Friday, March 30, 2007

Nora's School

I hear that this is everyone's favorite thing to read about. Probably not coincidentally, it's one of my favorite things to gripe about. Particularly today.

Gripe Number One:
I am FAR from being a Type A, plan ahead, everything neatly scheduled months in advance on iCal individual, but get me going on the lack of calendars provided by the school, and I certainly start to sound like one.

Next week is Easter--a religious holiday that was never fully given vacation holiday status at the University of Texas. Generally we had to wait until the day of Good Friday for the governor to decide. University employees would sit staring at their email inboxes, awaiting the news. The email would arrive and deliver the announcement: the University is officially closed after 12:00 today. And the offices would cheer and the students would throw their dirty laundry into the car and head for home. I remember some of the out-of-state students complaining that they couldn't make travel arrangements and what a pain it was. Ever the self-centered teenager, I didn't give the governor's midday decree two thoughts. I wasn't flying anywhere; I wouldn't start driving before noon anyway; what did I care?

My point? I am slightly familiar with the holidays being announced at the very last minute, and it didn't bother me. Then. Now, on the other hand, it seems utterly ridiculous that we have to wait until the week before Easter to read a handwritten (by Nora) note in her diario that school will be closed from Wednesday of next week to the following Wednesday. A whole week off for Easter! A whole week of vacation with no mention? I was fine with the one-hour notice of five hours of vacation, but this is different! Right? There is a distinction to be made here, isn't there?

Gripe Number Two:
Along with the handwritten note was a tiny slip of paper announcing that, once again, the teachers would be on strike. And this strike "may or may not affect the school schedule TOMORROW." So in case you found no problem at all with the ambiguity of schedules in Gripe Number One, I challenge you to find a defensible position for Gripe Number Two.

Gripe Number Three:
For the third time this year I received a phone call from Nora's school. As I am the Foreign Mother that does not communicate well in Italian, they simply give the phone to Nora and let her explain. Today's conversation started with "My tummy hurts, and my throat is clogged up." Your throat is clogged up? She must have consulted MadLibs for that one and inserted [body part] before [common complaint]. And apparently that works here in Italy as probable cause for being sent home. No accompanying fever--in fact no temperature taken at all. Just a seven-year-old's complaint of a clogged up throat.

That's all I have to say about Nora's school today.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The ancient port of Baia, near Naples

This is the ancient city of Baia, on the northwest edge of the Bay of Naples. It's home to an amazing bath built into the hillside. It's unlike anything I've ever seen and must have been a big clue to the power of the Roman empire whenever someone sailed in. I met Dar and his archaeology students down there for the weekend.

In the 17th century, this place was a hot spot for British (and others) on the Grand Tour. On the top of the photo is a bit of graffiti from 1776. Damn hoodlums...

Many years ago, an earthquake hit the area and part of the city was sunken under water. In the photo below, we were sailing over what was once the city streets and buildings. You can scuba/snorkle in the bay area and see columns and mosaic floors through the crystal-clear water.

Below is a picture of the castle on the edge of the bay.

We took the boat out to the island Procida, where they filmed some of the movie The Talented Mr. Ripley. It was a gorgeous day and we stopped for a nice lunch. The Castle on the top of the hill is 16th century and now abandoned.

Putting along into the harbour:

The views from the shoreline:

This was the first course of my meal. Sea urchin gnocchi with squid ink and broccoli sauce. The name alone would make any child squirm. It was amazing.

This cracks me up: the sign on the boat says "Wet Paint." Hah!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Italian Road Trips, Part II

Because Brandy can't stand seeing a "Part I" without a "Part II," the unimaginative title continues on. This trip took us to Florence. It really needs no introduction, so I'll stop now and let the pictures do (most of) the talking.

This is us pretending to hate Florence. C'mon, who hates Florence?

And here's crazy Nora.


Nora and Emilia

And here's Nora pointing out a statue to Emilia

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Wenkinz Information Does Not Exist Here

Once upon a time I posted Nora's Webkinz name for folks back home to keep in touch with her. I inadvertently misspelled it-Wenkinz. Every day we get people from all over the world (particularly Canada) coming to our site because they are searching for "Wenkinz" on Google. I don't know what a Wenkinz is, but I have no information on Wenkinz.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Italian Road Trips, Part I

Two weeks back, while Brandy was away in Paris for along weekend with friends, Nora and I decided to get out of town. So we took a little trip to the medieval hilltown Orvieto and Siena. Orvieto is the home of a very famous cathedral (Duomo) and a nice white wine. The vivid colors of the Duomo are stunning, especially given their age (from 1330); the not so vivid color of the wine is straw, and it doesn't age as well as the Duomo, but it's nice and refreshing.

From Orvieto & Siena

the story goes, a Bohemian monk in 1260, doubted that the wine taken at Communion was really the blood of Christ. on a trip through Orvieto he saw some blood-stained cloth and believed it to be a miracle. he took it to the Pope, who thought the bloody cloth warranted building a monser of a church on the spot.

to all the Catholics out there: i don't mean to come down so hard on the Catholic church or Popes--they just did such extraordinarily strange things as recently as--well as recent as WW II. My apologies!

From Orvieto & Siena

below is a photo of the funicular (a sort of a cable car that goes up, up, up a mountain side. it's like a San Francisco trolley that goes up very steep slopes). so, i bought a ticket for me and Nora--being as cute and young as she is--was waved through by the ticket seller. but we had to go through a turnstile. i tried to slide right behind Nora, like a 15 year-old boy would try to sneak behind a friend to keep from paying a subway fare, but didn't quite make it. so i looked at the ticket salesman who waved me off in a way that said, "ah, be blatant--i know you're not sneaking through." that's when i decided to hop over the turnstile, like a pommel-horse leaper.

well, i didn't make it.

you see, the pack on my back was small but quite heavy, and it basically yanked me backwards. and i fell. about 6 feet down, backwards, flat on my back. or to be exact, the back pack made me land not-quite-flat. i sort of bent backwards.

luckily, i didn't hit my head.
unluckily, it knocked the wind out of me.
luckily, i didn't break the wine bottle in the backpack, or the ticket salesman and people nearby would have thought i cracked my head open and bleeding profusely.
unluckily, i hurt my back.
luckily, i travel with an altoids box full of medicines, painkillers included.

the impact crushed the altoids box (but, again, not the bottle of wine. crazy), but it still opened. when i regained my ability to breathe, I popped a pill or two, and Nora and I carefully walked to the funicular, zipped down the mountain, and jumped on to the train to Siena.

Here's the funicular station:

From Orvieto & Siena

On the train to Siena...

From Orvieto & Siena

Siena has, twice each year on July 2 and August 16, a barebacked horserace through its main piazza--Il Campo. It been going on since for over 800 years. Here's what it looks like when it going on:

From Orvieto & Siena

And here's a photo from our trip in almost the same vantage point:

From Orvieto & Siena

Looking over the whole piazza is the 350 foot tower (Torre del Mangia) built in the mid 1300s to thank God for ending the Black Plague that wiped out much of the city. Nora and I climbed up to enjoy the view.

From Orvieto & Siena

Nora was very brave. here's the view from the top of the tower, looking at the Cathedral (Duomo) from the 1100s.

From Orvieto & Siena

Here's the view of the tower from the piazza below.

From Orvieto & Siena

And here's the Cathedral from close up. It's incredible, with Michelangelo and Donatello sculptures, marble inlaid floors, and vivid colors.

From Orvieto & Siena

Looking at Nora through a glass of prosecco.

From Orvieto & Siena

this is the resting place of much of St. Catherine. she lived in the 1300s and helped convince the Pope (who lived in France at that time) to come back to Rome. when she died in Rome, her head and her thumb were brought back to her hometown of Siena. you read that correctly--her head and hear thumb.

the bits and pieces reside in this church.

From Orvieto & Siena

after the long weekend, Nora dutifully does her homework. such a good girl.

From Orvieto & Siena