Monday, July 26, 2010

An Update

The view from the school where we work

Work has been going great. Some highlights have included gorgeous terracotta tiles with depictions of dolphins found nowhere else in the world, a tiny bone carving to ward away evil spirits, and coins. I only have a few more days of work, and I leave here to head to London on Saturday.

This past Saturday was our day off, so Noon and I went to the beach. The bus leaves at 7:55 am, and takes about an hour, with a few stops in between. The beach, on the Adriatic Sea, is a very typical Italian beach. On the edge, there are some shops, bars, and restaurants. The actual beach is crowded; there is a small strip of public beach, flanked by two large plots of chairs and umbrellas set up in rows for rent. Chris and I set up in the public space, read for a few minutes, and then got in the water. There is a barrier between the rest of the sea and the beach, giving a fairly large but shallow area to swim. I dove for a frisbee Chris had thrown, and landed hard on my shoulder, unaware of the sand bar in the middle. We then swam up to the barrier, and climbed along it to a place marked as safe to jump off.

We spent the rest of the morning in and out of the warm water, had some pizza, and then got back on the bus at 12:30; the only bus that day back. Though the weather was beautiful while we were at the beach, about ten minutes after we got on the bus, the heavens opened up. The lightening was very impressive, as was the hail. We got back, at some pasta that Alex had made, and relaxed for the rest of the day.

Before dinner, Alex and Chris and I walked up to the Cemetery above the town. It is different than any other I've ever seen. Each family has a mausoleum, built like a house; better built that most of the houses in town in fact--they are the eternal resting places. In the mausoleums are an alter and drawers; each with a photo of the deceased on the drawer. The people who don't have money get a drawer on a shared wall of drawers. Walking through the cemetery is like walking through a town, between each mausoleum are streets. Some doors are open, some shut, and they are all very elegant metal and glass.

Tournareccio was a medieval city, and still has a small section of town. After dinner yesterday we took a short walk through it. There are winding streets, many with just steps. There are very old walls, arches, and lots of empty houses. It was very charming; young kids were running through playing tag, and stray dogs were chasing each other too.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

This little town

I am way overdue for a post; so sorry this has taken so long.

I am having a wonderful time. I'm working hard, relaxing a bit, and hanging out with very cool people. I've made friend with lots of locals, and since this village is so small; I see them every day. Let me tell you about about where I am.

Tornareccio's population is 1,800. It produces 15% of the honey in Italy, and is also a large producer of mozzarella cheese. We eat mozzarella cheese with lunch most days, and wouldn't dare eat it if was made yesterday. It is a very typical Italian town in so many ways. There are no restaurants, two very small groceries, and four bars. When you walk down the street--there is essentially one street in the town--everyone says hi. At all hours of the day, there are many older men lining the streets, just sitting on the benches and chatting. Often, I often see them when going for a morning coffee break, and see the same people, in the same places, six hours later. The same goes for many men at the bars. They are drinking campari--a local favorite made of cochineal--at ten in the morning, four in the afternoon, and, presumably, all the times between.

People are very friendly. Today, we were walking to coffee, and the carpenter pulled us into his shop, just to show us a shelf he built. he brought us in, talked about making it for a minute, and then had each hold it. This, though a bit strange, was not at all an unusual occurrence.

Women between the ages of twenty-five and forty-five don't seem to exist here. You see everyone else all the time, but never young women. Presumably they are all at home raising families, while the men sit on the benches and go to the bars at night. It is never hard to locate people here at night, they are always at their bar of choice or at the futball field down the street; as the annual competition is going on right now.

I'll write some more soon, and put up a few pictures; though I haven't been taking many apart from work.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Day 35: Work Begins

Today, I started to work. Unfortunately, the superintendency will not allow me to share any images, so I am very sorry in advance for a bland blog. I first shot clay posts that were used to hold up a crock-pot. They were in bad shape; crumbling everywhere, and they took me a long time to shoot. I did, however, begin to get the hang of it. I spent all day in the "studio" (pictures to come), and got a good bit done. After the messy posts, I shot some very small objects--lamp shards, perfume jar shards, stamped pottery and terracotta.

The work is fun. It is not very artistic, rather much more scientific. But, in that way, it is challenging and satisfying. With each object, I have a problem: how to represent this three dimensional object in two dimensions. How do I use the limited equipment I have--basically two lights, a table, some paper, a camera, and playdoh--to make an image. I have the camera hooked up to my computer, so I am controlling everything on the computer and I can see the image full size right when I take it. It is a continual lesson in making do with what I have, and of course, as with all photography, in light. The placement of lights and reflectors make all the difference; I can make an image very flat, or, by moving the lights just a few inches, pop out and tell a story.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Day 34: Hikes in Heat

I woke up, and had some pastries Jamie had grabbed. We headed to the school, and Sam took Jamie and I up the mountain. We had until 11:30, when he was going to meet us at the waterfall that is, at this point in the summer, a very small trickle. We hiked on roads, trails, through fields, woods, and everything in between. Jamie found lots of terraces to study, and the weather was nice. We got back to the waterfall with twenty minutes extra, and I laid down to snooze. As soon as I had put my head down, Sam showed up and picked us up.

We ate lunch, and then I went upstairs to play the organ. In the stairway just above my studio is a small organ. What could be more fun. After messing around for a bit, Jamie got me, and we met Susan and Ed, who took us back up the hill. This time, we were going to walk back on our own. This afternoon, the hike was hot. Though we weren't out long, it felt like forever, and we were glad to get back. Half way through the hike, I started dreaming of the gelato at the bottom. But, when we got down, Bar Central was closed; presumably due to Italy's siesta from 2-5ish. We headed back to the school, and I looked for work, but there wasn't much for me to do. I made some calls, then went back and showered etc.

We had a delicious dinner of lamb, potatoes, corn, spaghetti, and melon. After dinner, Eli, Jamie and I headed upstairs to plunk on the organ. After a bit, we went back downstairs. As I was about to call Naomi for her birthday (Happy birthday Naomi! 14!), Moon slinked off mysteriously with two glasses of wine; and returned soon after with Keith, the longest standing student of the Sangro Valley Project field school, now complete with a PhD in archeology, and his girlfriend. We sat behind the school and chatted for a bit, and then I successfully called Naomi. After some more shmoozing, it was time for bed.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Day 33: Sunday

I woke up, ate some bread and jam, and went downstairs to the Bar Central for a cappuccino. I drank it quickly and walked to the school with Eli. After a short powwow, we got to work. I finished putting the pieces of the studio together, and then started to shoot. I have a few different set ups that I wanted to try, and I wanted to figure out what I was missing, etc. It went well. Of course, as with everything, there will be lots of challenges, but they will be fun and interesting challenges. I worked until lunch, and went down to eat.

After lunch, I worked with Susan a little, showing her what I had done, thinking about which were the best. At two, Jamie and I got in Sam's car. He drove us up to the Samonite walls and dropped us off. For the next few hours, we hiked back to town. Jamie is studying the terraces on the mountain--and all the places where, in the past three thousand years, humans have changed the landscape for their own purposes. So as we walked, he stopped often to write in his field book, look at his compass, and mark places on his map. I was there mostly just in case of an emergency, so I took photos, and talked with him. We talked about Oberlin, about Archeology, about beekeeping, etc. it was a really nice hike.

We got back and had some time to relax. After reading and showering, we headed to the car, and drove a few minutes to the only restaurant within twenty minutes from here. We took the seats right in front of the small TV, ordered fries, several different pizzas, and wine, and watched the world cup final. After a very fun, very long time at the restaurant, we came back and went to bed.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Day 32: Setting Up

After a small breakfast of bread from last night, jam, and blood-orange juice with a real kick, we heeded the message on the note that was passed under our door in the wee hours of the night last night. Ed, the archeologist from Oxford who is the other co-director of the project here, and his grad student Chris Noon, who has been coming here for five years, got in late last night, and didn't know what the plan was or anything, and asked us to wake them and fill them in. We rung the door bell, and were greeted by a slightly confused and very sleepy Ed. He woke up Noon, who had a lot of trouble getting up. They ate our left-over breakfast, and we all walked together to meet Sam and Susan.

They opened the doors to the Nursery school that is going to be our home base. It is run by the church, and is severely lacking in chairs higher than ten inches off the ground. After a short tour of the facility, which has an industrial kitchen, a dining room, and several classrooms and multi purpose rooms. We moved some chairs and tables around, and set up some full sized tables and chairs in the main work room and the dining room. We then all went back to Susan's apartment to get things. We pulled things from their living room, the attic, and everywhere in between, stuffed it in Ed's rental car, and unloaded it at the school. I then spent the next while putting together my studio. It is in the corner of the large room upstairs; which fortunately has shutters on all the windows. I unpacked the new lights, table, and put things together. Unfortunately one of the light bulbs does not work, but fortunately, that was the only problem I ran into. As I was finishing the initial set up, Sam called for lunch. We ate cold cuts and salad, and then Ed and Noon went to their flat for a nap.

Sam and Susan then took us for a drive. Tornareccio is situated at the foot of the Palano mountain; this area has been inhabitant throughout the history. Our first stop was a little visitors center and summer nature camp. There are posters up about the history of the area, and I was given a concise history, and introduced to several artifacts and maps. We then continued up the mountain, to the Samonite wall. The Samonites were a pastoral tribe that lived in this area from about 1000-300 BCE; about the same time as the Etruscans were living in Italy. Near the top of this mountain is a huge wall built by the Samonites, with remaining doorways. Not a lot is known about the Samonites, though some burial sites have been excavated, there is little remains of them in life. The wall has only one side; so it is not clear if was even used for defense--it could have just been to impress alien tribes so they wouldn't attack. After walking along the wall, with Eli and Jamie telling me the history, we met back up with Sam and Susan. We drove to the top of the mountain, to the antennae farm. There are tens of different communication towers and structures, that apparently has been growing and expanding each year. From here, a beautiful view of the Sangro Valley presented itself. We then drove down the other side of the mountain, with Susan pointing out archeological sites and telling us more about the area.

We got back to the apartment, relaxed for a bit, and then headed to the school for dinner. During dinner, Noon introduced me to Wanta, a local specialty. It is a mix of, as the name suggests, red wine and Fanta. After dinner, I went to the Bar Reviavol, right across from our flat to watch the second half of the match for third place. There were some locals there, and one, Sol, who knows about as much English as I know Italian, and was very keen to speak it and learn more. We had a good time communicating and learning each others' languages during the exciting game. After that, I came home to find Eli and Jamie reading the bible in Greek.

Not long after I got back and took my shoes off, Ed rang our door bell, wondering if we wanted to go to a party. After some uncertainty, we decided to come. We piled in the car with Ed and Noon. The directions to the party were: drive up the mountain a ways, put down your window, and listen for the music. We drove for a while, and then passed an area with some cars and caution tape. At first, we thought it might be an accident site, so we kept going, but we soon realized it was the party. We went back, parked the car, and talked to the guy with little tickets, a friend of Ed and Noon. The ticket gave us one free beer. We walked through some shrubs to an an open field. There was reggae music, played through an impressive set of speakers and amps and sound equipment. There were about 25 people, all standing around. There was a tent with beer, and a bar-b-q cooking Arrosticini, a local specialty of very thinly sliced pork on a skewer grilled. We received our beer, and stood around for a bit listening to the music. We ate an arrosticini, and then I wanted to dance. There was no one dancing at all. I finally worked up the courage to ask someone to dance, and she politely declined. Every other girl I saw was with a guy, and I didn't want to cause any trouble. After standing around and talking for a bit, trying to dance, and eventually giving up, we headed back home and went to bed.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Day 31: The Long and Winding Road

My alarm went off at 5:15, and I finished packing up, showered quickly, walked downstairs. I ate a banana, put my things in the car, and said goodbye to the dog, cat, donkey, and horse. The sky was just lightening up; the silhouetted hills were beautiful. We got in the car and began the long and winding drive to the train station. The sun had begun to rise, and beautiful golden light poured across the tobacco fields in the valley and the hillsides. At certain points, the valley mist was illuminated, creating a cool glow settling between the hills.

When we got to the surprisingly busy for 6:40 train station, I bought my ticket and went to the right track. There I said goodbye to Michael, who was a fantastic host and a good friend. I then walked back to the station to grab a croissant and a cappuccino. Not long after paying, and well before I had finished either, I heard my train coming. I ran back to the track, grabbed my bag, and got on with no trouble.

The train was pleasant; affording beautiful views of sunflower fields and the Umbria countryside. I read some, wrote some, and watched the earth fly by for some time. I arrived in Rome, bought a 90 cent ticket back to the Tiburtina station, and then had a long hike to the train; it was in the farthest part of the station, and well advanced on the tracks already. Since I was only taking it for 8 minutes, I didn't get a real seat, and just sat on my bag in the doorway area. We got going about ten minutes late, so I arrived ten minutes late, but it was no problem; I had plenty of time. After unsuccessfully looking for an open bathroom, I walked to the bus station. As I approached, I saw two guys who looked likely to be Oberlin students and introduced myself. Sure enough, I was right, and they introduced themselves as Jamie and Eli, the two other Obies working on the dig this season. Eli and I found a place in the shade and talked, while Jamie found a payphone to call Susan, the archeologist we are working with. We hung around for about an hour, and at ten got on our bus to Lanciano, where Susan and her husband Sam were to pick us up at one. The bus ride began quite ugly in the suburbs of Rome, but as we got into Abruzzo, it became quite beautiful. Jamie and I chatted, and then I read for a while. Halfway through, we stopped at a rest-stop restaurant. I walked in, looked at and smelled all the good food, and then walked out, now very hungry, and we got back on the road. Not long before we were supposed to arrive, something was said as we stopped by the side of the road. People started getting off. Jamie and I had not understood what was said, but Eli turned around and told us we had to change buses. It was the quickest transfer I've ever experienced--we got off, grabbed our bags, through them in the other bus, got on, and were off in significantly less than five minutes again.

Susan and Sam picked us up from the bus stop. We piled our stuff and ourselves into the rental car, and drove the forty minutes from Lanciano, a small city, to Tornareccio, the town of 1,800 where we will be living and working for the next three weeks. During the ride, Susan and Sam brought us up to date on everything; where we are staying, working, the changes in the town, etc. We got into town, and dropped our stuff in our flat. Jamie, Eli and I have an entire apartment, with a large living room, decent kitchen, washing machine, and three bedrooms. Sweet. Right outside the front door are two of the three bars in town, a mixed blessing; a bakery; gelato place; and grocery store. Very hungry, we decided not to clean up, and went straight to Susan and Sam's apartment down the street a little ways, and ate a great lunch of fresh mozzarella (this is the mozzarella hub of Italy), prosciutto, salami, tomato and cucumber, fresh bread and foccacio and cold drinks. It was exactly what we needed. We headed back to our flat and rested for a long time. When we got up, Jamie and Eli did some work while I putzed around. At 7:30, we headed back to Susan's for dinner. Sam is an excellent cook, and we had a multi-course dinner with melon, pasta, veggies and sausage. We talked about where we are, what we are doing, and they told me about the characters around town who I'd run into. After dinner, we ate a local pastry stuffed with grape marmalade, accompanied by the local drink, grappa. Grappa is highly distilled wine; a clear, brandy like drink with 40% alcohol. We sat in the living room and talked for a while after dinner, and then headed back to the flat. I remembered that Garth gave me some movies on my hard drive, and I watched Duplicity before going to bed.

Day 30: Relaxation

After a breakfast of muesli and soy milk, I got to work. Michael told me not to work too hard this morning; I had two massages scheduled for this afternoon. I moved all the things that were on the porch of the massage hut up the hill--there was wood, trash, tools, etc. Michael's friend Patti was excavating some tree stumps, and I took a break to talk to him for a while. He was born in England, moved to British Columbia where he welded dam parts, and now lives in Umbria, doing all kinds of work, from plumbing to excavating.

My next job involved putting up some chicken-wire fencing under the massage hut. The space beneath is where Michael keeps things to reuse and recycle, but it is quite unsightly, so some fencing with dried plants will conceal it. When I was done, I read on the hammock for a bit. We ate lunch and had a long siesta in the hammock. The temperature under the porch was perfect; warm with a cool breeze.

At five, it was time for my first massage, Michael. I worked on him until his lovely girlfriend Martina and her son came. It was then Martina's turn. She too is a massage therapist, so it was another great massage. Working in the hut is wonderful; all the sounds of the birds, the wind in the trees, and the setting sun pouring light in through the open windows.

The sunset was stunning tonight, a real treat on my last night in Umbria. Dinner was all in Italian. I could follow a few of the conversations loosely, and every once in a while someone translated something for me. After dinner, I laid on the couch listening to the conversation and reading.

Day 29: Breathing Easy

I woke up at 8:15, fully rested, and took a cold shower. After eating a banana, I got to work cleaning the pool. All the leaves were out, and all the water had been drained; all that was left was a layer of goop. I used a broom to sweep it to the middle, and a mop to clean up what was left. I got about halfway finished when the Italians came. We ate some breakfast, and
went back out to the pool. Since there is only one mop and one scooper, there wasn't enough work for all of us. I went to the garden, and tied the tomato plants to the bamboo stakes. Next, I went to the big tree in front of the house, which was being strangled by ivy. With a machete and a pair of gloves, I removed all the vines on the lower part of the trunk, and attempted to erradicate the roots. There were big spiky caterpillars all over the ivy, and the ivy had covered about a third of the bark on the trunk. I think it will breathe much better now.

When it was done, we ate lunch: rice, green beans, and fried zucchini flowers. After eating and writing yesterday's entry, I took a nap in the hammock. When I got up, Michael and I set up the massage table in the newly cleaned massage studio, and I got on the table. For the next hour, I was in heaven. It has been a very long time since I've received a massage, and it was wonderful. When I stood up, I could barely walk straight; my whole body had turned to mush. I made my way back to the house, drank some water, and sat on the porch in post-massage bliss. It was then Michael's turn to get on the table, and I gave him one of the most enjoyable massages (to give)
that I've given in a long time.

After the massage, we ate dinner. After dinner, I laid in the hammock and read for a while before bed.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Day 28: An Exchange

I woke up at 8:15, fully rested, and took a cold shower. After eating a banana, I got to work cleaning the pool. All the leaves were out, and all the water had been drained; all that was left was a layer of goop. I used a broom to sweep it to the middle, and a mop to clean up what was left. I got about halfway finished when the Italians came. We ate some breakfast, and went back out to the pool. Since there is only one mop and one scooper, there wasn't enough work for all of us. I went to the garden, and tied the tomato plants to the bamboo stakes. Next, I went to the big tree in front of the house, which was being strangled by ivy. With a machete and a pair of gloves, I removed all the vines on the lower part of the trunk, and attempted to erradicate the roots. There were big spiky caterpillars all over the ivy, and the ivy had covered about a third of the bark on the trunk. I think it will breathe much better now.

When it was done, we ate lunch: rice, green beans, and fried zucchini flowers. After eating and writing yesterday's entry, I took a nap in the hammock. When I got up, Michael and I set up the massage table in the newly cleaned massage studio, and I got on the table. For the next hour, I was in heaven. It has been a very long time since I've received a massage, and it was wonderful. When I stood up, I could barely walk straight; my whole body had turned to mush. I made my way back to the house, drank some water, and sat on the porch in post-massage bliss. It was then Michael's turn to get on the table, and I gave him one of the most enjoyable massages (to give) that I've given in a long time.

After the massage, we ate dinner. After dinner, I laid in the hammock and read for a while before bed.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Day 27: Sweetly Sings the Donkey

I woke up early this morning; I had a long day ahead of me. I packed up, helped clean up the kitchen a little, and said goodbye to Diane. I then headed, in a great rush, out the door. I had to get a receiver for mobile internet, come back to the apartment to get my stuff, and get to the station before my 10:45 train. The first phone store I went to, as I expected, didn't open until 10. I knew there was no way I'd make my train in time, so I hopped on a bus and headed back to the apartment, considering myself SOL. However, on the bus, I saw another mobile phone company. I got off at the next stop, backtracked to the store, and found that it opened at 9:30, which was in five minutes. Amazing. When it opened, I was the first customer helped. I was so relieved, and began the process of buying mobile internet. Then, he told me he needed my passport; Italy requires foreigners to show a passport to issue a new phone number. I panicked; I clearly didn't have time to go back and forth to get my passport before my train, and I begged the guy to let it slide, to no avail. I tore apart my wallet, and as I was about to accept defeat, I found a photocopy of my passport in my wallet. Every once in a while, I'm smarter than I think. He accepted it, finished setting me up, and left. I found a shortcut back to the apartment, grabbed my stuff, and was out by 10.

When I got en route to the station, I realized that a cab was worth it in all this heat and with these big bags. I hailed one, got in, and had nice conversation with the cabby. When we got there, he first asked for an extra euro for the luggage, and then realized he had no change, so he just took all my coins, which amounted to much less than what the meter said. I lucked out. I bought my ticket, ate some breakfast, and got on the train. Luckily, it was air conditioned, and the two hours went by quickly.

Michael, my new workaway host for the next few days, picked me up from the station in his blue Honda Jazz. He is 60, British (though his mom is Italian, he spent around 20 years in Hawaii, and has been living in Italy for about twenty years), but a very young 60, with a ponytail, fit body, and pants covered in paint. He is a musician and a massage therapist, and has a small farm around his home where he is learning about organic farming and permaculture by doing.

We talked the whole way to the grocery store, a long trip for food. We talked about workaway, massage, my journey here, etc. After shopping (we bought almost exclusively produce, everything organic), we went to his house. It is up a dirt road, and looks out on a valley and the rolling Apennine hills. It is right on the border between Umbria and Tuscany. As we drove up, the donkey brayed at us. The house is four hundred years old; and was originally lived in by sharecropping families. Now, it is a beautiful home, with hammocks on the porches, lots of instruments, and great vibes.

There is a young Italian couple working here too, and they had prepared lunch while we were out. We sat down for lunch on the front porch where all our meals are eaten. The Italians speak great English, and have helped me with some Italian as well. After lunch, we had a siesta; it is usually too hot from three to six to work productively.

After writing yesterday's blog, I laid down in the hammock, and napped. It felt great. When I work up, I helped the Italians work on draining the pool, and getting all the leaves out of it. Though there were enough salamanders and frogs that needed rescuing to employ a small country, there wasn't really enough work for all of us. So I headed to the treehouse like structure, that Michael is going to turn into a massage studio. I cleaned it out, measured the last few floorboards that need cutting, and swept it out.

By the time that was done, the Italians had headed in to shower, so I went and scooped some more leaves. Michael met me up there, and, during the beautiful sunset, walked me around, showing me what was on the little farm, and what he planned on doing in the future. Now, he has a small orchard, a horse, a donkey, and a large garden.

After a shower, I went out to the porch. Michael and I talked for a long time, while lying on hammocks, about American politics and the state of everything. The whole place is like a symphony; there are so many insects, ambhibians and birds singing. This place is very alive. There are lizards climbing all over the walls, snakes in the bamboo, and lots of plants.

We made dinner; a salad with a homemade tofu dressing, roasted red peppers, and bread. We weren't done with dinner until about midnight, at which point I read, and fell asleep.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Day 26: Lazy in Rome

We met Mary at the coffee bar, and spent a long time there talking. It was cooler today, so being outside was a bit nicer. We went back to the apartment, and I was going to go walk around Rome, but I wasn't feeling very inspired. I spent a long time resting, trying to figure out next moves, etc. By two thirty, I was ready to see some sights.

I hopped a bus that took me across the river, and spent the next few hours exploring the streets. I happened upon Gelato del Teatro, one of the the best gelaterias in Rome, that Alan had mentioned yesterday. I got the chocolate with wine and chocolate with orange. It was amazing. You can see them in the back making the gelato. Yum. I explored, taking photos and wandering. I took the tram to get back; I always enjoy foreign public transportation, so it was a treat, even though it was packed.

When I returned, I gave Diane another massage. Not long after, she went out to a dinner party. I had expected to eat some food and see Rome; but by the time I was done cooking an egg, I was exhausted, and was asleep before 11.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Day 24: Wandering

I woke up this morning and stayed in bed reading for a long time. Diane and I then went out for some breakfast and to do some errands. Breakfast was at the coffee bar down the street that Diane attends daily; and when our bus came before she paid, she waved to indicate, I'll pay tomorrow. We got on the bus towards the Spanish Steps. From there, we walked to the gallery where her photos are being shown and sold. The show is coming down, so they talked about which should stay, which are in the process of being sold, etc. We took two of the photos to the framer around the corner so they could switch which one was framed.

We then went to the hotel down the street. Recently, the hotel bought one of Diane's pieces for each room, and several for the hallways. It was beautiful. We went down the street to the big shopping area; today started the summer sale in Rome. We bought some shoes, and then I headed back to the house. I meandered; taking some photos, avoiding big streets, and getting lost. After buying some fruit and vegetables and at the local stand, I returned to the apartment. Elliot, who's 18, was home with his friend Leo. Elliot made a delicious lunch, and we ate and watched Germany destroy Argentina. After the game, they left for the beach, and I took a nap.

When I woke up, I grabbed my camera and went out. The Coliseum is just down the road, so I headed in that direction. When I got there, however, I had no interest in taking photos of the sites. Instead, I wanted to take photos of the tourists. I walked around, mostly taking photos of tourists posing for pictures. When I got tired, I headed back. Julian, the older son, was home with his friend Tom.

We hung around, and I skyped some people, and then it was time for the next game. I made a salad, and ate dinner and watched the game. When it was over, I went to bed.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Day 24: J'aurai du quitter centreville et m'installer in Italia

The first time I woke up this morning was at four am, when my family left for Geneva. I fell right back asleep, and woke up again at 7:30. I showered, grabbed some breakfast in the hotel, and ran some errands. First I bought some more credit for my phone; I was told I can only buy credit in France, so hopefully I have enough now for the next four weeks. Then, I bought a fresh, hot baguette for the road. My last errand was returning the gear I took by accident from the bike shop yesterday.

I got back to the hotel, grabbed my bags, and checked out. I walked to the train station, and only got a little lost. I got on the bus to Courmayeur, and settled in. On the bus, I began my Italian study, I have tapes and an accompanying book. I'm having a lot of fun with it, if not learning a ton of Italian. I waited for a little at the Courmayeur station, then got on the bus to Aosta. After the almost two hour ride, I got off in Aosta. There, I bought my tickets to Rome, and had two hours to kill before my first train. I walked around, went to some roman ruins, and then parked myself in a park and read for 45 minutes. I then got on the train.

It was hot, and didn't get to my second stop on time. It got in 17 minutes late, and I only had fifteen minutes between when I was supposed to arrive and my next train, so I missed my train. I changed my tickets, and sat outside and people-watched for the next 45 minutes. I got on the next hot train, and took that to Milano.

In Milano I got straight on my next train, a fast train direct to Rome. It was also hot, but a nice time to read, study Italian, and rest. When I got to Rome, I called my cousins, and walked twenty minutes to their apartment. Diane is a photographer and teaches cooking classes too, and Alan is a tour guide; last week he took Ben Stiller and family on a tour, and Diane did a cooking class with them, in the apartment I'm in now. We ate a delicious dinner Diane put together while talking about photography, what brought me here, and the touring business. I showered, and now we're watching the end of the Ghana Uruguay game.

Day 23: MFDS

We slept in late this morning. Over breakfast, we discussed the day's activities. We decided to split up; the boys go biking and the girls take a hike. My dad and I headed to the closest bike shop, and rented downhill mountain bikes. These bikes have full suspension, disc breaks, and huge front shocks. With the rental came a motorcycle-like helmet, knee pads and elbow pads. Though we laughed at the level of protection at the time, we did not know what was in store.

The ride to the ski lift from the shop was only a few hundred meters long, but it was straight uphill. The huge front suspension and low seat make the bikes ill fit for any uphill, not to mention this huge grade. I made it up the hill in a low gear, my dad got off and walked most of the way. We bought all-day passes for the ski lifts around town, and waited for the next cabin to come. My dad went in first, and I took the next cabin. It was an impossibly hot ride up the mountain; one kilometer of vertical elevation.

We got to the top, got out, and spent some time up there. We had a perfect view of Mont Blanc, and of all the hang gliders soaring through the air. After asking for directions, we suited up, took a photo, and prepared for our descent.

I went first. Our ride was down a very steep, very loosely packed gravel road. Standing on the pedals, with my butt behind the seat, I began slowly to gain confidence, and soon figured out that speed was the key to an easy and fun ride. I eased myself off the breaks, though still too dependent, and rushed down, yelping, for about five minutes. There I stopped to wait for my dad and to get a photo of him coming down the mountain. I waited about seven minutes and began to worry. Just as I was about to speed down the mountain so I could come back up and find him (the hill was way too steep to consider going back up it) he came around the bend at a snail's pace. He had been at the top fussing with the gear, he had walked some, and the rest he had taken very slowly. After coaxing him to speed up, I continued down.

Five switchbacks later I stopped again to wait for him. I waited here for more than ten minutes. He finally came walking down the hill. He had fallen just after we met, and was all shook up. He told me it was too hard, and he was going to walk down, and he'd meet me after my second run. The next section was the steepest and loosest, and I went down the whole way loudly singing MFDS and Don't Stop Me Now. I only had a few awkward encounters with hikers annoyed with my obnoxiousness, I was luckily moving fast enough that I didn't have to interact at all.

After passing a pile of steel beams, the road smoothed out a bit, and I went really fast here, as there was less to fear. The last little bit got steep again, and then I was back at the lift. I took a little break, drank some water, and refilled my bottle, and then got back on the lift. I started back down the mountain, a little more confident, and much quieter. But, when I got back to the bottom, I hadn't passed my dad at all. So I figured he had taken a shortcut, because surely he'd wait at the lift for me if he got down before me. I waited for fifteen minutes, and then tried to call him, but I didn't have my cell with me. I asked around, got a lot of no's, and the phones I was allowed to use couldn't call his American cell phone. I went down the hill to the bike shop, but it was closed, like everything else in France from noon to two. I walked up the hill this time, deciding he was either fine and back at the hotel, or was somewhere on the mountain, and I had time for another run.

This was my fastest run of the day; one kilometer in less than fifteen minutes. I barely stopped, and knew all the routes I wanted to take. It was awesome. I went back to the hotel, grabbed my cell, and called my dad.
He had gotten down before I did, and went to the bike store, and then went to find my mom and sister. When I called, he headed back to the hotel apologetically, and we grabbed some lunch. After lunch, we went to bike shop to ask for a new route. He pointed us to a trail he thought was bikeable up the same lift. We went up, and found the trail. It was singletrack, and had very short runs before switchbacks, read: not suitable for us to bike it. So, we were going to do the same run again. I convinced my dad to try again. He went down the first little part, decided it wasn't for him, and headed back up to take the lift down. I went down, a bit slower this time. A helicopter deafened me, and I looked up to see a huge steel piece dangling from the helicopter right over my head, and I figured out that it was an old lift piece, being moved to the pile I had seen before. I kept biking, and just before I got to the pile, another helicopter came with a dangling piece. I stopped for the show, my back up against the mountain, scared of being taken out by the helicopter blades.

It came down to eye level with me, a guy unhooked the ski part, and the helicopter went back up the hill. After taking some pictures of the action, I got back on the bike and rode the rest of the way down. I gave back the stuff to the shop, and went to the hotel. My sister and I went swimming for a little in the hotel's small pool, and then relaxed in the room til dinner. We walked around town for a long time looking for a place to eat, guided by my mom's guidebook this time. The first place it lead us was too fancy, so we backtracked and ate at a good Italian restaurant, whetting my palate for the Italian experience I'm about to have.

After dinner, we played cards, packed up, and went to bed.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Day 22: Argentieres to Chamonix

Today's hike was spectacular. We ate a delicious breakfast with fresh croissants, packed up, and began our hike. Not surprisingly, it began with an ascent. It was fairly long, but not too steep. The forest then opened up into meadow, with amazing views of Mont Blanc. We reached a split in the trail, and after deliberation, decided to go the long and more interesting way.

Naomi and I ran up ahead. Along the way, we saw an Ibex. We got off the trail to get closer, and stopped when we were about five meters away. We watched them scratch themselves, sleep, and salute Mont Blanc. My parents passed us as we were watching the Ibex, and we followed soon after.

We ate lunch by the side of a small alpine lake, with the mountains reflected in the freezing cold water. Lunch was French bread, cheese, and saucisson. After lunch, my mom didn't want to do the last twenty minutes up to the bigger lake, Lac Blanc, so we split up. It was a bit of a scramble, with some snow, some rocks, and a ladder. Naomi and I bounded ahead while my dad stopped to talk to a family from Pennsylvania.

We met at the top. The lake had a sheet of ice covering almost the whole thing, with bits of deep blue water showing through. There are two lakes separated by a small land mass, and we walked over some snow to see the second, larger lake. There has been, on the surface of a lot of the snow here, a deep red pigment. I just read that it is caused by an algae called protococcus nivalis, one of the oldest life forms known. We had all kinds of conjectures, from blood to mineral residue to pollen.

After admiring the frozen lake with the mountains in the background, we began our descent to Chamonix. The rain clouds were darkening and collecting, so we went as quickly as we could. As we neared the ski lift we were to take down, we saw and heard huge construction machines. They are building an artificial pond to make snow with, and the construction disrupted our path. We had to hop across boulders to regain the path, and found my mom walking up the hill just ahead. We met her at the top, and sat in the shade, cooling down and relaxing our muscles. My dad got two beers, a really good light local beer, and a really strange local green beer.

As the clouds rolled in, we decided we should get down the mountain before the thunder shut down the lift. We got in the cabin that was to take us down, with about eight other people. It zoomed down the mountain, much too fast for my mom and sister's tastes, but it sure was efficient. When we were down we waited for the bus for a half hour, found a cab who said he would come back in ten, and eight minutes later, we caught the bus that finally came.

After showering, reading email, and unpacking a bit, we went downstairs for dinner. We sat down, saw the menu, and stood right back up, the prices and selections much to extreme for our tired tastes. I grabbed my 2004 France guide book, and we headed to its first suggestion. The sign outside the restaurant told us it was closed until July 2, so we turned around and headed to the next suggested restaurant. We found the family we met on the mountain, and invited them to dinner with us. They agreed, and we went to the little street where our restaurant was. It no longer existed, so we picked another, called Munchie. We had a lovely dinner; Nicole is twelve and Alex is nine, so Naomi had a friend and I had Alex, who helped to fill the Nature Camps void I'm feeling. It was the parent's anniversary, too. The restaurant had an interesting and exciting menu, a nice break from all the hams and cheese and bread we've been eating. To add to the excitement, Naomi got locked in the bathroom temporarily. Her face, however, was not as red as I was hoping when she finally got out; she kept her cool well.

After dinner we walked around town a little, and saw the most substantial dog I've ever seen. We got back to the hotel and fell asleep in the hot hotel room.