Thursday, August 27, 2015

Back to Normal

Hard to believe that we've been back a couple of weeks and change.  Back to normal after wandering the stomping grounds of Spartacus and looking into the crater of Mt. Vesuvius.

So--normal for us.  Just before we left, I finished building a hawk box for Ella (the museum's red-tailed hawk).  It's been difficult to box train her because she really fights the standard hawk box where you put them in backwards onto a perch.  She then throws herself backwards and gets stuck behind the perch, and there you are, trying to get her out without a)hurting her, and b) getting taloned.  So I made one that opens from the side.  It's still a fuss getting her in and out, but much easier.  Now we can take her out on programs.

And being as it's that time of year, I have some baby squirrels.  I forgot to take pictures of them a couple of weeks ago when they were fairly quiet--now their eyes are open and they're pretty active, yielding blurry pictures.  But here's little Stumpy--a cat got hold of him, so he's missing his tail.  So far it doesn't seem to slow him down.

Squirrels aren't the only critters we brought home

Aren't they beautiful?  Those are the same little foxes that I had in the blog a couple of months ago.  As soon as I finish writing this, I have to go open the cage and let them go  :-(   Hopefully they'll stick around and let me feed them while they're learning how to catch their own. 

Being as it's now August, we need to get cracking on Halloween.  My scene this year is going to include a cabinet of curiosities, and I decided I needed a display shelf for my oddities.  As usual, when we're making props and displays, we just look around and see what they have.  What I found were a couple of old foam core presentation boards that my students never picked up.  With a little cutting, hot glue, duct tape, tissue paper, and paint, it will serve the purpose.  Now I have to make some oddities.

(oops--cut off the head of the blackbird that's perched on it)

Bob, meanwhile, is making displays inspired by the Fontanelle ossuary that we visited.  Pictures to come.

Finally--we had a wedding anniversary--number 42!!!!  We decided that 42 is the Power Tool anniversary, and bought ourselves a sliding compound miter saw (yes--we are the wild ones).

Ain't that a beauty?  And it's not just for Bob.  We have an old chop saw, but I can't use it.  The safety switch (which must be held down) is in such an awkward position that I have to use both hands to run it--one to hold down the switch and one to pull down the handle.  That doesn't leave a hand to hold whatever I'm cutting.  Bob's hands are bigger and stronger so he can use it--that means anytime I need to cut something, I have to go get him.  I never was good at the "helpless female" thing--hence, the new toy.

And now it's late--I have to go open the foxes cage (the release is always so difficult) and then come search the guest room because there's a flying squirrel (Delbert) hiding in there somewhere.

As I said--life is back to normal.

Friday, August 14, 2015

And Home Again

First things first--I found the picture of Bob and Gato.

So I'm not the only one who would fall asleep on the couch after a day's adventures.

All good things come to a close--we had an early morning flight out of Naples (fortunately for Amanda the airport is less than a half-hour from their house) and so set the alarm for 3:30 a.m.  This is the first time I had used my phone as an alarm--so we were rather startled to hear the Vienna Boy's Choir singing "Good Morning."  (too cheerful for me--I have since changed the alarm)

What was disorienting (yet again) was that my phone was still set on Tallahassee time, so according to it we were getting up at 9:30 p.m. the night before.  Hmmmmm

But other than the ungodly early hour of arising, it was a smooth trip home although Bob seemed to be having the week catch up with him.

While he napped from Naples to Paris, I got on with the knitting (remember the knitting?)

We had a four-hour layover in Paris.  Not enough time to get out of the airport and see anything.  So we had a coffee and pastry just to say that we had done so in Paris, and, knowing that we'd be in a cramped flight for 8 hours or so we did laps around the waiting area.   It's pretty well designed for tired travelers.

They also had round sleeping pods with piped in music--they were all filled with sleepers so I didn't get a picture--I feel a little pervy snapping shots of sleeping strangers.   We did the rounds of the fancy stores (have I mentioned before how convenient wheelie bags are?  Great if you lug your bags while looking at shops).  Do people really pay $10,000 for a watch in an airport?  Is that an impulse buy?

There was a rather nice art gallery, and a beautiful living green wall.

which was pretty big.
Then we heard the announcement that all travelers who have a connection to make dread:  "The flight on Air France to Atlanta has been delayed."
Urg.  I like Atlanta well enough, but I really wanted to go home and didn't fancy spending the night there.  We vowed not to worry--either we would make the connection, or deal with it if we didn't.
The delay was only about 20 minutes--we still had a chance.  Finally boarding time came and it was such a relief to find that we were on an older 747, which meant wider seats and air nozzles.  Ahhhhh--we had dreaded another trip on the cramped stuffy hot new plane.
And just as we taxied out, we caught a quick glimpse of the Eiffel Tower off in the distance.  So we can say we saw it. 
However, new planes do go faster than old ones, and we were flying into the Gulf stream.  Timewise we kept hovering between "no way we'll make it" and "we have a chance"  We took off running when we landed, went through customs and security in record time, and took off running. 
We missed our flight by approximately 7 minutes . . .
We were lucky--there was another flight in 90 minutes, and two seats available on it, so it was only a short delay to getting home. 

Knitted while we waited.  Hadn't gotten much done on the trip over from France because they turn off the lights for most of the trip.

Finally we were in Tallahassee, our car started just fine, and the house was still there and all the cats were happy to see us.  We were both groggy--it's had to sleep on a plane and neither of us had.  I kept checking the clocks--trying to work out our travel from the morning in Naples to the evening in Tallahassee.  Finally realized we were muzzy headed because it had been exactly 24 hours from door to door.

Needless to say--on Tuesday we slept.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Sunday--Vesuvius and Herculaneum

And it's the last day of our trip.  And we're going to the top of Mt. Vesuvius.

As mountains go, Vesuvius is not that interesting.  No forests, no huge ravines, no castle on top.  And not even particularly dangerous anymore.  Now the danger is the volcano Solftara in Pozzouli (near Naples) but who's ever heard of that?  (Again, a  picture lifted from the web).

In this shot you can see the road where you drive up most of the way, and the zigzag footpath where you walk the rest of the way up.  At first, I was a little concerned--meaning that I got out of breath and the heart was pounding a bit.  I'm not exactly in shape, and I'm not used to being more that a few dozen feet above sea level.  And have I mentioned that it was hot this week?  Then it hit me that this wasn't a race--the Vesuvius had been there for centuries and wasn't going anywhere, and Robert and Amanda were too nice to leave me there, so I just slowed down and enjoyed the hike.  We found that if you hung over the railing, you could get the breeze coming off the Gulf of Naples and it felt pretty nice.  Alas, it was a smoggy day.

So we walked 20-30 minutes and there we were--looking into the crater of Mt. Vesuvius.

There are still wisps of steam coming out of the crater, and the eggy smell of sulfur in the air.  We walked around the crater, had a lemonade, and tried to visualize that day in August 79 when this volcano erupted.
We finally made our way back to the car (it's always trickier walking downhill than up, especially on gravel).
A digression--I had my thermos of water with me (of course) and when I opened it we heard the pfffftt! of the air pressure equalizing.  It doesn't take much to amuse us.
Then it was time to find the last destination of this trip:  Herculaneum.
Herculaneum is about 11 miles west of Pompeii, and was also buried in the eruption.  It apparently was a richer town, and is much better preserved, but not as well known.  There were no lines to get in (after we finally found it--it really wasn't very well marked) and only a few vendors.  It had a fraction of the crowds of the better known town. (Bob thinks Pompeii is more popular because it's easier to say)  You can easily see that it was buried under some 60 feet of ash and lava, and the town build over it.

The walk we were on was at street level, and we're looking down on Herculaneum, and then across at the town that hovers over it.

This picture shows the boathouse, where panicked people packed trying to escape from the city.  This would have been the harbor (and the water level) at the time.  The skeletons in there are models, but that is where they were found. People tend to believe that the people were killed by being smothered in ash and lava.  The truth is that they would have died almost instantly, even if they were indoors, by the extreme heat of the pyroclastic surge .

But like Pompeii, it is the life of these people that was preserved by their violent death.  They had art, and beauty, and bathhouses (and bawdy houses) and bakeries and laundries.  They seem very real.


On the way out, Amanda had a conniption fit.  Of all the wonders that we had seen, the one that had her jumping up and down was on the other side of the fence, in a pile of trash. 
Demijohns.  Three of them.  Big ones.  Green ones.  In their faux wicker baskets.  The. Big. Find.   There was no low spot in the wall.  We considered climbing the fence, but there were some security cameras and alarms visible.  We debated how much we would like to see the inside of an Italian jail.  There was much angst.  We left them there--but I bet Amanda is still trying to figure out a way of getting them.

After a day in AD 79, we returned to a more modern home, to curry and zucchini fritters, to popsicles and watching "Sharknado 3."

As the subtitle of the movie says:  "Oh hell, no."
When we went to bed that night, we looked at each other and said "did we really hike up Vesuvius, walk through Herculaneum, and watch Sharknado all in the same day?"
I don't think we have much of a mind left to be blown.  We're tired.  I set the alarm for 3:30 a.m.--it's time to go home.


Wednesday, August 12, 2015


Saturday Dane went on his qualifying dive trip--on Roman ruins!  Some day he'll look back and realize how lucky he was.  As it is, he's 12 and takes everything in stride.

So we went to an amphitheater--and like everything else, smack in a neighborhood.  Now, we all know Spartacus--Kirk Douglas, complete with dimpled chin.  And we've all seen gladiator movies.  And once again, we had to come to terms with the fact that this wasn't always make believe.  There really was a gladiator named Spartacus, and he really did train and fight in an amphitheater, and it's still there, and we were walking in it.

And again, no rangers, no guards (no guardrails).  In the States, the walls would have been covered with graffiti--for some reason, that doesn't happen here.

The first thing you notice is that it's big.  Really big.  Here's a model in the museum:

And here's the real thing

We seem to have spent a great deal of time on this trip having our minds boggled.  Possibly it's because we live in such a young country (as far as our European culture goes).  Heck--here in Tallahassee, there's a house on the historic register that was built in 1930.  We think something is *really* old if it's 150 years.  But here--we were scrabbling around on ruins that were built over 2,000 years ago.  Without modern building equipment.  The brain cells fry.
And here is Bob in the museum, showing that it is actually possible to go up and touch the artifacts.  No alarms went off.
Tickets to the amphitheater and museum also included entrance to another museum, so once again we went driving down crazy narrow streets, somehow always staying a block or two ahead of the GPS directions (Amanda has a mantra of "catch up, catch up, catch up" when talking to the GPS).  We finally thought we were near, so Bob got out and asked directions of an Italian man walking his small dog.  (Bob amazes me--he never lets the fact that he doesn't know another language stop him from making conversation.  I think he just knows how to listen very well).
So we did find it, and while small, it was quite a good museum that showed the history of the area well before the Romans--back to the Neolithic (300 B.C.)

With our fascination for cemeteries, ossuaries, and other death-related artifacts, we both were interested in the bronze funerary urns.  Apparently the remains were place in the urn, then a bowl placed over to protect it, and finally the whole thing was put in a stone sarcophagus.  One imagines that this was not an everyday burial.

And joy!! As an avid handspinner, I'm always on the lookout for the tools of the trade.  And here they are, spindle whorls from about 750 A.D.  Why don't they ever have replicas of these in the gift shops?

And now we have one day to go in Italy.  Have to admit, we're dragging a bit (and really hitting the popsicles when we get back in the evening) but we're not done yet!


Men in Italy seem to like small dogs, and they walk them a lot

When Italians have their male dogs neutered they don't want them to be embarrassed, so it seems to be a standard practice to put in prosthetic balls.

Zeke kept his distance from us for the first couple of days.  Not shy--just checking us out.  Eventually he decided that we were OK.

(Man, but I look tired in that picture.  Possibly because I was)
And by now people are wondering--what about the Italian food?  What about the Italian wine?  What about sipping a cappuccino, or slamming down an espresso?
Well . . . Amanda dislikes Italian food.  And Robert is a heck of a good cook (does a mean chicken curry, and his Turkish zucchini/feta fritters are to die for).  We did get pizza the first night, and we ate out twice--at the first place I had mussels with pasta, and Bob got gnocchi and a pizza, and both were quite good (the Italians don't drown their pasta or their pizza with toppings).  We also had some delicate orange fritters for dessert.  Another day, I had pasta carbonara with guanciale (sort of like bacon but from the jowl) and squash blossoms.  One evening when no one felt like cooking (or going out) we walked the couple of blocks into town and later feasted on bread, fresh buffalo mozzarella, another cheese that I bought just because it looked good, black olives, prosciutto.  So we didn't starve.  (and Robert made those fritters on two nights!)
As for the wine and the coffee--well, the temps were in the mid-high 90's, with the heat index (what they call "real feel") well into the hundreds, so our major liquid of choice was this.

As part of their rental package they get several cases of water on a regular basis.  We took at least 2 on every trip.  Not to be too delicate about it, but never have we drunk so much and peed so little.  (Oh--check out the marble staircase.  Posh, huh?)

When Bob and I are separated from our cats for more than about 45 minutes, we start getting cat hungry.  Fortunately, Amanda has two--Alba and a recently adopted street stray.  Like Zeke, they kept their distance at first but we soon got some much-needed cat time.

Alba was more interested in getting her head scratched than in posing. (The picture of
Bob taking a nap with little Gato seems to have disappeared.  It may have been another one that Amanda took)
We did go into a mall so that I wouldn't leave Italy without having gelato.  And, indeed, it is superior to ice cream.  More dense, more silky.    While we were in the mall, Amanda pointed out the area where you could rent the equivalent of strollers for your kid.  They're stuffed animals on wheels that you just pull behind you.  They make up in cute for what they lack in safety--Amanda pointed out that there are no straps.  The kids are expected to hold on.   We've noticed that a lot in both Mexico and Italy--people (and kids) are expected to watch out for themselves, so there is often a lack of things like straps or railings.  It's up to you not to fall off.
Finally have to show Amanda's dwarf pomegranate tree.  Adorable, no?

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Friday in Italy--Monte Cassino

I'll admit that Friday's adventure was going to be for Bob.  Bob is a military historian, and he really wanted to go to Monte Cassino, a major battle site during WWII where the Allies took heavy costs trying to assault the Germans who were dug into the mountainside (that's a simplification, and it might even be wrong.  If Bob wants a historic exposé  here, he'll have to write it himself).

Anyway, it's part of the trade off for being married.  He has spent his fair share of time in knitting shops and wool festivals, and I in return have gone to scale model conventions and have scrambled over military ruins.  So I figured that today I would make encouraging grunts as he spotted chunks of concrete, and generally just admire the view.

I was so wrong.

The monastery at Monte Cassino had been destroyed during the battle, but has since been rebuilt.  What I didn't know what that it is still a working Benedictine abbey, and has been restored to full glory.  (Note:  some of the pictures have been lifted off the web.  Alas, we didn't get the aerial shot ourselves).

The ride up there was an adventure on it's own.  Amanda, as usual, had the steering wheel in one hand and the GPS in the other, and ignoring signs that pointed to paved roads and read "Monastery" we went up twisty little narrow roads.  I've lived in Florida for so long that I really love getting up a mountainside.  You can look out and see how much Naples sprawls.

Then our jaws properly dropped when we saw the abbey itself.

Here are some web pictures to get an idea of the size of it.

This has been a sacred site for a loooong time.  St. Benedict established the original abbey around 529 AD but even then had to take over a pagan temple.
Before going in, I had to take a family shot.  I've been writing about Amanda, Robert, Dane, and Zeke but haven't shown our host family who were kind enough to drive on all of these adventures this week.
Then we went inside.  The word "awesome"  is so overused as to be meaningless.  The word "awful" used to be "full of awe" but now has a negative connotation.  So I will simply say that we were filled with awe.  I did not take pictures--because this was a sacred place and not merely a tourist attraction.  But I'm not against lifting some from the web.

This is where we felt the sensation of our minds being blown, the moment when fantasy become reality.  See the altar in the picture above?  Behind it is a tomb.  The tomb of St. Benedict.  The remains of a mortal man of immortal memory.  I had known that Monte Cassino was a Benedictine abbey, but not that it was *the* Benedictine abbey.  The original.
This was the ceiling, 2-3 stories over our heads.

And the dome.
Downstairs the artwork was more Byzantine.  I heard Bob explaining to Dane that each curve, each line, each gesture had meaning.  We just don't know what the meanings are (we need a good art historian).

(I did whip out the camera for this shot.  C'mon--it's a peacock!)
There was a very good museum attached to the church--Bob, Dane and I explored it while Robert and Amanda kept Zeke entertained outside.  There were several hundred years of accoutrements of the church--croziers and miters and copes, prayer books, bibles, holy water vessels, chalices, reliquaries.
This crèche is from the 1700's

Bob particularly like this tiny book, with it's own magnifyer

A beautiful chased silver and velvet book binding

And, another pop! as more brain cells exploded.  This is an original Botticelli (1445-1510).  In a small room, with no rope in front, no guards, no security camera.  We just sat down and stared at it for awhile.  I think Dane was confused . . .

And to go from the sublime to the not-so-sublime--doesn't this look like a potty chair?  It had the label "Parto" so I looked it up--it's a birthing chair!  An elegant way to come into the world, but did the midwife have to lay under it to catch the baby?
And thus ended another day of adventures and wonders.