie for being the most positive thinker in our family – who said “Mom! Now we’ll get to have two Christmases!!” And as it further turned out we were so glad the storm and all the cancellations occurred before they left for the airport or they might have been stranded there, unable to get home and sleeping on the floor of the airport! Or, stranded in London where, that same day flight were cancelled due to something called “frozen fog” – sounds perfectly ominous, like a horror movie! At any rate, my sister, unable to come here or even leave her house, was given a day of forced relaxation. After all the stress of getting ready for this trip, a little de-compression time. I imagine her with her feet up, a cup of tea in her hands, watching some old black and white movie on TV while a cozy fire burns in her fireplace, her two daughters nearby and the snow building in drifts outside the door!

We’ll be together soon enough. And, as it rained all day yesterday and today too, I guess it’s OK that they didn’t begin their vacation carrying umbrellas around the Amalfi Coast! Now keeping fingers crossed that all the bad weather goes away and sunny skies appear, on both sides of the world.

Buona serata,
Rosemary e Robert

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

More Napoli views

View of Mt Vesuvius, the volcano and the park around the Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte

The famous Chiostro di Santa Chiara with its majolica tiled columns

Pizza at Sorbillo, "Accademia della Pizza" (for Dora!)

Views of Napoli

Figurines of the Presepe

Close up Presepe figures

One of the Presepe, the Nativity scenes

Underground Naples, the archeological area below St. Lorenzo Maggiore

Bones (relics) of St. Gennaro and his companions in the Duomo

Napoli! 12.19.06

Come hell or high water we promised ourselves we would go to Naples yesterday. We have put it off for one reason or another but yesterday was the day. We had a couple of days with rain but yesterday it was just supposed to be cloudy so we headed out the door at 7am to catch the bus. We had decided not to drive the car there, based on everyone's advice and our own experience in that city on our last visit several years ago. It was a good decision. By 8:30 we were in Naples, wandering around with no stress of dealing with the crazy traffic, getting lost or looking for a parking space.

Our friend Dora, who was born in Naples and now lives with her brand-new American husband Jim in Baltimore, gave us a few suggestions on what to see and armed with her advice and a very small guide book tucked into my purse, we were all set. (Thanks, Dora, for all the great suggestions!) Everyone also told us to watch our personal belongings, don't wear any jewelry that looks expensive, don't bring Bob's cameras or anything of any value because there were lots of petty thieves lurking in the city. We were to be honest, a little spooked by all this talk and we made sure we followed their instructions. We had also heard recently about a garbage strike with garbage piled up all over the streets and how awful that was.

We experienced none of this. Granted, it was a grey and ultimately rainy day. But never did we feel insecure or threatened. Everyone was busy going about their own business; the people we spoke with were for the most part friendly and we had a great time. As it was raining anyway and would have been a problem if he had brought the cameras, Bob was still sorry he wasn't able to shoot some of the things we saw. I had my little digital Canon and we took turns sneaking shots here and there.

We started our day on Via Tribunali in the Decumano Maggiore district and visited the Duomo, its Crypt and the 4th century Baptistery with mosaics dating to that period. Below the church are the ruins from Greek, Roman and early Christian times and we explored those too. Fascinating. This is the church where the remains of St. Gennaro are kept. Twice a year, they say, the blood liquefies which is supposed to bode well for the people of Naples. If not, look out I guess.

I peeked in some of the shop windows showing all the lovely wedding dresses. The lace work and hand beading on them was amazing and it reminded me of the months before my own wedding day, going for fittings and having my dress handmade by an Italian woman in New York to my exacting specifications. Real princess stuff there! But then the traffic cleared for a moment and Bob called me to hurry while we had the opportunity and that was the end of my little nostalgic foray!

We found the little street of Via San Gregorio and all the shops that make and sell everything you could possibly need to create your own Presepe, the nativity scenes that this city is famous for. These include more than just your typical stable with the Holy Family, a few shepherds and wise men. Like the ones we saw in Sicily, these are entire villages, buildings, houses, all the little shops and artigiani, artisans and craftspeople, everything! We thought it was probably lucky that it was a rainy day as we had expected large crowds and weren't really looking forward to that aspect of it. But there weren't that many people and we were able to get a close look at all of the wares. The little (and in some cases, not so little) figures created to populate these village scenes are really incredible. Each one that is created by some of the better craftsmen is a piece of sculpture, unique, and represents the Napolitano people of the 1700 and 1800s. The costumes seem authentic down to the smallest detail. You can buy a readymade village to set in your own home with everything you need to complete your village.

We found Napoli Sotteranea, the underground ancient part of the city, which the guidebooks say were quarries where they took the tufa to build the city. We walked through parts of it that were described on the signs there as a market place as well. It was amazing down there and made us think of the Rocca Paolina in Perugia.

We located Piazza Bellini where Dora suggested we stop for a coffee, but it was much too wet out for that. We had opted to leave our umbrellas at home, fingers crossed that the weather report was correct and it would only be cloudy but we wondered about this as we noticed people getting on the bus carrying theirs, thinking they probably knew better. Around noon the rain got heavy enough for us to have to stop and buy one at a little shop as we searched for the "Accademia della Pizza" (or Sorbillo, which is what it says on the sign) where Dora suggested we eat. The city of Naples has hired pairs of young women (we didn't see any guys) as guides to the city. They have maps and carry palm pilots and speak several languages. Adorable, friendly and knowledgeable they gave us a few tips for sightseeing and helped us locate the pizzeria. We took a table upstairs, ordered two pizzas and were amazed at the size of them when they arrived! We could have shared one but I like to add a little "salame piccante" and Bob likes his Margherita as is. They were as wonderful as she said. If you go, get there early as the place was packed with people waiting outside by the time we finished.

We visited the Convento Santa Chiara and its cloister in the district of Spaccanapoli, with the famous painted majolica tile-covered columns. We were alone under the portico as the rain beat down and enjoyed the peace and solitude of this charming place. There is also a wisteria-covered pergola, now bare, but by the size of the branches, this must be truly incredible when it is in full bloom.

We walked to the Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte and only afterwards realized how appropriate the name was: Top of the Mountain! In spite of the rain, we enjoyed the walk through the Sanità district but it was quite a climb to the museum. As we approached, we noticed a very long flight of steps, stopped to ask a man standing there where it was and when he pointed to the stairs I looked up and said "Mamma Mia!" and he laughed. He said there was a bus, but at just that moment it passed us by. We decided the climb wasn't that bad but as we got to the top it was evident there was more walking to be done. The rain was pouring down by now and we were really unsure which direction to turn, when a car pulled up next to us and the same man we had asked directions of, accompanied now by his wife, motioned for us to get in and he would said they would take us to the museum! Crazy maybe, but we had a good feeling from these two and got in, grateful. They were so sweet, wanted to know where we came from, told us their niece and her family lived in New York and asked about ours - and all of this conversation was completely in Italian! They brought us right to the entrance of the beautiful Park of Capodimonte. We must come back on a sunny day just to walk around this wonderful oasis of green, 300 acres with ancient trees and paths to wander.

The museum was also the royal palace of King Charles II, begun in 1738 and completed a century later. Part of the museum includes seeing some of the lavishly decorated rooms of the palace. My sister was an Art History major in college and has expressed an interest in going to this museum so we thought we would check it out first. Caravaggio's painting of Christ's flagellation alone is worth seeing, along with Parmigianino's portrait of "Antea," another favorite. We really did breeze through the museum, knowing we would return with my sister but were really on a "preview" mission.

We took a taxi down to the seafront for the bus back to Vietri. We discovered then that the next bus was at 5:30 and not 4:45 as the schedule in Vietri read when we bought our tickets. We opted to take the express bus to Salerno leaving at that moment knowing we could pick up a bus to Vietri there. It was great not having to deal with our car as we both fell fast asleep on the way home and could see the Christmas decorations glowing in the rain of Salerno's centro as we walked to catch the bus.

Once in Vietri, we stopped to say hello to our landlady in her ceramics shop and finally met her husband who, we learned, speaks English! They traded out the little TV we had for a really big one. We feel like we now have an "in home cinema" as it is quite large and should be more fun for the girls. Today they are supposed to be bringing us a bigger table for it, as it seems quite perched on the little one.

She also told us the handyman would be by today to fix the pull down window cover that had broken. It's taken 3 times (and it still is not fixed) to get this done. First, we asked our neighbor upstairs, Piero, if he could just tell our landlords about it since we didn't know what it is really called and he could explain better to his friend the situation (not knowing the landlord spoke English at this point!) Then Piero tried to fix it, and came to the conclusion that the mechanism was broken and would need to be replaced. On Monday the handyman showed up, tried to fix it and left, since he didn't have the right parts or tools or something and said he would have to come back. Yesterday afternoon the Signora came back with him (and the TV) and still it is not fixed. He finally decided it was indeed broken and now today we are expecting him to return to replace the broken part. We'll see.

We passed Luigi and Lena's "Bottega dei Sapori" as we walked down the road to our apartment and ordered some cheeses and things for Christmas. We will just pick them up Christmas Eve. They are so sweet, we really like going into this little shop where everything is always fresh and good.

Today the sun is shining. It figures! We are taking advantage of it and doing some laundry and spiffing up the place for my sister and nieces who arrive tomorrow night, as much as is possible! The weather report from Denver predicts a blizzard for later today so we are hoping this doesn't keep their flight from taking off. I don't really expect to do much blogging while they are here so I'll just say Buon Natale, Happy Hannukah and send a wish for peace, love and joy to you all now and in the year to come.

See you next year!
Rosemary and Bob

Postscript: I got several calls from my sister today. Her flight was cancelled and the airport in Denver closed due to the blizzard conditions. She will not be able to leave there now until Dec 28. I was pretty upset about it, not to mention how bad I felt for her that their trip had to be postponed. We were all so looking forward to spending Christmas together. At least she was finally able to book another flight and we will have to have a belated celebration. But celebrate we will! Just a little later than we had hoped.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Holiday Greetings

(Bob had fun taking this photo at Paestum, south of Salerno, on our recent visit to the temples)

Saturday, December 16, 2006

A few more watercolors in the handmade journal

This fruit is called "loti" in Italian and at this time of year the leaves are gone from the trees and only the fruit remains, dramatic, bright orange against the dark colored bark

Fresh figs painted earlier this year in Verona

Casertavecchia, Campania

Ursula's pots in the hilltop town of Casertavecchia

At the doorway to Ursula's house, after our tour of the inside

The German-born artist Ursula Edith Pannwitz of Casertavecchia

The Medieval Hill top town of Casertavecchia

Lone tree on a golden hillside in Campania near Caserta

This was on top of Ursula's shop "Casa dell Bifore" on Via S. Michele

We have seen architectural details like this in other medieval cities

The City of Casertavecchia

The spread of food at the Ristorante da Teresa we couldn't resist

In Casertavecchia

Old meets New

The main bell tower (campanile) of the Duomo

Window detail

Archway with a view

A street in Casertavecchia

Casertavecchia 12.12.06

Caserta is a "modern agricultural town" (translation: post 1950s and not very exciting) north of Naples and inland. We had read about the Palace however, that was built in the 18th century by the Bourbon king, Charles II who was jealous of Versailles and wanted to create his own version of it here in Italy. We thought perhaps my sister might be interested in seeing this royal extravaganza and the reportedly lovely gardens, and wanted to at least find it before she gets here, which we did.

Traffic came to a complete standstill as we exited the freeway in Caserta and degenerated into what we like to call "traffic anarchy" that we experience here in Italy. No traffic signals, no police presence, no lane markings or turn arrows, no adherence to any laws of the road that a civilized society would reasonably expect at any rate! Totally an "every man for himself" attitude that is really nerve-wracking to say the least and downright life-threatening in its extreme. Cars turning left in front of each other, squeezing in front of you and creating another lane where there really is only room for one, passing each other on blind curves, motor scooters (or, as I like to call them "suicidal maniacs"). I am constantly amazed that we don't witness an accident every time we are out in these types of situations! Dealing with traffic, I am sorry to say especially in the south of Italy, has not been the most endearing part of being here. I have a total and new admiration for my husband who can navigate through this insanity and continue to get back in the car! It is really pazzo.

But! Casertavecchia! A complete dream! Climbing up above the new city we left the noise and chaos and found ourselves above it all, in the most lovely, green and bucolic area! And suddenly, around a bend in the road Casertavecchia came into view! This small hilltop town, complete with the ruins of a 13th century caste and its 30-meter turret, was founded in the 8th century by the Lombards and it is remarkably well preserved. Walking through its quiet cobbled streets was like traveling into another time. The cathedral was built in 1153. Everything was constructed of the same rough cut, golden brown stone with white marble trim and red tile roofs, charming architectural details and flowerpots.

It was a cold day however and most of the shops were closed, we wondered if it was off-season or just the wrong time of day when we came upon a lovely little shop called "Casa delle Bifore" (which means "mullioned windows" and has nothing to do with the word "before" in English) that describes the house the German-born artist Ursula Edith Pannwitz built in a previously dilapidated building in the centro. We were drawn into this little shop like children following the pied piper, as the sound of music and the sight of little objects made of wood hung everywhere and every corner we looked into there was some interesting bit of art she had made with her own hands. Wooden rocking horses, the little "spirit jars" she has made part of this town's legacy, paintings on wood with the flowers literally growing out of the picture.

We struck up a conversation with her and I guess she liked us and invited us to see the house she had made for herself and her Italian husband across the street from the shop. She began in the 1970s and she showed us some photos of the restoration. Amazing! The place seemed to be in quite a shambles and she turned it into a lovely jumble of rooms that were as cozy as you might expect to find in the Shire, where the hobbits live. Not a computer or a TV to be found! Just wonderful handmade objects everywhere and paintings and other art pieces that were gifts from artists who had visited her here and been so impressed with what she was doing. Her sparkling eyes revealed her joy for living and creating what surely comes right from her heart and soul.

We bought one of the hanging pieces - a little girl with her face down inside a book sitting on a crescent moon with a ladder hanging down from the moon as if she had climbed up there to read! We will be sending this to our granddaughter and hope she likes seeing it there in her room at her Daddy's house.

We had lunch in one of the restaurants in town (and there are several that looked promising) that had a display of foods we couldn't resist. We tried a little of this and a little of that - stuffed peppers, roasted artichokes, fried zucchini, eggplant parmesan, and more - a feast of only appetizers! Then another round of desserts! Yumm. Everything was delicious. We ate until we were stuffed!

We hope to return to this little town, on a warmer day perhaps when the other shops are open but also to visit Ursula again and see what she is up to.

And maybe go back and sample a few more of those goodies at Ristorante "da Theresa".

We'd love to take Suzanne and the girls here, just to show them what a medieval town looks like. It is quite different from everything they will see on the Amalfi Coast, or in Rome. We'd like to give them a little taste of what Italy has to offer and leave them wanting to come back for more!

Buona giornata,
Rosemary e Robert

Abbazia Benedettina della SS. Trinità

The pulpit with wonderful mosaics

The interior of the upper church, the Cattedrale

Window detail, interior of the cattedrale

The corridor inside the monastery

The Abbey (Abbazia) and the road that leads up to it