Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Hiking with Emma, above Alessi

Resting at the top of the mountain

We walked up to just below that cross

This Jesus statue, a recent arrival, on top of a bread shop

Rosemary and Emma, above Salerno

Church nestled in the hills around Alessi

Emma, a new friend in Vietri 2.25.07

We recently met Emma, a lovely young woman who works at one of the ceramics shops here in Vietri. It's the one with the lovely tiles in the window we have passed many times near the Pasticceria Russo. We love some of the tiles in the window, that are a natural colored terra cotta contrasted with delicate designs in painted, glazed ceramic. Finally one day a few weeks ago before we went to Puglia, we found it open and met Emma. Her English is wonderful and we enjoyed talking with her about the area, about ceramics, language, the Italian people and life in general. We suggested we should go out for drink some time and asked her about the possibility of taking a ceramics lesson. She promised to get back in touch with us as she was not going to be available for a few weeks and neither were we.

We stopped in there the other day and she invited us to go on a hike with her in the hills above Vietri, near where she lives in the town of Alessi, high above Vietri and the Bay of Salerno. We also scheduled a day for a ceramics lesson. On Saturday around 2 in the afternoon she picked us up at our apartment and drove us to her home where she lives currently with her parents. She parked the car and we walked - mostly uphill - to the most wonderful viewpoint, with Vietri and the whole coast of Salerno and the Bay spread below us! It was breathtaking.

We learned that Emma is married to an American, a lucky young guy named Wes and that they are trying to work out where to live, whether in the states or in Italy and apparently they have many options open to them. She told us how difficult it is in this area to find work and she felt there would be more opportunities in America for her and Wes, who works for the government. But it could be that he can work in Europe, Italy or otherwise but at the moment he is in Washington D.C. We are hoping to visit with them when she comes to the states this fall.

After our hike in the mountains we went back to Emma's house where she literally threw together a lovely meal of sausages, potatoes and broccoli rabe that was fantastic and served with bread called pane grano that her parents made. A very interesting bread that is baked, then dried in the oven, and stored in plastic bags. When they want to eat it, they dip it in water for a few seconds, not so it gets soggy, but it adds moisture to it and you can break off pieces. It was very tasty and quite unusual for us.

She drove us back home with a stop at the Bombola shop to make sure they were going to deliver a replacement gas bottle to our apartment. Earlier in the day I had received a phone call from our landlady trying to arrange delivery (since we had run out of gas during the cooking of the pasta during our dinner party the night before!). Emma helped us out by talking with our landlady and helping to coordinate the whole thing, then drove us there and back to our house where the gas bottle arrived just moments after we did! We invited her in for a glass of wine and more conversation, getting to know each other better. After a while it was evident we were all pretty tired from our hike and she said Buona Notte and left us.

Exhausted, I went straight to bed! Bob stayed up a bit longer but soon followed.
This morning after breakfast I made one of my chocolate cakes for Emma to thank her for such a lovely day yesterday and we brought it up to her. On Sundays she works at a different ceramics shop and we are considering buying some of the plates they make to take home, memories of our time in Vietri.

Tomorrow she promised to pick us up around 11am to take us for our ceramics lesson. We are looking forward to it very much as well as getting to know this really bright and interesting young woman.

Buona notte,
Rosemary and Bob

Carnevale 2.18.07

Last year we were living in Sicily and booked a bed and breakfast in Acireale for Carnevale and loved watching the big floats parading down the street, listening to the music and seeing all the colorful costumes of the people. It was fantastic. This year was a bit more subdued but still fun. Since we've been traveling around so much we decided to just stick around Vietri and see what developed. We had conflicting opinions on what would actually happen, with some people telling us we should go to Maiori since they have a big celebration on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, others certain that Vietri had its own version, others suggesting one little town or another. Ultimately we decided on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday to walk up to Vietri centro, to Piazza Amendola and see what was going on. In Sicily, in Marina di Ragusa, for 4 Sundays leading up to the official Tuesday before, all the kids in town (and from Ragusa and surrounding cities as well) showed up in the main piazza in costumes and it was just fun to watch them running around and having a good time, slinging confetti and silly string at each other.

That is what we found on this past Sunday, the 18th of February. The costumes were fantastic! So creative. The parents go all out for this and the costumes are incredible. You hardly see two of the same kind. Bob took a bunch of photos and we'll post some here. It was very low-key for us but we enjoyed it all the same. The kids - anywhere from toddlers to maybe 8 or 9 year olds - were absolutely adorable and clearly had a blast. We also met a group of pre-teen girls who were walking up and down the main street showing off their pretty costumes and generally having a good time.

The day of Carnevale, Tuesday, it rained, so the parade in Maiori, we were told, would be cancelled until Sunday the 25th (today) and we debated about whether to go or not and decided to skip it. We were told that traffic can be horrendous, that unless you go early in the morning and find a place to park that you could end up walking from Cetara, a pretty long distance. We could have taken the bus, but just didn't feel like doing all that. Instead, we spent a lazy Sunday, sleeping in a bit, leisurely breakfast, a walk up to Vietri to look in the ceramics shop windows and get caught up on my writing. We have started to pack and go through our things, tossing unnecessary stuff and making piles to give away and to save.

We are pretty certain that the little town of Milford, Delaware, our next home, will probably not celebrate Carnevale like they do in Italy and for this we are sad. We love the way they do it here. It is so much a family event. Not like the restaurant Fat Tuesday in the states, just an excuse for getting drunk and eating spicy food. There are these certain cookies they make too, called Chiacchiere (not sure I have the spelling correct) that are like strips of dough - like lasagna noodles - baked and then sprinkled with powdered sugar that I absolutely love and hope my neighbor shows me how to make. They are just crispy and delightful and the powdered sugar gets all over you but who cares! Lasagna also is the meal associated with Carnevale here in Vietri. We tried to go out to a restaurant Martine recommended by when we got there at 9:30 things had not yet even thought about starting up and we decided it seemed more for the younger crowd and went down the block to one of our other favorite places for a late meal.

That's one of things about eating out in Italy. Don't even think about going out until at least 7:30. Most Italians don't show up until around 9. That's something we do look forward to in the states, eating dinner (or lunch for that matter) when we are ready, not having to take a nap in the afternoon if we want to go out to dinner because it will be so late! OK, we will sacrifice the quality of the food for sure. We know we won't be able to get the same kind of tomatoes, or mozzarella or parmegiano cheeses, the same pasta dishes or roasted vegetables...but don't let me start thinking about those things now!!!

Buona sera,
Rosemary and Bob

Carnevale Feb 18 2007

This little girl was just too sweet. She was loving every minute of the feste

Carnevale Vietri sul Mare

Even a duck needs a bippy now and then.

Snow White


Raegge is populare here

Even the teenagers want to dress up for the feste.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Locanda dei 7 Peccati

Wall graphic in the restaurant (in english "Seven Deadly Sins"

Interior of the restaurant filled with antiques

Going back to Sicilia 2.15.07

While we were having dinner at the restaurant in Ostuni, the Locanda dei 7 Peccati, my cellphone started ringing. It was our friends Elio and Giovanna who had received the gift we sent congratulating Giovanna on finishing her degree. We had sent her a book on the national parks of America (hoping to tempt them to make a visit to the U.S. in the future) and they wanted to thank us. And to invite us to come for a visit before we returned to the states. Originally when we came to the Amalfi Coast we thought we might make a trip back to Ragusa but just ran out time. Giovanna was insistent! We just could not go back to the states without one more visit to Sicily to say goodbye and they even offered to put us up when we got there. I told her we would have to talk it over and we would get back to them.

Bob and I just looked at each other and said "Somehow we have to figure out how to go Sicily!" Our British friends Janet and Stephen were expected for a few days visit at the end of February and we were looking forward to seeing them again. And our daughter Jessica is going to be here from the 1st to the 14th of March. We leave here on the 31st so it didn't give us much time. We looked into taking the ferry again but that didn't seem very appealing and we wouldn't be able to drive since we are selling our car on the 27th.

The very day we were trying to figure out what to do I had the opportunity to meet our next-door neighbor Rosaria's son's fiancé who just happens to be Sicilian and flies here via AlpiEagles airlines and said it takes an hour to get to Catania and is pretty cheap! We went straight to their website, found a cheap fare and shot off an email to Elio and Giovanna, asking if they were really serious about us coming and telling them the dates we thought we could come, arranging a few days around a weekend so they wouldn't have to work when we came. They thought it all sounded good and told us to go ahead and book, which we did.

We then had to go next door to ask Rosaria’s son to come and help us since the site was only in Italian and we couldn’t figure out (even with the help of our dictionary) if the reservation had been made and what to do next since we had given them our credit card information and everything but then nothing happened. Antonio (there are many Antonio’s here!) kindly stepped over the low wall that separates our two terraces, looked at what we had done and called them on the phone to confirm that we did indeed have reservations that were soon confirmed by an email. We were very grateful for his help! We often feel like the character in Tennessee Williams play “relying” on the kindness of strangers. And kind they have been. We don’t know how we would have done most of the things we have done here in Italy without the help of many, many people.

So now we will drive Jessica to the airport in Naples early in the morning on the 14th and go back again on the 15th in the afternoon for our flight to Catania. We are very excited to see our "Bella Sicilia" and spend a little more time with our lovely, generous friends, maybe even take walk on the beach in Marina di Ragusa, stroll around Ragusa Ibla, or nibble a few cannoli in Modica, who knows. We are very excited and indeed fortunate.

A presto,
Rosemary e Robert

Watercolors of the Villa Cimbrone

Entrance to the hotel part of the Villa (urban sketches)

Ravello's Cattedrale in the main piazza at dusk

Gazebo in a little courtyard of the Villa

Main entrance gate to the Villa from the inside looking out

Villa Cimbrone, Ravello 2.11.07

A few weeks ago we went back to the Amalfi Coast town of Ravello, one of our favorite cities here. It sits high above the coast and the views from the gardens at Villa Rufulo are breathtaking. A few days before we had taken a drive in the afternoon and spent a short amount of town wandering in the gardens of the other lovely Villa, the Villa Cimbrone. This is a very high-end hotel, built by an English lord in the late 1800s with an absolutely stunning view of the coast and lots of charming little corners, to while away an afternoon.

It is about a 10-minute walk uphill to reach the Villa from the main piazza, but they also have a helicopter pad for those guests who can afford to be escorted from the airport directly to the Villa without having to deal with the rest of the tourists schlepping their suitcases from the bus. The Clinton's have stayed here among other famous personalities like Greta Garbo, but they also open their doors to tourists who, for around 5 euros a head, can wander the grounds and appreciate the views. We imagine that if their guests are high profile enough, they must curtail this type of visit. It is lovely and understated and we found that we lost the light before we were ready to leave and promised to return, for me to paint and for Bob to take more photos.

We spent several hours on our next visit with a beautiful blue sky and puffy white clouds overhead. I had a delightful time sitting on the bench and studying the beautiful details of the gates and doors and flowerpots on steps decorated with ceramic tiles. Bob spent his time blissfully focusing his camera lens on all the lovely details of the place and before we knew it, the light was fading once again and it was time to go.

Signs of winter are still apparent. Many trees are still bare and the rose bushes are only beginning to think about sending buds out. But we think it will not be long before this sleeping paradise comes to life and hope to return before the end of March and perhaps catch a glimpse of spring's awakening in this secret garden.

Buona sera,
Rosemary e Roberto

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Selling our car 2.21.07

The insurance on our Toyota Yaris runs out on the 15th of March. We will be heading home to the states on the 5th of April, which meant we either had to extend our insurance for another month (not sure how do-able that would be) or sell the car and spend the last few weeks riding buses and what not. The simple answer was to try to sell the car sooner rather than later and we put out the word. We told all of our neighbors that we were selling it, consulting them on price and how to go about this. Martine said we could put a notice in her coffee bar and Nunzia said her brother had some connections with a used car place in Cava di Tirreni and also suggested we put a sign “Vendesi” (for sale) in the car window. She even let us put her phone number on the sign so that she could field calls from locals since we were worried about answering technical questions on the phone. She made us write down all the car’s specifications for her and for her brother as well.

We also listed it on the Expats in Italy website but didn’t get much more than a nibble. We told everyone we know here, including Antonio and his brother at the feramenta and Ferdinando at La Locanda, one of our favorite restaurants here.

We had a few people ask us at stoplights “Quante?” (how much?) for the car and they frowned and said “troppo” (too much) when we told them we were asking 3,000 euros for it. We paid around 5,200 for it two years ago and it seemed like a fair price, albeit without any “Blue Book” research.

Our plan was to try to sell the car on our own, but if it didn’t sell by the first of March we would take it to the lot in Cava and let it sit there in hopes of exposing it to motivated car buyers. We didn’t have to go that far! A friend of Herve’s (Martine’s son, with whom she owns the coffee bar) was interested. He offered us 2500 plus a large ceramic vase (he and his father have a ceramics shop) to boot. We accepted. He was supposed to give us his “anticipo” (a deposit) prior to the sell date of February 27 but it took him a few days to get around to it. Then the son of the lady who lives around the corner and a friend of Nunzia’s brother also expressed an interest. When we told Martine this she put a call in to Peppe (the first offer) and he came the next day and left us his deposit.

On the 27th of February we will turn over the keys to the car and fill out all the paperwork necessary to make the deal final. We feel like we have come full circle and will be back to taking the bus wherever we need or want to go until we depart Vietri on the 31st of March. We plan to spend a few days in Rome and fly back to the states of the 5th of April.

Our daughter Jessica is coming for a visit, from the 1st to the 14th of March and we have arranged to rent a car during that time so we can take her touring around the area more comfortably. Then on the 15th we head for Sicily for a few days. But that story is another post.

Rosemary and Bob

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Watercolors (I like to call it "drive-by sketching")

I have reverted back to doing my watercolor journaling and have enjoyed making these quick "drive-bys" in the car as the countryside rolls by. OK, some of them are more like "stand-and-sketch" but you get the idea. I sketch quickly on site and then add washes later, at my leisure. They are much more like quick impressions than "paintings" and are just fun to do. (urban sketches)

Driving through the land of the trulli

Driving away from Ostuni, past the sea, through fields and farms

More of my watercolors in and around Ostuni

These Moleskin journals have the creamiest paper and I love using them. I hope the colors come across OK on your monitors, as the background color is kind of off-white. (urban sketches)

Ostuni's white walls

Impressions around Ostuni

Polignano a Mare

Impressions of trulli country

Traveling back to Campania

We stopped at Polignano a Mare to enjoy the views

A huge field of red, ruffly lettuce (?) in Puglia

The Trulli of Puglia

White top detail of one of a trullo

Rosemary in front of one of the trullo - for a sense of scale

The shopping street in Alberobello

Trulli painted roof designs

Tops of the Trulli

Wandering around Ostuni

Flower pots in Ostuni

Ostuni skyline

Ostuni's outer walls

More walls

Street, Ostuni

Views in and around Ostuni and Alberbello

An eldery lady checked on her laundry and hurried back inside her trullo

This ancient grove of olive trees had a carpet of yellow flowers

Locorotondo skyline, Puglia, trulli country

Our fancy lunch in Ostuni near the highest point in the city

Wall decoration where we had lunch, Pozzo dei Desideri

Images from Ostuni and Puglia's trulli

Cathedral in Ostuni, detail

The trulli in Alberobello, rooftops

Ostuni chimneys

Blue/Green door with prickly pear in Ostuni

Ostuni's Cattedrale

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Matera, Basilicata 13 Feb. 2007


Sculptor's Doorway

MAtera stairs

Obviously we were tired after climbing all the stairs in this beautiful city.

Matera, Basilicata 13 Feb. 2007

Matera Skyline

Church literally carved from the rocks

Fresco inside a cave church

Ancient Cave Dwellings. They reminded us of the cave areas in Scicly

Museum of the daily life of the cave dwellers