Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Fashion Notes

I've been looking for Italian Vogue ever since we got here. No one has it. Maybe it's sold out. Or maybe they hide it so people don't steal it. I can't tell. I've had to make do with the Greek Vogue RG bought on the Malta ferry.

The Italian ladies are petite. I'm maybe 5'6 or so, and most of them are a couple of inches shorter, and at least 3 dress sizes smaller than me. Until they hit 60 or so, when they transform into sacks of potatoes wearing Sensible Shoes.

They bring a unique & sophisticated panache to the stonewashed jean. If you & me tried this, we'd look like Jersey mall rats.

They all have kickass knee-high black boots. There are many variations: stilettos, platforms, crepe-soled, wedges, buckled, laced, suede, ballistic nylon, leather. I covet them all. So far the lousy exchange rate and common sense have prevented me from buying any. I'd blend right in on Catania's sooty, graffitti-filled streets, but I'm not sure how they'd look on Franklin street.

The boys are very interested in fashion as well. There as many boutiques for men as there are for women. And they use a lot of hair product, to good effect.

Everyone needs to be more diligent with the sunscreen. There are some seriously leathery hides on the folks of a certain age.

While C & I walked around in short sleeves & sandals in the creepy humidity, everyone else wore puffers & scarves. It is winter, after all.

C has made the only fashion purchase so far: two pairs of striped socks. She likes them a lot. They can be worn with black *or* brown outfits. So versatile!

C & I got these bracelets instead of fortune cookies at a Chinese restaurant. Aren't they fabulous!!!


I've gotten my photo site back up and running in a new location. I'm still way behind on getting photos up there, but now that it's basically up and running, I can concentrate on actually getting the photos tagged and published. Check it out here.

Taormina or Bust!

As CR mentioned in his earlier post, we have yet to resolve the mystery of the missing 9:00 a.m. bus, although the traffic along Via Liberta was truly lousy at that hour. Standing there for 25 minutes waiting for the bus, I figure we must've huffed about 400 pounds of car and bus exhaust apiece. This one tiny ray of hope wasn't enough to make a dent in the damage:

Electric Minivan, Catania Sicily

So we headed back to the apt. for an hour, to shower & regroup, and then hiked down to the bus station, bought tickets, and boarded the 11:00 bus for Taormina. Without the deathly-ill CR! Translator-less across eastern Sicily!

When you're headed for one of the biggest tourist hot-spots in Sicily, though, I guess having a command of Italian is probably less important. Is it comforting or insulting to address someone in rudimentary Italian and receive the response in excellent English? The only person we encountered on the trip who didn't seem to speak English was the angry-old-woman panhandler who cursed us eight different ways in Italian when we didn't give her any money.

It continues to be overcast and foggy/smoggy over Catania & the rest of the general Mt. Etna area, so this is the best photo I got of Etna:

Mt. Etna, Sicily

Can you find the giant volcano in that photo?

Monday seems to be the day in Taormina when a lot of things are closed, so we didn't get to check out the Museo Siciliano di Arte e Tradizioni Popolari, which the guidebook says contains "twenty-five panel paintings . . . showing various people being saved by miraculous intervention from such terrible fates as falling onto a stove or being attacked by cats." Dang!

We did wander around the Teatro Greco-Romano, where we saw a lot of middle-aged American women bellowing at each other from one side of the bowl to the other. Not to belabor a point that has been addressed at length by 1000 other writers, but at this point, the obesity epidemic in the USA is beginning to make us look like a different species. We're fatter than the Germans & the Brits, even. Sorry, no photos to illustrate that point. Be grateful.

It's still fairly trivial to factor out the tourists, and the overcast skies, when confronted with this, however:

Teatro Greco-Romano, Taormina Sicily

Note that Mt. Etna should more or less be framed dead-center in that photo. Sigh.

After il Teatro, we set our sights on the highest landmark available: the Castello Saraceno, which towers over Taormina on Monte Tauro, the peak that Taormina surrounds on three sides. It's reached by a seemingly endless series of switchbacked stairs and paths. And presumably because there's a convent near the top, the entire path is lined with these crazy Stations-of-the-Cross sculptures, to accent & contextualize the pain you're feeling in your lungs & legs:

Station of the Cross, Taormina Sicily

It being a Monday in the off-season, of course the Castello was locked up tight. Here's M reading the part about how we're supposed to go to the [non-existent] souvenir stand to ask for the [non-existent] caretaker to unlock the gate:

Dismay and Confusion, Castello Saraceno, Taormina Sicily

However, we didn't let this diminish our feeling of triumph, particularly since C has a late-onset fear of heights that she powered straight through during the long climb. And we did get to see some pretty excellent views:

View of Taormina from Monte Tauro, Sicily

We finished the day with some cafe-sitting, some ceramics shopping, and a fair amount of people-watching. I was and continue to be mystified and amazed by this coat:

Fashionable Tourist, Taormina Sicily

There are other photos in my flickr photostream, and C & M are in the process of editing & uploading theirs as well:

Monday, October 29, 2007

Sick in Sicily

A quick Google search has revealed that Tachipirina is a brand of acetaminophen, aka Tylenol. This is important to know because this is the pill that a couple of hours ago turned me from a feverish zombie into a tired, sick, but relatively human feeling person. This is a good drug.

The professor got me this Tachipirina--he wanted me to take it before bed, but when I told him my fever had hit 39C he told me to go ahead and take it immediately. The professor has been taking good care of me. The last time I ran a fever was in college, I think. Over ten years ago. Whatever this is seems to have really gotten on top of me.

Last night, after an ill advised trip downtown that nearly killed me, and dinner at a Chinese restaurant I forced myself to make it through only because I didn't think I could cook anything for myself, I dropped by the professor's, told him and his wife I was feeling really sick and asked if he could take me to the doctor the next morning. He offered to take me immediately to an emergency clinic, but I told I'd be fine waiting until normal office hours. He advised me to really pile on the covers so I could sweat it out.

So this morning I tried to drop the kids off at the bus stop and see them off, but the bus never came, for reasons that aren't exactly clear to me yet, and then I met up with the professor so he could take me to see his doctor. The doctor was only a couple of blocks away, in a regular old palazzo off of Corso Italia--an easy walk, even for sickos. This was the professor's private doctor that he goes to. We walk in and there is a waiting room. There is no receptionist, no check in, no appointment. You just keep track of who was there before you and when they're done it's your turn. Many people as they entered would ask who was last, so they only had to remember that they were after that person. I asked the professor how the health system worked, and we didn't get into a long discussion, but I basically understood from his brief breakdown that regular doctor visits, like this one, are covered by the state. Visits to specialists and lab work is subsidized but not free. I'm not sure, but he may have been referring to private doctors, like the one we were visiting, since hospital visits are free. Medications require a copay. I remember from reading the news that the state experimented with completely free drugs a few years back but found that people were stockpiling medications they didn't really need just because they were free, so they brought back a copay system. I don't know a lot and may have misunderstood something, but that's it, basically, in a nutshell. The professor let me know that for purposes of accounting he was essentially person who was sick, since I wouldn't really fit into the system as a non-resident.

When we had determined that it was our turn, we entered the doctor's office, which really was more like an office, office than what we would think of as a doctor's office. Possibly there was an examination room of some sort through some other door, but here we just came in and talked to the doctor while he sat behind his desk. He listened to the symptoms, listened to my chest, looked down my throat, normal doctor stuff, and then wrote us a prescription for an antibiotic and told us take Tachipirina before bed if I had a fever. And then we were off. The professor has been very kind, fetching medicines for me, as well as water. I've found that with a 102F fever, standing up and walking is a real chore. Going downstairs one whole floor to the professor's house was exhausting. I was in no shape to leave the buidling. When the kids got back from Taormina, R made a delicious vegetable soup that really hit the spot. Tachipirina (aka Tylenol) has kicked in, helping me to feel much more human again: my temp is only 99F. (My "normal" body temp is actuallyusually around 97.5 or so, a whole degree less than the "normal" 98.6.)

Tomorrow will be another stay at home today, but I'll try and give the kids some pointers for things to go see and do around and about in Catania. I hope to be back on my feet again, soon.


The city name of Mdina comes from the Arabic word, "Medina", meaning "walled fortress". At some point in the development of the Maltese language they got rid of some of their vowels, especially after "M"s at the beginnings of words. The modern pronunciation, as near as we could figure out, is something like "hmmm-dina". The city outside the walls still retains its Arab name of "Rabat", which is most of the rest of the city, as Mdina is really just a tiny, fortified town, that was probably just big enough to evacuate Rabat and the surrounding country side into in times of war.

I have to admit, that I did no preparation for this trip to Malta, mental or otherwise--I was extraordinarily busy before leaving for Sicily and M was the primary instigator and organizer of this little expedition. So there was something incredibly surreal about getting off the ferry in Valletta at around midnight on Wednesday, looking for a driver that wasn't there, negotiating a price with a tourist van operator that luckily had room for us, and then rocketing through the Maltese countryside in a vintage 1970s or maybe even 1960s tour van, packed like sardines, strangely calm despite having no idea what was going on or where we were going.

We were the last stop for our driver, who stopped in front of the main gate to Mdina, pointed that we should go through the gate, and then promptly took off. So we crossed the bridge, across this very wide, very deep moat, that was now filled in with lemon groves, tennis courts and soccer fields, and found ourselves inside a city made entirely of yellow sandstone, the primary building material for Malta and Gozo. It was completely silent, except for the sound of a cricket chirping, that may or may not have been artificial. Since there is no acoustically absorptive material used in the entire city, no exposed earth, our every footstep and whisper echoed through the empty squares and streets. After some consulting of addresses and maps we figured out that our hotel, Point De Vue, was actually located in Rabat, about 100 meters or so from the gate of Mdina. So we hiked back out with our luggage, across the moat, and to a completely dark/deserted looking restaurant/hotel, where we rung the bell and the hotel owner, an imposingly tall white man from South Africa, gave us our keys and waved us to our rooms saying we could check in in the morning, for now just go to sleep.

The next night, after our adventures with Tony in Gozo, we decided to check out Mdina again. We had dinner at a place inside the city, then want off wandering through the quiet city again at night to see what we could see. It is a tiny city--you can pretty much wander throught whole thing, at a leisurely pace, in 20 or 30 minutes or so. There was a mist that rolled in that you could see reflected in the street lights blowing past the rooftops, swooping down in the square in front of the cathedral, playing in the eaves of the houses. There was an alleyway with strange acoustical properties that amplified your footsteps and made them sound fluttery. We could hear TVs in the homes of the few people that live in Mdina. We found a scenic overlook where you could see Rabat and the Maltese country side rolling away below. This is where I met a very friendly black cat named Tomasso who hung out with us for a bit.

Malta is under construction. Everywhere you go, they're renovating buildings, building new buildings, new roads, etc--all thanks to Malta's recent entry into the EU and, according to our taxi driver/tour guide, Tony, thanks to the ruling right wing Nationalist party. The principle industry here, now, is construction, according to Tony, who is very proud of all of the work that is going on. We decided not to touch the cognitive dissonance inherent in being simultaneously right wing and in favor of massive public works projects. There is no doubt that Malta is benefiting greatly from all of this work, although we have a bit of trepidation about what will happen when all of these projects are finished and many of these construction jobs go away. The EU, presumably, is not going to subsidize their economy forever.

Mdina, apparently has already undergone it's renovation, causing C to complain that the city is too perfect, too clean, too Disneyfied. I can kind of see her point. On the one hand they need to renovate their national treasures if they hope for them to survive. I think we would be less impressed with an Mdina that had been allowed to fall into ruin, than we are with a millenium old city that seems brand new. On the other hand, though, although some people do still live here, it has clearly become primarily a tourist destination as opposed to a living, breathing city. You won't be inside Mdina's walls for a minute before you see a sign or a person handing out flyers for "the Mdina Experience", a multimedia entertainment extravaganza about the quiet city. If you prefer live knight battles or medieval themed song and dance, those seem to be available as well. Although we did not avail ourselves of any of these options, the advertising for them definitely lent an air of Disneyfication to the whole proceedings. The electric torches with plastic flames peppered throughout the city don't exactly lend to an air of age with dignity, either. As amazing as the city is, it is easy to have mixed feelings.

Friday afternoon we had some time to check out Mdina during the day, so we headed in hoping to see the cathedral and its museum and a cheesy tourist trap dedicated to the medieval dungeons of Mdina. The dungeons, unfortunately, closed before their posted time, for reasons unclear to us, so we missed that. When we came to the cathedral we found the cathedral square to be filled with people and beautifully restored classic cars. Malta was to host a Grand Prix on Sunday (which we would unfortunately miss) and this was one of the advanced events. Some of these cars would even be racing on Sunday in the classic cars category. I'm not normally a car person, but this was pretty cool. On the whole it was a mix of cars marketed to consumers and classic race cars. I was especially fond of the little Fiat 500s. It was amazing to see them next a beautiful and comparatively enormous Ford Mustang from around the same time period. The Mustang looked like it would outweigh the the 500 by around 10 to 1. Truly a David and Goliath pairing.

The cathedral and the cathedral museum didn't fail to invoke more mixed feelings. We started with the museum which appears to be about as random and haphazard a collection of items as I've ever seen. Certainly the most incoherent museum I've ever visited. The visiting exhibit was a collection of woodcut prints by the 15th/16th century German artist, Albrecht Dürer. There were also a number of oil paintings by seemingly random artists, mostly from the renaissance period, in varying states of decay and aging, most badly in need of restoration, although most also of dubious merit, except for an occasional bizarrely compelling painting, such as a portrait of Saint Sebastian with the hugest bug eyes you've ever seen. There was a collection of bizarre wood carvings, that I won't even begin to try to explain. Peppered throughout the museum are displays of what must be, in total, just about every commemorative medallion ever issued--some not even related to Malta in any way--I saw a medallion for the 1996 Atlanta summer olympics, for example. In a room composed entirely of religious vestments, there was a gold colored tapestry featuring a panel with Saint Agatha holding her breasts on a gold platter, a dour expression on her face. One place where I did get lost, however, was in a collection of coins covering just about every Mediterranean culture starting with the Phoenicians on up to modern times. I found it profoundly cool to see the actual currency that an ancient Carthaginian would have used to buy lunch. But that's just me. No one else in my group stooped to that level of nerdiness, as far as I'm aware.

The cathedral did, more or less, what cathedrals are supposed to do, which is impress by sheer size, and in this case, also, by detail of decoration. There was no where that you could lay your eyes and not see some sort of decoration. Again, much like the museum, the overall effect, though, was pretty incoherent with no manifestly obvious overriding aesthetic. A word which might used, I suppose, is "tacky", although I think it's probably unfair to apply such a pejorative term. The stylistic incoherence of the cathedral could be seen as an accurate reflection of the largely varied and incoherent cultural history of Malta. As a tiny island country at the cross roads of important ancient and modern trade routes, conquered and reconquered by just about every culture that's lived in the Mediterranean in the last 4000 years, it has been subject to a vast number of different cultural influences. The impression you get, though, is rather than these influences having gelled into a single cohesive culture, the Maltese have been left with a culture that is a hodge podge of many different largely unadulterated influences. More of a fruit cake than a melting pot, really.

On our last night in Malta we went for one last after dinner walk through Mdina. Being a Friday night, it wasn't nearly as deserted as it had been on previous nights--we actually encountered other people wandering and hanging out as well. The mist from the night before came back in a greatly intensified form as a thick, damp fog. It was around then I started to feel a bit of a raw feeling in my throat, which after our horrific ferry ride home, would blossom into a full fledged and quite intense bacterial infection that has left me bed ridden at home today with an incredibly sore throat, head ache, and fever, while the others go and enjoy the sights in Taormina. It has also led me to an encounter with the Italian health system, which I have been asked to blog about and about which I will blog shortly. Current body temperature: 38.8C/102 F. I think I'm going to have to suck it up and go out to replenish my food and water supplies, unfortunately. Ugghh.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Napoli in Four Hours

I left Il Rossi in Catania to go to a really intense software conference in Napoli for nine days. Naples was crazy, crazy, crazy. Suffice to say, the Neopolitan life is not La Dolce Vita. It's super hectic. It's so hectic that I only had about four hours of sightseeing time in those nine days. For those four hours, Alec Mitchell and I went to Castel dell'Ovo (free!) and then had a long and lingering frutti di mare lunch in the marina at Zi Teresa (made famous in Norman Lewis's Naples '44). Alec is an accomplished expert on Italian wines and got us out of the Aglianico/Falanghina rut we'd been in for days by selecting a beautiful Fiano di Avellino from the finest cantina in Campania, Feudi di San Gregorio. Afterwards, we went shopping for Nucillo (for ourselves) and in the Galleria Umberto for holiday gifts. This fourth installment of the photo blog starts at my hotel on Via Chiaia, proceeds through Piazza del Plebiscito, goes past the alberghi grande of the Riviera, and into Castel dell'Ovo. The picture at left is of the most photographed view of Napoli, looking onto Vesuvius across the Golfo di Napoli from the Plebiscito. It was a gloriously clear and warm day. Le Isole Capri e Ischia were in full effect.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Ferry Ride

I don't have the stamina that R does to put everything in one long post, so I've decided a periodic peppering of topics of interest to me is more appropriate. First off, since it's fresh in my mind, the ferry ride back this morning. The only ferry from Malta to Catania leaves once a week, at 5am on Saturday morning. I got up at 3:40am to be able to make this. About 10 minutes after embarking there is an anounecment over the intercom warning that the seas are a little rough ahead and to please stay seated. What followed was a kind of Dantean inferno of nausea, exhaustion, the sound of scores of people retching all around us, stumbling into the bathroom and retching into a sink because the toilets were full, then getting a toilet and locking myself in for 30 minutes while I purged my system, over and over again. All to the soundtrack of a series of horrible American movies I'd never even heard of and now couldn't escape, piped even into the bathroom in case you miss something. The only thing that really helped me through it was the knowledge that it would be over in a few hours. Today I've only left the house to acquire food and that's about it. As I type this, M is fixing some dinner for us and I'm starting to feel the sea swelling again, even though I'm on dry(ish) land.

Regarding dinner, on our way to the grocery store I noticed a fresh pasta shop right around the corner from our house that I hadn't noticed before. We're eating ravioli in brodo with ravioli bought from the fresh pasta place. Unfortunately the both is just a bouillon cube.

An Entire Week in 800 Words or Less

First things first: we've all been taking a lot of photos. Being a total Web2.0 tag slut, I've been methodically uploading to flickr, tagging (and geotagging), and writing descriptions for all my photos. So you can get a multimedia blog post of sorts via my flickr photostream.

C & M have both also been taking a metric ton of photos, and I'll freely admit that if I saw one of them taking a photo of something, I'd not bother to also photograph it. So you'll have to watch their photostreams as well: C and M.

While we were in Malta, we started a page in M's tiny notebook so we could at least try to recall the highlights of each day. I'll hit some of them, and leave the rest to my compatriots:

Monday: We had dinner at Metro, which was listed in the Slow Food guide to Italy, a copy of which was given to C by her friend RS. Everything we had was pretty-damn-great (there was a slice of lardo on the antipasti plate that made us all want to cry, both tears of joy and fear for our arteries), but we declared C the Queen of Dinner, for her one-two punch of tuna tartare and some sort of fish ravioli, both of which were among the best things any of us had ever eaten, anywhere. The memory of those two dishes is so strong, in fact, that I just had to ask CR what I had. He tells me it was the Fusilli alla Calabrese, which I now remember as being very tasty.

Maybe we were just full from the primi, but as is often the case in the US, the secondi didn't outshine our earlier courses.

Tuesday: Took the bus to Siracusa, where we saw people playing Kayak Water Polo:

Kayak Water Polo, Ortygia, Siracusa, Sicily

There was an issue with our hotel (the Gutkowski), namely, that there had been a problem with M's credit card & they hadn't bothered to try to reach her to tell her that we didn't have reservations. No matter: they hooked us up with the Hotel Posta, which had two rooms available. Biggest beds of the trip thus far, too. Here's the view out M's & my window:

Hotel Posta, Siracusa, Sicily

We had dinner at another place we found in the Slow Food guide (thanks, RS!): La Gazza Ladra. We were a little preoccupied with getting done in time to make it to the puppet show, so we didn't sit around & enjoy things as Slowly as we should have. I'm going to leave it to M to blog about the food, as she declared some of the marinated vegetables to be the best she'd ever eaten. And C can blog about the puppet show, as she was quite taken by the pupi.

Wednesday: We wandered around Siracusa and took in the various highlights, including most notably the Teatro Greco:

Teatro Greco, Siracusa, Sicily

We'd managed, after some difficulty, to procure bus tickets to Pozzallo, which is the southern coastal town where we'd catch the ferry to Malta. We timed things out such that we'd need to grab a cab at the archaeological park in order to make it back to the hotel, pick up our bags, and then make it to the bus station.

We got the cab, for what seemed like the absurdly high/gougey price of 60 Euro. At this point we were on a tight timeline & committed, so we had to suck it up. We made it to the hotel for our bags with no problem, but then the driver took off in the opposite direction from Via Catania, the location of the bus station. When CR asked what he was doing, the driver said "VIA Catania? I thought you wanted me to take you to to CATANIA," which at least explained the 60 Euro price.

(You can see from the photos that it was threatening rain, and I guess he figured that an afternoon spent driving people the 60 miles to Catania was a safer bet than hanging around trying to pick up tourists at an outdoor archaeological park in the rain.)

Once we figured this all out, he said (in essence) "why take the bus, I'll take you to Pozzallo for the same 60 Euros." Since our brains don't think in Euros (that'd be around $85), we were free to say "sure!"

It turned out to be a brilliant stroke of luck. Our driver, Francesco, had been driving taxis and tour buses all over Sicily for 20 years (he appeared to be in his 60s). We were a little leery when he offered to take us on a tour of Noto, midway between Siracusa and Pozzallo, for another 20 Euro, but since we had several hours to kill before our 9:30 ferry, we agreed. It was so totally worth it:

Church of San Francesco & Convento del Santismo Salvatore, Noto, Sicily

We saw a ton of crazy Baroque architecture, *and* we got to hear all about Francesco's life, and his kids, and all sorts of tidbits about Noto and Sicily in general. Plus he took us to a restaurant in Noto, the Barocco, where I had Spaghetti Alla Barocco, which was their take on mixed shellfish in a peppery red sauce. The mussels were so fresh and so good that I'll probably never order them in the USA again.

By now you're thinking "what a bunch of tourist suckers, falling for the whole 'pay me 80 Euros and I'll show you around' routine from a taxi driver." And it's true that Noto is in all the guide books. It's also true that it hadn't made it onto our schedule, which was awkward and dictated by the 2:30 bus to Pozzallo and the 9:30 ferry from Pozzallo. It was worth a few Euro to us just to have something to do in the afternoon besides sitting around Pozzallo, which is a ghost town after September, apparently.

Plus Francesco was truly awesome. Seriously. He parked the cab in Noto and then walked us around the Baroque center of town, telling us the story of each building.

Sooner or later we had to continue on to Pozzallo, where we still had a couple of hours to kill before the ferry. We tried unsuccessfully to find something to eat other than gelato, and then we sat and played Scrabble for a couple of hours, as a light rain began to fall.

The ferry was fast, relatively uneventful, and kinda fun. The guesthouse driver apparently quit waiting at the terminal before the boat had even arrived, so we had to hitch a ride on a tourist van (by now it was midnight), but even that was pretty painless. I'm going to leave it to M, C & CR to blog about the ancient walled city of Mdina, where we were to stay for the next 3 nights.

Thursday: I really wanted to get out of the wall-to-wall built landscape that had dominated our trip so far (when an island has been inhabited by building-builders for 1000 years, things tend to get built up), so I suggested a trip to the northern Maltese island of Gozo to see Dwejra, a section of the coast with a ton of crazy rock formations:

Azure Window, Dwejra, Gozo, Malta

We took one of the Malta busses to the ferry terminal, which took a while. Adding in the time spent on the ferry, and then the interminable wait for lunch at an ill-chosen restaurant, and we spent over 2 hours to make the 15-mile trip. So M suggested grabbing a cab for the remaining 6 miles to Dwejra.

Given our earlier taxi experience, none of us were all that surprised when our driver (Tony) stopped right in the middle of the road, pulled out a map ("The biggest map of Gozo!") and offered to take us on a guided tour of the entire island for only 40 Maltese lira (which is actually an assload of money, around $130). We were torn, in part because we hadn't studied up on Gozo, so having someone who knew their way around would be handy. In part because we'd had such a great experience with Francesco. And in part because 40 ML was highway robbery.

So M talked him down to 30 ML, and we set off again to Dwejra, where our semi-unspoken plan was to see how it went there, and then decide whether to continue.

Dwejra was amazing, and after we'd taken the boat tour and done some walking around, we had decidedly mixed feelings when we realized that Tony wasn't where we'd left him. We hadn't even paid him the 9 ML that had been on the meter for the drive from the ferry to Dwejra.

Just as we were about to walk up these centuries-old steps cut into the rock up to San Lawrenz, Tony pulled up, so we all piled back into the cab and then he took us on a whirlwind trek around the rest of Gozo, during which he would pull over periodically for us to take photos. The rest of the time he ranted nonstop about how every village on Gozo has a school, and about how everything's going well now that the Nationalist Party is in power, because the Labor party will "line you up and push you off a cliff."

He also spoke with fondness about eating tinned American cheese and butter in the 50s. All in all, despite his right-wing nuttiness and the occasional racist remark (and given the fact that the Turks kidnapped almost the entire population of Gozo into slavery in the 16th century, can you fault a man for holding a grudge?), it was actually quite entertaining.

Plus he took us to Xerri's Grotto, which is a classic limestone cave under someone's house in a little village in the middle of the island, accessed via an insanely tight spiral staircase in the middle of their foyer:

Spiral Staircase, Xerri's Grotto, Xagħra, Gozo, Malta

I'll leave it to M to blog about her increasing frustration with the Malta bus service, and C to blog about her disappointment over the lack of mint ice cream at the trattoria back in Mdina where we had dinner.

Friday: We made the bus trek to Valleta to check out the prehistoric Hal Saflieni Hypogeum. As with so many other ancient artifacts in this part of the world, it was discovered under somebody's house, which is more or less where it remains. It's essentially a huge series of burial chambers hewn out of the solid rock by people using elk antlers or something, around about 3500 BC.

Did some other general Valleta sightseeing, ate the classic traditional Maltese food-in-pastry (every culture has one!), the pastizza. Semi-flaky pastry pouch filled, in my case, with spinach and green olives. I got two because they were about $.80 apiece, but I could only eat one and a half of them.

After we got back to Mdina, we finally managed to make it into the walled city during the day, to check out the cathedral, and, somewhat unexpectedly, the classic car show in the piazza immediately in front of the cathedral:

Classic Car Concours, Pjazza San Pawl, Mdina, Malta

St. Paul's Cathedral, Mdina, Malta

For dinner I had the classic Maltese dish, rabbit. Unlike the rabbit I've had in the states, this tasted like chicken.

Saturday: Got up at 4:00 a.m. to catch the 5:00 a.m. ferry to Catania. Disaster narrowly averted when M noticed that the driver was heading north instead of east. He was about to drive us to the Gozo ferry at the opposite end of the island from where we needed to be. He admitted that he hadn't the foggiest idea why we'd want to go to Gozo at 5:00 a.m.

Apparently the hotel owner, who'd arranged the ride, was the source of this confusion. We concluded that the poor bastard, who seems to run the hotel without much assistance from anyone else, has spent his entire time on Malta (he's originally South African) in his hotel, and has never actually made it out to see the rest of Malta.

I won't describe the horror that was the 4-hour ferry ride back to Catania. Someone else can take that on, if they dare. There was one highlight, however: burning up our last 5 Maltese Lire on a copy of Greek Vogue in the gift shop!

Now we're lying around the apartment trying to recuperate.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Here is the Roman aqueduct. Here is where they keep the cows.

We're not dead. We're just in Malta. We're not going to pay $3/hr to blog about it now, but rest assurred that we're alive and well and will be back in Catania tomorrow where we can blog and email to our hearts content. Love, Chris.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Air Travel Fun

This entire post is about international air travel. You should thus not bother to read it.

I'll have to leave it to M to blog about the airline food, as she has all the photos on her camera. Suffice it to say that on US Air, at least, selecting the "special meal" option does not yield better food, contrary to the rumors going around.

So: We got to RDU 2 hours ahead, just to be on the safe side, and managed to clear check-in and security in a total of ~12 minutes. The worst part about air travel in the modern era isn't the queueing, or the searching, it's the nonstop barrage of CNN from the gazillion TVs mounted everywhere in every corner of every terminal at every airport in America. We saw a 20-second blurb about some deaf Chinese dance troupe 47 times during our 90-minute wait to board.

Our flight to Charlotte was uneventful, save for the event of flying directly over Chapel Hill/Carrboro, realizing that we were seeing the Dean Dome, and further realizing that it was easy enough to follow the 54 bypass to Jones Ferry Rd, across the withered remnants of University Lake, and then out into Chatham. Saw Frosty, managed to follow Crawford Dairy to Chicken Bridge Road, and saw Chicken Bridge itself before our flightpath took us ever so slightly north, such that we probably flew directly over our house, but as the plane was not a glass-bottomed one, we couldn't see it.

Flying directly from Charlotte to London is an interesting thing to be able to do. Would you find it annoying if, in addition to all the other indignities of air travel, you were forced to listen to some poor flight attendant reading an advertisement for the US Airways Visa Card over the PA system? I'm usually pretty immune to the Air Rage, but that about put me over the line.

On the plus side, we got to watch Blades of Glory on the itty bitty TV in the headrest. Dunno why we resisted seeing it in the theater; it was genius. Note bene: US Airways A330's still have the stupid 2-pronged headset jacks, so don't leave the pile of 2-pronged headset jack adapters sitting on your desk at work.

You'd think that, given how many people fly internationally every day, someone would have figured out the right way to do things by now. But no: we checked 2 bags at RDU, mine and C's. C was instructed that at Gatwick, she would have to retrieve her bag from the baggage claim, take it through customs, and then re-check it for our BA flight to Catania.

I have no idea whether I also received such instructions, as I was standing next to C when she was told this & thus this concept lodged itself in my brain in place of any other instructions I might have received from the [different] agent who checked my bag.

When we landed at Gatwick, we were herded off the airplane into an endless series of chutes, completely devoid of any actual airline or airport employees, which eventually dumped us all into some basement hell of mile-long queues for passport control. It took a solid hour of snaking through the retracto-barriers to get to the point where I could tell a UK immigration agent that the length of my stay would be approximately another hour, unless of course their stupid long lines had rendered it impossible to make my connection, in which case I might be there longer. Except I didn't say that, as there were big signs warning against attacking the immigration agents with anything, including sarcasm.

So then we went to baggage claim & located C's bag, but didn't see mine. After a few minutes of standing around feeling confused, I went & talked to a baggage agent, who looked at my claim stub & said "uh, yeah, yours is checked through to Catania, why are you looking for it?" I explained the logic of looking for it since C's bag had just come down the conveyor, but he wasn't bothered by the dissonance, and reconfirmed that mine was on its way.

OK, so, we'd heard a rumor that we should go through Customs, so we wandered in that direction, turned down a sparsely-populated gallery where a couple of forlorn-looking passengers were having their bags searched, spoke to no-one, official or otherwise, and emerged into the front of the terminal unchallenged & unscathed.

At this point we had about 35 minutes to get to our flight, which was of course leaving from the North Terminal, aka the one we weren't at. Blah blah blah, took the tram, blah blah, re-checked C's bag, and checked 1 of M's 2 carry-on bags, as Gatwick security forbids >1 carryon. Given how slow & apathetic Gatwick security seemed to be, I suppose it's just as well. Should we have been concerned about the fact that the baggage conveyors were broken, and the bags were thus tossed onto a pile on a random cart in the middle of the terminal? Take a guess.

Blah blah, snaked through security (they let you keep your shoes on to pass through the metal detector, but then you round a corner & there's a separate shoe-scan queue) & emerged into the mall-like interior of the North Terminal a few minutes *after* the gate-closing time on our boarding passes. Thought about stopping to put our shoes on, but then our names started echoing over the PA, so we ran for it in our socks, shoving perfume-sample-profferers out of our way as we ran.

It goes without saying that our gate was at the end of a comically long series of corridors, including a long down escalator that was followed almost immediately by an even longer up escalator. If you've never tried running down a moving sidewalk in your socks, I can tell you that the metal grating goes from invigorating to painful pretty quickly.

So we ran heroically up to the gate, made the plane, nearly passed out from the exertion after not having slept all night on the redeye, and then sat on the airplane for 45 minutes slowly dying of thirst before they wheeled out the beverage cart.

Again, M has the photos of the food, but I gotta tell you, the Venn diagram of "airline food" and "British food" is a truly horrifying thing to contemplate.

The Catania airport is small, new, and not really state-of-the-art when it comes to lost baggage. Unless of course their system (wait until everybody wanders away from the carousel, wait yet a little longer, then assume any bags left on the carousel are lost, and thus stack them in a huge pile in the corner of the baggage claim area) *is* the state of the art.

catania airport baggage claim

It should go without saying that our instructions to call back the next afternoon to find out whether the bags had arrived on the next flight weren't really all that useful. When we gave up & just went to the airport, it became obvious that nobody was answering the phone because nobody was anywhere near the phone.

In order to get back into the baggage claim area (if you haven't just stepped off a plane), there are all these signs directing you to go through the crew entrance. If you attempt to follow an airplane crew through the crew entrance, they will be very surprised, and won't believe you when you say that there are signs everywhere telling you to do so. Then a *very* tall airport cop will intercede & usher you through. It's hard to tell whether he thinks this is normal or not, but it works.

Since there was nobody manning the lost-luggage counter, M + C just dug through the giant pile, found their bags, and walked out with them.

I'm realizing that at this level of detail, it will take me forever to finish this post, so I'll have to make a quick list of other topics to perhaps return to later:
  • The apartment is tiny & more than a little nutty.
  • The open-air market merits a long post of its own, but someone else will have to write it.
  • Cured meats are reason enough to visit Italy; in fact, if I were here alone, I'd likely spend the entire two weeks just sampling the wares of all the different salumi vendors.

Nuovi Arrivi/Una Partenza

So the weather in these parts has continued to be irksome. One night in Catania, we had as much rain as they normally get all month. Via Etnea was turned into a river, with tables and chairs from the caffes washing away. On Friday, the professor and his wife drove Laura and I up Etna a bit and we got to see the remains of a major eruption from 1981. It was pretty impressive, then we ate lunch and it got really foggy and we came down the mountain. There was a tentative plan to do the whole coastal marine life cyclops islands trip we've been trying to do for two weeks, but again we were foiled by rain.

Saturday morning it was raining hard so we just slept in--late in the morning things started to clear up, though, so I ran and did some quick shopping for our guests that were arriving on Sunday and then headed out to Taormina. The weather actually held out pretty well--as long as we were on the bus! But we did get to see the theater and I think Laura managed to get some inkling of it's beauty. Boy were we cold and wet by the time we got back to Catania. Perfect for ordering a pizza and a couple of beers, delivered.

Sunday we picked up Ross, Maggie and Charlotte from the airport. Again with the British mania for allowing only one carry on item, forcing Maggie and Charlotte to check baggage they had intended to carry on that they then managed to lose for them. We didn't plan on doing much that day except try to keep our jet lagged friends awake until bedtime and feed them some food, which we managed to do.

Monday, Laura and I woke up at a bright and early 5:30 am to send her back off to RDU. Took a nap when I got back, ate lunch, then back to the airport to try and track down Maggie and Charlotte's luggage, which fortunately was there. I'm hoping the new arrivals will spend some time blogging about their impressions as new arrivals here, since I seem to be too tired to write anything particularly interesting in this here blog. They did manage to pick a restaurant out of the "Slow Food" guide that was right outside the portone of the first apartment I lived in back in 2001. I'd always seen it there but never gone in. I made a reservation for four, which turned out to be silly, because we were the only people in the restaurant. Monday night is a slow night in this town.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


Harlot says y'all suck. Let's see some comments people. We're going to go see Uzeda play.

This is very old. It was bigger before.

Harlot and I headed to Siracusa Wednesday morning. We managed to get a good bit earlier start than Chris and I had so consequently we got to see more stuff. The Greek theater and the ear of Dionysus are still amazing. Laura pointed out a row of writing that is largely still visible around the perimeter of a sort of mid way up walkway. We tried to figure out where the bathroom was.

We then hiked around to find the tomb of Archimedes. There is a necropolis that is part of the archaeological park but you can really only just look at it through a fence from a busy street with cars whizzing by. We were drawn there, of course, by the promise of seeing Archimedes' tomb, Archimedes being one of our favorite ancient Greeks, but found in a guide book that the tomb held in common lore as the tomb of Archimedes was built 200 years after his death and therefore couldn't actually be where they buried him. But it was a handsome looking tomb for whoever they actually stuck in there.

We then hiked over to the archaeological museum which turned out to be far more extensive than I would have thought concerning *pre* Greek inhabitants of Sicily. A lot of prehistoric stuff--more information than we could really absorb about various prehistoric inhabitants and the island's geological history and make up, especially with most of it being in Italian. Lot's of things made out of clay. Laura was most impressed by the prehistoric, bronze age safety pins. I was rather fond of the rain spouts from a Greek temple, myself. Right in the area right around the museum there was also a museum of the Papyrus, which the Professor had recommended to us, and some first century Christian catacombs from a community founded by the apostle, John. We skipped the former because we were pretty museumed out after the archaeological museum and the latter because it appeared to be closed when we dropped by.

So after that we headed down to the island of Ortigia, which is where the heart of Siracusa really is. This, really, is where this town really starts to get very pretty. And it also contains one of the highlights of Siracusa--the cathedral. The cathedral was built, literally, out of a Greek temple dedicated to Athena--they just filled in between the columns, which largely still stick out of the walls, both externally, and even more so internally. Walking into the cathedral, walking among the columns, is as about as close as you're ever going to come to walking inside an ancient Greek temple. It is, to put it mildly, impressive. As far as the rest of the island is concerned, it is pretty enough that it is a pleasure to simply walk through the streets and the alleyways, soaking it in. Laura also got in a little shopping at a store called Zara, which apparently is a treat. It's near the statue of the banana.

This morning we celebrated yesterday's victory in Siracusa by sleeping in late and then wandering around a bit in Catania. I took Laura to spot where I remember you could see traces of a Greek theater through a fence and found out that, actually, it was a Roman theater and that the EU was now funding some restoration work on it, and that it was partially open to the public, so we went in. As near as we can tell, this must have been one beautiful theater when it was built. It was pretty impressive even today, as it lies in ruins, people's modern houses built partially on pieces of its foundation. There was also a smaller performance space, an odeon, that must have been for more intimate engagements.

Then we ate lunch.

The end.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


Monday, the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento. It has been exhaustively covered by many other people over the centuries. We got exhausted covering it. Some French people took our picture. There were flies. I like old stuff. Those of you coming will see it.

Tuesday, a day of rest. Kind of gloomy weather. Trip to the market, cooking, nap, etc. . . . Pretty good day.

Cheap Suitcase-related things in Chapel Hill

Those of you still in the Triangle area might want to check out the big honkin' sale at Florenza, the odd chi-chi luggage store in the little strip next to Cafe Driade. I somehow ended up there this weekend, and pretty much everything there is seriously discounted. They have little plastic bottles for your liquids/gels, a wide variety of pouches & sacks & things to hold things in, travel clocks, and yes, super expensive leather luggage made in Italy!

I myself bought the cutest little miniature chess.checkers/backgammon set. It is magnetized! And a miniature Michelin road atlas of Italy for $3.

Weirdest item up for grabs: disposable underwear. $5 to anyone who tries it.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Il Weekend

Laura arrived on Friday. In much better shape than I've ever been after a trans-Atlantic flight. I got her back to the apartment, fed her some lunch, and then took on her a walking tour of downtown Catania. We were out for about six hours. Then a quick pit-stop back in the apartment and then a trip downstairs to meet Professor and Mrs Lo Meo, who were very nice, as always, and who gave us some Sicilian desserts to eat for breakfast the next day. They've offered to take us on a tour of the coast just to the north of Catania--Aci Castello, Aci Trezza, Isole dei Ciclopi, and a glass bottom boat ride to view a protected mediterranean marine habitat. Then a walk to San Giovanni Li' Cuti for pizza and a walk along the sea. I think we managed to stay out until around 1 or so. Again, amazed at Laura's endurance in the face of jet lag and sleep deprivation.

Saturday morning, a slow start and a leisurely stroll back down to the center of town to see the pescheria. Bought some swordfish for lunch and a few other odds and ends, and worked our way back up to the Fiera. Cooked a nice lunch, then met a friend and hung out with him and his kids for a while. It was good to catch up with him a little bit, although there wasn't a lot of room for real conversation with the kids.

The highlight, though, of Saturday was Saturday night: bowling! If I could bowl three games in Catania somewhere I could send my scores back home and participate in our bowling league's last match of the season in absentia. Laura thought it would be interesting to see how things that we're already used to at home are different here, so we hiked over to the local bowling alley, which wasn't too far away actually. We got a lane without any problem and they actually had bowling shoes big enough to fit me!

The bowling itself was a zoo! There were kids everywhere. This was *the* teenage hang out for a Saturday night. The funny thing was, with all the teenagers there, the lanes themselves were fairly empty. They were hanging out, eating at the full service restaurant, playing video games, playing pool, and occasionally actually bowling. Although the bowling, even, often consisted of just a lot of rough housing and cutting up in front of a bowling lane. The girls, especially, didn't seem particularly interested in actually playing the game in any meaningful way. Due to a mix up at the control center, Laura and I played our first three games as Giuseppe and Beatrice. All of the equipment at the bowling alley: AMF. We were right at home. Even the ball weights were in pounds. I'm pretty sure the lane was warped, as they ball had a tendency to take some pretty weird trajectories, and we had to reset the lane a few times due to the equipment placing the pins down in an unstable way and pins just falling down on their own. But despite the weird conditions, I still managed to basically bowl my average: 99, 101, 102. My fourth game I got a 125, but I guess I can really only count the first three games for my league match. Oh well.

The reason we ended up playing the fourth game, though, was while we were there another freaking tremendous thunderstorm rolled in. There was a downpour of rain of almost biblical proportions. It came down hard, fast and heavy, for nearly two hours, with a pretty good lightning show to go with it. So we figured if we could we'd try to wait it out. Just two lanes to our left, the roof gave out and started pouring water right onto the floor in front of the lanes. Which didn't seem to bother the giggly teenage girls playing those lanes, who just walked around the puddle and threw their balls down the lane.

Since, after our fourth game, it was still coming down pretty hard, and we still needed to eat dinner, we thought we'd avail ourselves of the full service restaurant that was right there in the bowling alley. We may have had no problem getting a lane, but getting a table was a little harder. Finally, we managed to get seated and eventually even got our order taken. The menu was a full Italian menu, with all of the courses, plus pizzeria. There certainly were probably better dinner options to be had elsewhere in the city, but it's certainly the bast damn bowling alley food I've ever had. There were some interesting items catering to the teenage crowd that were kind of interesting. There was a Nutella pizza. As well as a pizza with a french fries on it. And a pizza called the "Americana" with french fries and hot dog (wurstel) on it. Laura and I split a salad and a pizza, which they thought was pretty weird--pizzas are really single serving items, as are the salads. But the portions at this particular establishment were huge anyway--another indication that were in a bowling alley and not in a more upscale establishment--and we decided we wouldn't order too much food just satisfy the social norms.

All in all a very fun night. The biggest surprise, though, was the bill at the end. 4 games for two people, plus shoes, ended up costing us 38 euro! (Not including dinner.) Not something we want to do every night. Maybe another reason why the lanes weren't so busy despite the place being filled to the rafters with teenagers.

We got home to find the storm had knocked out our lights but luckily the circuit breakers were easy to find and we just had to reset the breakers and were fine. There was a little water that had come in through the skylights in the living room and a lot more water that came into the sun room that we (Laura) had to mop up this morning. And we still haven't got the internet back up and running, so I'm not sure when I'll actually post this. We were originally planning to head up to see Etna with our friend Attilio, but he ending up cancelling on us this morning because the weather isn't that great and his little girl seems to have down with a cold. So it's a just a nice, lazy, windy Sunday.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

I'm jumping in!

I'll be heading to the airport in about an hour and a half. I think I have everything, and I've given pretty careful consideration to my jet lag strategy. I got up insanely early this morning so that I'm already sort of adjusted to European time and I'm rather sleep deprived as well. That should make it easier to go to sleep when my flight departs this evening from Philly. A little pill should guarantee it. I chose my seat assignment for the long red-eye to Milan carefully, so I should have the entire row of 3 seats to myself. I'm very small so that means I can actually lay down! I hope to sleep for most of the 8 hour flight and arrive having had something resembling a night's sleep. So theoretically I won't even lose a day. We'll see. I'll see you soon, Chris! Wheee!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Centro Rubino

See the digs in which we're staying in the third installment of the photo blog.

Lo Zo

After dinner I got to catch up a bit with a friend of mine who runs Lo Zo. He was too busy to really go out so I just met him in his office at Lo Zo. We shot the breeze for a couple of hours then called it a night. It was good to catch up and it's one of the first prolonged conversations I've had in Italian since I've arrived. I mostly didn't have trouble understanding him, but I don't express myself nearly as well as I used to. I don't have much use for speaking Italian at home, though, so that's what happens.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

San Giovanni Li' Cuti

San Giovanni Li' Cuti is a tiny seaside community that has been overtaken by Catania. It occupies an area of the coast that is rather new, actually, dating back to a 1669 lava flow. The coast is black volcanic rock right up to the sea. The beach, shown above, I believe, is man made, but it has been made with sand from volcanic rock and is jet black. "Li' Cuti" is actually from Sicilian dialect meaning "smooth rocks." ("Li'" is an abbreviation of "liscio", meaning smooth, and "cuti" is the Sicilian word for the large stones that are all along the beach.) It is the closest place to the apartment to go for a swim--about a fifteen minute walk.

Weather has cooled down a bit, which is nice. Although it could have been a bit warmer for going for a swim. It is, however, October, so I don't have much to complain about. I was one of about three people I actually saw get in the water. It was a bit on the cold side, but as long as you keep moving you're fine. Got in a few laps and then got out and warmed back up.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Posso chiedere un'informazione?

Ok, so I'm always asking what would seem to be stupid questions because things aren't always clear and I want to make sure. For example, generally when getting on a bus, I ask the driver whether it's going where I think it is. Stuff like that. I think I know, but it would sure stink to be wrong. I don't think I'd ever really thought about it before, but in my mind it was always because I was a foreigner and not quite clued in to everything that's going on.

So the other day when Chris and I were boarding the bus to go to Siracusa I didn't have to ask the driver whether this was the bus for Siracusa because I had already overheard about three other people, all Italians, ask the same question. Suddenly a light bulb went off in my head. Yes, I'm a clueless foreigner, but maybe not as clueless as I've thought. Maybe things really are just confusing here. Even for the locals. Since then I've been watching the locals and I've noticed this: they are always asking for information. They never know what's going on. The signs are either non-existent or confusing so you just have to ask. It's the culture. The world, here, is negotiated verbally.

The fun part is when they ask me for information. About 8 times out of 10 I understand the question. 1 time out 10 I actually know the answer. Which I think is pretty good for my first week back in over six years, thank you very much. The other 90% of the time, well, I've seen some pretty disappointed faces. C'est la vie.


Sunday's main task was to accompany Chris to the airport. Took the bus back to the center of town and walked back from Piazza Duomo, winding through some streets that are up the hill and west of Villa Bellini in order to see some more of the town I haven't seen yet this trip. Still more or less looks the same, but it's an interesting sensation to re-explore and remember streets from six years ago.

Finally got my mom to take the plunge and dial the number I gave out for my Skype line. It's just like a telephone. You can call me and I can call you. Just like that. Caught up with a friend of mine here in Catania, finally, too, by telephone. Got some very sad news that I haven't been able to stop thinking about since. I will hopefully see him again soon in person in the next couple of days.

Today I had a couple of errands to run but found out that apparently it's common for shops to not be open Monday mornings. I think Monday is kind of a dead day, in general--I know many restaurants are closed or have limited menus on Mondays. The Catanesi prefer to ease into the week, apparently. Not so the cleaning lady, though, who was here at 10am sharp. Which was partly why I wanted to do my errands today. And also why instead of making lunch, I went to a pizzeria by the seaside for a pizza. Only they didn't have pizza because it was Monday, so I got Penne alla Norma instead. Oh well. I'll either try my errands again this afternoon or go to the beach. Hmmm.

Also asked the landlord's wife about a laundry (lavenderia) nearby, since I really need to wash some clothes. The first place she sent me to was actually a dry cleaner's (lavasecco). I decided to try again, since I didn't feel like paying 3 euro per item cleaned. This time I think I have the coordinates of a coin laundry (lavenderia a gettone) that I haven't actually tracked down yet. Actually, that's probably what I'll end up doing this afternoon.

It's become clear that my sore throat is actually due to a mild sinus infection. It's possible to get our shower very, very hot and steamy so I've been subjecting myself to some sauna treatment, as hot as I can stand. It seems to be having an effect, so hopefully I can kill these wee beasties without having to track down a doctor and get antibiotics. That's what I'll be doing right now. I want to be healthy for my guests. Laura is next, arriving on Friday.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

The Second Installment...

...of the photo blog has been published.


So, I'm no meteorologist, so I don't really know why, but Europe, including these parts, just never really gets violent weather. Big thunderstorms just aren't really a thing here. Well, until now, I suppose. I have been awakened from a dead sleep by a terrifyingly intense thunder storm, that would be intense even for NC, much less here. Around here this must be a meterological event of biblical proportions. Boom!


This blog post is short on details, I know, but it's late and I want to get to bed. Sorry. I might talk more about things of interest to me later if I get some free time.

The plan for today: head to Siracusa early and get back in the early evening for an appointment with Professore Lo Meo to go see Aci Castello and the islands of the cyclops. (Islands formed by the cyclops Polyphemus while flinging rocks at Odysseus. Or by underwater volcanoes. Depends on which story you like better, really.) The reality: we're ready to hit the road around noon (hey, we're still kind of sick) so we cancel our appointment with the professor and make it to the bus station just in time to miss the 12:30 to Siracusa. (The bus left about three minutes early. We've figured this one out, now. The bus driver opens the door about five minutes before the scheduled departure time. People waiting outside of the bus board with their tickets and take their seats. When everyone is on board, the driver leaves. Even if that's ahead of schedule. Even if two Americans named Chris have just bought their tickets and are walking up to the bus at around 12:28. Those two guys will just have to wait for the 1:30. Or 1:27. However it works out.)

A lot of walking and not a ton of time in Siracusa. Seen: greek theater (amazing), ear of dionysus (amazing), roman amphitheater (kind of cool). A very quick jaunt to spend a few minutes over on the island of Ortigia, then catch the last bus back at 7:00. There was still a lot yet to see: tomb of Archimedes, archaeological museum, papyrus museum(?), cathedral (interesting architecturally because it incorporates the Greek temple it replaced), a couple of temples, 1st century Christian catacombs, most of Ortigia, including boat tours, where it would've been nice to just to spend some time chilling out. I could easily spend an entire day in Siracusa/Ortigia, if not two.

Dinner, email, blog, bed.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Oh well

Well, the hard drive with the (copy of) the Chamber Corps album didn't survive the trip. I'm blaming the fact that I had to check the bag it was in in Manchester for no real good reason. Considering I hadn't really packed either drive to undergo baggage handling, I guess I'm lucky I still have one good drive. I wonder if I should bill the government of England for this one? I could try to suck it down from my file server at home, but that could conceivably take as long as I'll be here. Oh well. I'll probably only have the time and resources for a little bit of futzing around anyway, so might as well just futz with some new stuff.

Slow day

Chris is looking and acting much more spry than yesterday and his fever has gone down considerably. I'm happy I won't be needing to take him to the hospital. Dr. Rossi has prescribed rest, fluids and simple foods, which seems to be having its effect.

I mostly just wandered around. A few things that come to mind: a bar called "Duff" which has a Simpsons theme. A roast chicken place called "Superpollo." That's an inside joke. A structure that looks for all the world like a mosque that's been converted into a Christian church. I'm not sure about the history of that one--Catania was destroyed by earthquake in 1693, many centuries after having fallen out of arab control. There was a flyer for a funeral occuring there for a young man of 27 who had "disappeared." A construction site featuring an enormous hole in the ground with the mouth of a tunnel coming out of it. I don't know where the tunnel goes or if it's for cars or trains. A group of people directing an ambulance to a man lying on the ground next to a motorcycle. I saw something eerily similar not two weeks ago at Wrightsville beach, although today, the man on the ground was moving. Got a decent glimpse of Etna from the coast. It's been mostly too hazy to really see well, and it was still pretty hazy today, but you could definitely make it out. There was smoke coming from the main crater.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007


Flipped on the TV while I was cooking dinner and found the Lazio vs Real Madrid game. I don't know a lot about Lazio but I know Real Madrid is kind of the Yankees of soccer--a rich team that wins because they have the money to buy up all of the good players. I had a moment of doubt about who I should root for--I don't know much of anything about Lazio and Real Madrid has Fabio Cannavaro--probably my favorite player from the Italian national team during the World Cup. But as soon as Lazio scored their first goal to come back from a 1-0 deficit, I fell pretty naturally into rooting for the Italian team. Game ended in a somewhat disappointing 2-2 tie, but I had to give Lazio credit for coming from behind to tie on two seperate occasions. I think this is where Dave B schools me on the Champion's League.

Morning shopping

Well it looks like Chris and I are taking turns. Yesterday I was too sick to go out and he did the shopping. Today he is too sick to go out and I did the shopping. I'm hoping he just needs some rest, since he came over here with a bit of a cold and has jet lag to boot.

I made it to the fiera today and was pleased to discover that despite the dollar having about half the value it did when I last lived here, groceries are still quite cheap. Got some ciabattine at a panificio and then some green beans, tomatos, peaches, salami (a local variety--paesanello), prosciutto crudo (di parma), and some detergent, which due to a linguistic error on my part, turned out to be laundry detergent instead of the dishwasher detergent I was trying to buy. (Oh well.) Also picked up some medicine for Chris, the most expensive part of the trip by far. Spent just under 20 euro total for everything. Saw a young woman in the market with a hairy back.

Took the long way home because I wanted to take a peek at Via Etnea and the Giardino Bellini. After the initial thrill of coming in the entrance and seeing today's date in foliage on the side of a hill, cutting through the Giardano Bellini was a little disappointing--they're doing some work on it so much of it is closed off due to construction. Saw a huge, fat woman hike up her skirt, pull down her panties, and take a piss right there in the middle of the park. Never seen that before and hope to never see it again. I'm assuming she was homeless.

Chris went back to bed around when I went out and is still asleep. I've made some green beans in tomatoes for lunch--I'm trying to concentrate on fruits and vegetables to try to nurse us both back to full health. I feel a lot better but still not 100%. I'll probably go for a nap myself after lunch. Which I should go ahead and go eat now, I suppose.


Tuesday, October 2, 2007


Something from dinner last night gave me some sort of food poisoning that affects my lower gastrointestinal system. Was up most of the night and got very dehydrated. Slept most of the day today. Chris had the same thing but much milder--he tried a little bit of my linguine al nero di seppia last night, so we're thinking it's probably that since the severity of our symptoms seems to be proportional to how much of that we ate.

Anyway, I really like this bedroom, and this house. I haven't minded too much not leaving it today. Maybe I'll feel up for an evening stroll somewhere. Still feel pretty wonky and gurgly down there.

I don't think I'll be returning to that particular trattoria.

To Catania

I guess waking up at 4am can make me a little grumpy. "Would you like to pick up your bags in Milan or Catania?" Uhhmm, what do you think? (Not said out loud.) My guitar case was deemed fragile and therefore I had to go wait in a seperate line to get the cleared. I didn't argue, but the fact is it is probably the best packed thing I have, considering it's the only thing I have actually in a flight case. "Why?--said out loud upon being told that I couldn't take two carry on bags through the security checkpoint in Manchester. The airline was fine with it--I was allowed to have two carry ons once I was on the other side of the security checkpoint, but during the actual crossing of the security checkpoint I was only allowed to have one. A "government" regulation. I thought our government was somewhat unique in the first world for coming up with daft anti-terror regulations that don't actually protect any one, but apparently our sister, Britain, can play that game as well. Had to check in twice, basically, to check a third bag. Once I overcame my baggage problems, though, no big deal. Just tired and a little queasy from having to get up so early. Was pretty well zonked out by the time the plane took off. Did watch the English countryside, for a bit, though, until we got above cloud cover. It is quite pretty country, even when it is overcast. Dozed off mostly until we got over the Alps. Holy shit, the Alps. Wow! What more can I say? The countryside on either side of the Alps was beautiful, too, of course. Our descent into Milan started just as we were leaving the last of them behind.

Just to keep the theme going, I guess, upon entering Milan for my connection I once again had to cross a security check point in which, once again, a bottle of water I had purchased in the secured area of another airport was confiscated. Four hour layover in Milan, the highlight of which was buying a special issue of "La Cucina Italiana" dedicated to cooking seafood. This has lots of information I'd wondered about concerning the cleaning and preparation of all sorts of fish--I'm very excited. We're going to cook some motherfucking fish.

More sightseeing from above. There is some big ass mountain range running right down the center of Italy that is almost as impressive as the Alps. I forget the name. It's either the Dolomiti or Appennini. Pretty whatever it was. Dozed off a bit more then swore I saw the coliseum in Rome, although I've half talked myself out of that idea at this point. There was a huge train station near by, so it could have been Rome, but there seemed to be a lot of green as well, which I wouldn't have expected for Rome. But what else looks like the coliseum? I can't decide if I saw it or not. Not long after that we passed out over the water--there was a very cool island near the coast of Italy that I've been wondering what it is ever since. Assuming I really did see the coliseum, then it's just south of Rome off the west coast and pretty small and quite pretty. I imagined rich people sailing their yachts there.

A lot more water and not much to look at, until suddenly I look up and there's Sicily looming ahead. Quite big, a lot of yellow and green. I was on the wrong side of the plane to see Etna. I was seated on the right side and we passed to the west of Etna until Catania was east of us and then hung a hard left to land at Fontanarossa. Which has pretty much been completely rebuilt since the last time I was there. I recognized nothing, actually. Just all big and new looking. Opted for the cab instead of the bus. Paid thirty euro, but didn't have to lug my crap through the streets. Exciting to be on the ground and recognize everything. I'm reenergized and don't even mind that I've been travelling for more than 12 hours .

The Professore Lo Meo, our landlord, and his wife are amazingly nice and hospitable. The apartment is absolutely gorgeous. The layout is a bit bizarre, but it is interesting and beautiful. Professore Lo Meo lived in this apartment until his mom, who lived one floor down, passed away, and he moved into her apartment. We ended up spending close to two hours with them as we went over everything with the apartment, chit chatted, attempted (unsuccessfully) to pay (something with the credit card line being down), and they fed us ice cream. Finally Chris and I make a mad dash to the (wrong) grocery store, buy many kilos worth of staple food items, and then carry them back about a mile or so to the apartment. (We got lost on the way to the supermarket and missed the one that was actually really close to us.) Groceries put away, a bit of hanging out in the rooftop garden, and dinner at the trattoria literally around the corner.

I could say more about the dinner, but I'll content myself with saying that Chris had somehow managed to already befriend a waiter there, Omar, before I even arrived in Catania. The highlight for me was Omar coming up to Chris with some sort of stain stick and applying it to Chris's shirt--*while he's eating dinner*-- to prevent some sauce that Chris spilled from making a permanent stain. Now that's service. That and the shots of some sort of homemade cinnamon liqueur that Omar felt we should try.

A good, long day.