Big clouds over the distant Alps, snow-covered even in May (taken from a speeding car).
Regular readers of this blog (hello, you two!) will have noticed a radical dropping-off in the number of posts. There are a handful of reasons for this, one of which, anyway, I will share. It’s been five years now since Expatriate made her inaugural foray into the blogosphere, and it’s been loads of fun. The premise of this blog was to explore the differences between life in the U.S. and life (albeit seen through an immigrant’s eyes) in Italy. Knowing that the blog was waiting for my every observation has kept my eyes open and my brain engaged in parsing the various approaches to aspects of daily living in both places. This could go on forever!
The truth is, though, that I no longer see life in Italy with the fresh eyes of five years ago. I’m not bored by any means, but the things that used to raise a Wow! reaction have now become part of the landscape, something so familiar that I rarely notice any more, unless a guest has brought over her fresh eyes and I get to see/say Wow! vicariously. Two examples will give ample illustration of my point. Our little town, San Maurizio di Monti, had its annual Sgabai fest this weekend. I have written about this already, and am not sure that simply re-doing what’s already been done will be of much interest to you or to me. Similarly, a recent day-trip with friends to Lucca was eye-popping and wonderful, as always – but do you (or I) really need another gee-whiz blog about Lucca? Google ‘Lucca Blog’ and you, like me, will get 3,800,000 results. I’m not sure the 3,800,001st would be of much interest or value. I can hear you both saying, ‘but Farfalle, you see things with your eyes, and see and write with a point of view that may be slightly different from other people’s.’ Well yes, but I’ve decided now to focus more on the Seeing with Eyes part of that sentiment and perhaps do a little less with words.
What I have learned through doing this blog is that while details of life in Italy and the U.S. may differ (sometimes radically), the business of life is much the same: people going about their daily business trying to be successful, happy, raise families, celebrate, eat – what everyone the world over does. For that reason I have put off writing about the bureaucracy of getting yet another Permesso di Soggiorno that allows me to stay legally in the country. Is it so very different from the kinds of bureaucracy that exist in the U.S. for immigrants? Not really. It’s perhaps slightly more complex, and the uniforms of the various functionaries are more interesting, but it all comes down to getting a document, which frankly is just not that interesting. (Besides, I’ve already written about it.)
What also has struck me over these years is that while we are all going about basically the same kind of business, the way it all looks is very different. The parade marking Rapallo’s attainment of a Captaincy has quite a different look from the Memorial Day parade in Harwinton, Connecticut (next door to where we used to live!), and yet they are both parades celebrating a political/historical event. Do we really need more photographs, any more than we need another blog post about Lucca? You may not agree, but I think we do; I hope we do. We need more photographs of Rapallo, of her citizens, dogs, cats, ducks, pigeons, cars; we need more photographs of San Maurizio di Monti and yes, we even need more photographs of much-photographed Lucca, because what my camera sees is not at all what your camera might see, and it’s all interesting (at least to me; but then I like to look at other people’s vacation and family photographs, too). So Expatriate will be posting more photographs and fewer expositions on How Things Are Different Here, though there will still be a bit of that when the need arises.
It turns out our similarities are greater than our differences. I hope you’ll find this new focus interesting and fun – I plan to.
The Most Serene Republic of Genoa was an independent state from 1005 until Napoleon put an end to so much in 1797. During its heyday it claimed territory as distant as Syria (most of these far-flung territories were conquered by the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century). On May 17, 1229, Rapallo swore absolute fidelity to the Genoese Republic and by an act effected in the Palazzo dei Fornari di Genova, became a Podesteria. A Podesteria is a district administered by an official called a Podesta, usually of the noble class, which we would today call a Mayor. Until 1608 the Rapallo Podesteria was under the aegis of the Chiavari Captaincy. In 1608, owing to its increased historical and strategic importance, Rapallo was elevated to its own Captaincy which included the towns of Santa Margherita Ligure, Portofino, Zoagli and parts of the Val Fontanabuona.
On Sunday (May 12) about thirty Rapallesi in marvelous costumes re-enacted the celebration of the constitution of the city as a Captaincy. After the parade there was a program at the town Bandstand. which recreated the presentation of the city to the Capitaneato,
Here are some photos of the re-enactment (all I could think as I was watching it was how much more colorful, peaceful and fun it was than an American Civil War re-enactment.
It was by the luckiest of chances that we happened upon this re-enactment. We had gone to town to meet someone, and just stumbled on what should have been the main planned event of the week. What I loved most were the costumes – there’s a part of me that wishes we still dressed like this – maybe not the hats, though a good veil is always an excellent accessory. I love the long dresses that fall from an empire waist, with slit sleeves – it’s all impossibly wonderful.
Weren’t we lucky? The sun was shining and we could see the ground when we landed at London’s Heathrow Airport. What a treat to see the tapestry of Merrie Olde England spread out beneath us. It gives one a very clear visual understanding of their Greenbelt philosophy.
We spent the night in London before making the rest of the trip back to Italy. It’s hard to resist the siren call of good British Beer, consumed by Speedy in this photo at the Wheatsheaf Pub in Harlington, adjacent to the airport. That man behind him? Turned out to be very friendly, a sort of Harlington Ambassador.
(By the way – a very useful aside – if you find yourself in London and are overstaying at an airport hotel, you do NOT have to take the confiscatory Hoppa buses to your hotel. Free local transport – red doubledecker buses – make the run down Bath Road where many of the airport hotels are. You won’t be dropped at the door, but you will save L 7 for the round-trip.)
London airport hotels are mingy in two ways – 1) you have to pay for the wifi that we’ve all come to depend upon and 2) breakfast may not be included. It wasn’t in our case, and we didn’t have a lot of options nearby. However, a little bird whispered in our ears that the McDonalds down the street offered free wifi, and, with a bit of an arcane registration ordeal, it proved to be true. We decided to kill two birds with one stone (though we spared the kind whisperer) and to take our breakfast at McDonalds in addition to making use of their wifi.
Egg McMuffin! Though they are now called something completely different, I don’t remember what. I have always loved them. The ‘English Muffin’ is but a squishy hint of the real article, and the egg was probably laid by an unhappy hen; but the bacon was delicious! And here’s why:
What a shock! McDonald’s has gone all socially-conscious and responsible on us. I would never have imagined. Speedy found the Egg McMuffin odious, but I loved mine (could have done with a bit of mayo, perhaps), but then I have always been a gustatory philistine. So, the bacon was delish because it came from happy pigs. And guess what else McD’s is serving:
Genuine organic milk! I note they say nothing about the milk coming from cows who have not been treated with antibiotics and so forth, but oh well. ’Organic’ is a start.
But what’s it a start of? It makes it all so confusing when the companies we, as card-carrying liberals, are meant to hate (McDonalds, Walmart, etc.) start engaging in behavior we approve of (even Walmart is up to some good, it seems). I guess all we can do is applaud the steps they are taking, hope for ever more advances (especially for the employees), and enjoy the bacon.
This blog has been languising, or rather my inspiration for it has been languishing. There have been hikes to tell you about, art exhibits, concerts… but somehow I’ve not sat down to do the work. We are about to return to Italy; I hope events, sights, smells, sounds and food will all conspire to produce some more entries.
In the meanwhile, here are a few photographs of what we leave behind us in Arizona. The saguaro cactus are in bud. They flower in a sort of halo up at the top; I had hoped to see the actual blooms this year, but we will miss that by a week or so.
This outrageous flower bloomed across the street. It opened in the night and lasted for one day.
The curved-bill thrasher is a frequent visitor to our seed bell. One of my favorite birds, his eyes and general expression remind be of a raptor, though I believe he’s about as far from being one as is possible.
The prickley pear are in bloom:
A crown of buds sits atop the tall saguaro:
And a cactus wren sits atop the buds:
A small mamalaria cactus planted itself in our yard a year or two ago. This year it flowered:
This hummingbird (or one just like it) is a frequent visitor to my friend’s penstamen. The hummers’ little feet just dangle when they feed, which I never noticed until I took this photo.
Talk to you soon from the boot. Ciao.
When I was growing up we didn’t think much about golf in our family – it was a rich man’s sport and we weren’t rich. We knew some people who played golf, and some of the boys in my circle of friends caddied on weekends (which made me very envious, because they got $5.00 a round, much better than baby-sitting paid in those days) (girls couldn’t caddy). There was a lovely golf course in our town, the property of the small liberal arts college there, but we were not members.
Later, when I was a young adult and well into adulthood, I thought golf was the stupidest game in the world. For starters, you didn’t hit a moving ball – what fun could that be? Then there was the enormous waste of space – think of all the people who could live on those lovely greenswards. Criminal! Later still I reviled the game for the waste of water and energy to maintain the courses, and for the chemicals that are liberally applied to keep the grass so thick and green. On a much more superficial level I found the clothing worn by golfers hilarious. White shoes and belts, men in pink trousers (Sheriff Joe would love it) – definitely all fashion ‘don’ts.’
Now I’m an old fart and a seasoned golfer of some three years and I’ve changed my tune. Speedy, the cause of my descent into the world of golf, and I usually walk when we play; after all, it is meant to be exercise, and a round of golf gives us a good four mile hike. The game is much more challenging than I ever imagined, and much more fun (on the days when it’s not infuriating). Here in Arizona all the golf courses are watered with ‘reclaimed’ water – not stuff you want to drink.
But best of all, for me, is being outdoors for a four-hour stretch, looking at the flowers, the trees, the water (as long as I’m not looking for my ball in the water) and most of all, the things that fly over and around our golf course. I won’t even bore you with the jets landing at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport – they are a near constant, though still high enough that their noise is not intrusive; or with the numerous helicopters that fly around – MD Helicopters and Boeing both manufacture whirly-birds, which are frequently given test runs above Mesa. Of more interest are the historic planes that fly from nearby Falcon Field where there is a museum operated by the Commemorative Air Force.
Here she is on the ground at the Air Museum:
This last is not housed at Falcon Field. The Metlife blimps don’t have permanent homes, but rather stay near the events they are covering. (You can read all about them here.)
But I love the birds we see around the golf course even more than the flyers with engines. As I began to prepare this post I realized that I’ve got far too many photos of golf course birds to put here, so I’ve made an album which you can see by clicking here (then click ‘slide show’). I’m not even remotely confident about my bird ID’s, so feel free to correct me.
The two birds I love seeing the most are the peach-faced lovebirds which are native to arid regions of Africa and the Phoenix area. They are popular pet birds, and some most have escaped around here; clearly they’ve been successful in adapting to Arizona life. They are colorful and congregate in groups; they are tremendously chatty. It’s not at all unusual to be lining up your golf shot and have a lovebird zoom in front of you about three feet away. Doesn’t this guy have an impish expression??
My other favorite to watch is the Great-tailed (or Boat-tailed) Grackle. The female is a rather dull brown-black in color, but the male is glossy black and proud of it. They stalk around in a show-offy kind of way, and frequently stop and put their heads up in the air as if they were smelling something (if it’s Painted Mountain and 5 p.m. they’re smelling BBQ).
This week I got to see what I take to be the mating display of the male. He sat on a tree branch as normal as could be. Then he ruffled out all his breast feathers, as if he were taking a deep breath, which he then held for a moment as he opened his beak. At last he spoke – or rather sqawked, because that is the sound they make. He alternated between the usual squawk and a sort of whistle. The Cornell Ornithology Lab has a terrific web site where you can hear a lot of different birds, including the grackle - but I have to say, I think the ones on our golf course have a lot more raucaus call than those the lab recorded.
Here are a couple of other bird pictures which I hope will encourage you to look at the rest in the web album.
The coots are very entertaining as well, mostly because they are called coots, and when they get in your way you can say, “Watch out, you coots!”
Is there any place in the world where mallards are not at home?
Things that fly – the sky is full of them, and so are the golf-course ponds. There is always something wonderful to look at to distract you from actually playing the game.
Donald has a mental illness, though I can’t tell you specifically which one. In much the same way the church bells of San Maurizio mark the passage of our days there, Donald’s presence on his bench tells us that things are in order in this small corner of the world.
He arrives from his home sometime in the middle part of the morning and sits for his morning shift. Late in the morning he walks along the busy four-lane highway to the supermarket about two miles distant and buys some food which he carries back in a plastic sack to his bench for his daily picnic. Sometime in the mid-afternoon Donald takes himself home. When he’s not actually present on his bench during the day, Donald leaves his warm jacket, a bag and a bottle of soda to mark his territory.
He’s a friendly, if remote, man; I put him somewhere in his mid-50′s or early 6o’s, though it’s quite impossible to know for sure. Passers-by almost always offer Donald a pleasant greeting (augmented sometimes with a treat if they know him), and if he’s not completely engaged in an interior dialogue he returns the greeting cordially, while at the same time not inviting further chat. Donald has a deep and musical voice; to receive a greeting from him is to hear a hymn.
So many elements contribute to the emotional content of our neighborhoods and give us the sense of ‘home.’ Donald makes such a contribution for us. When he was absent for a few days last week we worried – influenza? did he move away? He returned this week and suddenly all was right with the world. Thank you, Donald.
When one thinks of Arizona, lakes are not the first things that pop into one’s head. In fact, though, there are quite a few lakes in the State – from the large Roosevelt Lake created by the Theodore Roosevelt Dam in 1911 to the hundreds of teeny lakes that dot the many golf courses in the region. It’s a disorienting but not unusual sight to see a large pick-up hauling a big motor boat along a desert highway.
Recently Speedy and I took ourselves and a picnic lunch to Tempe Town Lake, formed by a dam on the same Salt River that creates Roosevelt Lake, but some 80 miles closer to Phoenix. In fact Tempe is just a stone’s throw from downtown Phoenix, and is the home of Arizona State University.
It is also home to the beautiful Tempe Center for the Arts, completed in 2007, just in time for Speedy’s and my arrival in Arizona. It was a concert by the Ridge Trio that took us to the Art Center with our sack of food, and a very civilized time of it we had, sitting in metal park seats and watching the passing scene on the broad sidewalk between us and the lake. Over two million people use the park each year, and we saw a fine cross-section of them: Dads with cameras and babies; boyfriends with cameras and beautiful girl friends; fitness enthusiasts speed-walking; young men practicing complex moves with a plastic sword; roller-bladers; co-eds jogging together; couples jogging together; solitary people jogging; and of course my favorite: dog walkers. The largest dog we saw was Sally, a seven-year old Great Dane with one blue eye and one brown eye:
She was a very friendly girl, and I must say, it’s always a pleasure to meet someone who outweighs me by a good thirty pounds.
The Tempe Town Lake lies smack between the approaches to Sky Harbor Airport’s two runways; Speedy recalls many landings using the Salt River as his visual guide. Here’s a Southwest Air flight bringing happy visitors to a place presumably warmer than the place they left:
Between our picnic and the concert we took a little walk along the lake side and over the beautiful pedestrian suspension bridge that spans the western edge of the lake.
I realized that with a little ingenuity one could probably make a similar bridge with tools and supplies found right in one’s garage. For starters you’d need some heavy duty wire to use for suspending your walkway (note the pretty pattern in the pavement). Then you’d need some big bolts and some bit cotter pins.
What could be difficult about that?
The stroll along the far bank of the lake was a veritable nature walk. While it may not be as festive as a partridge in a pear tree, it’s a treat to see a Gambel’s quail in any kind of tree:
An adjoining tree was chock-a-block full of nests – but whose?
Sure enough, there it was! A fine, healthy great blue heron But it looked so peculiar – why? On closer inspection we discovered that it had caught one of the many talapia stocked in the lake and was trying to swallow it. We could watch for only five or ten minutes as our concert hour was fast approaching; we don’t know if there was a happy ending for the heron; there certainly wasn’t for the fish.
If nothing else our walk showed us how adept the birds are at adapting to whatever development we throw at them. What treats we had on our short walk!
There’s something almost tangible about the light in Italy sometimes. It’s hard to capture in photographs, but here are four examples:
It’s as if you could actually slice through the light and, if you were very careful and lucky, bring it home with you. There must be something in the atmosphere – smoke? magic? – that makes whatever you are looking at absolutely delicious. Yellow light in Italy becomes golden; clouds are silver; roads seem to be bronze ribbons.
Arizona specializes in light too, but it’s a completely different kind of light, hard and hot. The best time to see light in Arizona (or anywhere, I suppose) is early in the morning and in the evening; during those hours, even here, everything one looks at becomes softer.
It seems to me that the cacti catch the light very dramatically. It’s not the soft light of Italy we see here, but the sharp western light, held for a moment, reflected in the many spines of the plants and transformed into something more benign and gentle. They seem to glow:
As evening falls in the desert the air above gets very clear, but down below the smog from the nearby city is evident. It’s almost the same effect as a smoky evening after a field has been burned as happens all over Italy in the autumn. But, lovely as it is, knowing it is the result of smog and construction dust makes it so much less romantic.
In the built-up areas and neighborhoods around the Valley of the Sun there are plenty of non-native trees, and they can be pretty spectacular in the waning light.
You can almost imagine yourself in New England in October, can’t you? But no, this is Arizona, land of sharp things (about which more in the next post).
One thing Arizona has that we don’t have in our little corner of Italy is Big Sky. And with Big Sky come Dramatic Sunsets – we never get such violent skies in Rapallo, maybe because we’re on the wrong side of the Monte di Portofino. But here in Gold Canyon, if there are any clouds in the sky we are in for a treat at sunset:
And even if there are no clouds, the midnight blue night sky is a perfect backdrop for stars, planets and especially the moon, sights that we often don’t notice when we’re in Italy.
And I just couldn’t resist this one because it’s fun:
Light: it’s around us all the time, but we seldom notice it. Physicists may tell us that “light is simply a name for a range of electromagnetic radiation that can be detected by the human eye.” But it can be so much more than that: all it takes is a special moment, a special angle, an unusual tableau for us to stop and say, ‘Oh. It is so beautiful!’
It’s been unseasonably cold in Arizona, down around freezing at night. Today it didn’t go above 43 F (6 C) – which is bone-chilling for these parts. My usual hiking buddy had a hot date with her kitchen and a bucket of paint, Speedy was otherwise engaged with football play-offs, but the desert was calling on this crystalline afternoon. Someone had to answer. Reader, it was I.
Because I was solo I chose a well-populated place to visit, the Lost Goldmine Trail (not as busy as its sister the Hieroglyphic Trail, but on a lovely Sunday, busy enough). The first thing that happened was I encountered three Hiking Dogs, and was able to capture them for the ever-growing Hiking Dogs album.
The second thing that happened was that I began to see things that looked quite other than what they were. So you tell me – what does this look like to you?
I’ll tell you my fill-in-the-blanks after you tell me yours…