Archive for the ‘Slim to None’ Category

In Tribute to our Beloved Dog, Bridget

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015
Bridget as a bright-eyed pup

Bridget as a bright-eyed pup

photographer Jen Fariello captured Bridget beautifully here

photographer Jen Fariello captured Bridget beautifully here

It is with the heaviest of hearts that our family has had to bid farewell to our beloved dog Bridget, who was a part of our family for 15-1/2 years. Bridget passed in her sleep peacefully.

It was nothing short of a miracle that she lived that long, what with her propensity to follow her bliss and nearly daily for many, many years making a break for it through her electric fence (despite the beefed-up fortification in the collar), following her part-Australian heritage (cattle dog/Blue Heeler/dingo) to go on a walkabout. 

IMG_3846With regularity we made calls to neighbors, hoping someone had gotten a bead on Bridget’s location as she ran with abandon through streets, yards, ponds, woods and occasionally beloved mudpits that flank our neighborhood. Once she was found miles away across a busy highway that we still can’t figure out how she got to.

Bridget went by many names: Bridget, Lulu, Loochie, Smooch, Smoochie, Bear, Poochie and Poochalina, though our parrot Graycie knew her only as Bridget, which we know because she frequently yelled at Bridget (in my voice) to stop barking (and to not eat her). We called her the Pick-Up Truck Dog Living in the Mini-Van World, and while she no doubt would have loved to roam for her whole life on a wide swath of farmland, I think she was relatively happy we rescued her from an abandoned litter left to die on the side of a road. We’re only sorry we never had the time to get her involved in agility courses, because she was a clever, intelligent girl and would have loved that. Nevertheless, she was equally happy romping in the woods and coming up with a deer leg in her mouth, or with her snout buried to her eyeballs in a mud puddle by the creek.

IMG_4400We joked that Bridget shed her coat for all seasons, between the Australian bit of her and the Husky part, and that Husky blood  meant she loved nothing more than a good snow. Luckily she got to enjoy a few more this winter, burying her face in the snow and happily prancing down our steep hill out back, aging hips be damned. 

Even yesterday she was frolicking around like a pup, enjoying a beautiful, sunny, relatively warm afternoon, rolling around on the hill out back. When she came in covered in straw, I tried coaxing her back outside to brush the grasses off, and, in keeping with her lifelong distrust of anyone who wanted to catch her, she ever so reluctantly relented (after making me work for it), just barely allowing me to dust off the collected hay on her fur (and flinching first, natch). 

Last night the cat even let her give her a good sniff, so maybe Sushi knew it was Bridget’s time. Lulu got to lick the ice cream bowl at bedtime, and enjoyed a few doggy cookies just as she went to bed last night. All in all a good day for an old dog, who will be missed terribly by her human family. Today Sassy, our 12-1/2 year old labrador, is staying close by my side. I am sure she is sad to lose her ever-so-dominant sister.

Dear, sweet Bridget, we hope you are now able to roam the wilds of heaven with nary an electric fence or gun-wielding hunter or treacherous car or thoughtful neighbor to stop you. We love you, sweet Lulu. Rest in ever loving peace.

In Bridget’s honor I’m posting below a quintessential Bridget story that appeared in the humorous dog anthology I’M NOT THE BIGGEST BITCH IN THIS RELATIONSHIP (proceeds of which benefited the Humane Society, fitting, for our pound pooch).



When I think about it, it’s a wonder our rescue dog didn’t come into our lives wielding a leather whip, sporting black patent leather thigh-high boots and a spiked collar. While the accoutrements of her temperament did not accompany her, the dominatrix collar would come, eventually. Only to her chagrin, it would be at her expense.

Bridget—our dingo–mush dog mash-up—came to us ready-made with issues. So much so that early in our relationship, a friend gave us a book on how to live with a neurotic dog: Everyone in our circle of friends knew that Bridget required coping skills far beyond what’s required for your average mutt.

An impulse acquisition just a little too soon after the loss of our first dog, Bridget made up for in cute what she lacked in social acceptability. From a litter of abandoned five-week-old pups left on the side of the road to die, Bridget’s survival skills held her in good stead long enough to be rescued; her mesmerizing gemstone blue pie eyes gave her the edge in landing a group of suckers who didn’t quite need a high-maintenance dog, but would never dream of giving her up once in their care. That would be us: the Gardiners, who never met a pet they wouldn’t go to the ends of the earth for, against all logic.

Now some of you may know about my family because of my memoir about our demanding African gray parrot, Graycie, a surprise gift nearly twenty-five years ago (the gift that keeps on giving, we like to say). Between our three small children (a fourth, if you count Graycie, with the intelligence and manipulative skills of a clever toddler), a few doddering cats with failing kidneys, and a not-even-back-from-the-crematory dead dog, by the time Bridget came along, we were up to our eyeballs in creatures that needed our undivided attention.

Bridget, keeping silent vigil over her yard

Bridget, keeping silent vigil over her yard

Despite yearning for a break from dog maintenance, lingering in the back of my mind when confronted with the immediate prospect of taking home this adorable pooch was the mantra I’d heard so often in my life about how great adopted dogs are.

“Get a pound pup!” people would advise (unsolicited, mind you). “They make the best pets. They’re so grateful for your love, and much more well behaved.”

I’m fairly sure these are the same people who’d assured me that my oversized nine-plus-pound newborn would sleep through the night in a matter of days (versus the nine months it took). In any event, Bridget must not have gotten that memo.

Bridget is sharp, both in intellect and appearance. There are no soft, smooth, family-dog curves to her. She’s seemingly made up purely of geometric angles, from her long narrow snout and her pointy ears—prone to shift position like satellite antennae when discerning noises—to her angular haunches, which jut up like shark fins when she’s poised in permanent ready-to-pounce mode. The only curve to her is her bushy tail, which arches in a regal semicircle, the tip of which sometimes dusts the food on our dinner plates when she walks beneath the table at mealtime.

I’ve always thought Bridget had the intellect and guile to work in counterintelligence were she human; she’s savvy, intuitive, sometimes too smart for her own good. Even at the ripe age of eleven, our girl is perpetually at the ready, void of the capacity to rest at will. Too much to do, too much to be wary of. Rarely does she sleep lying on her side; relaxation does not come easily to her.

Bridget's favorite task was surveying her terrain; he she keeps guard over the back yard

Bridget’s favorite task was surveying her terrain; he she keeps guard over the back yard

Bridget came with three pronounced problems that needed correction: dominant aggression (who knew that snippy pups became bitey dogs? Labradors never do!); severe wanderlust (which meant containing a creature with the single-minded determination to escape theretofore only seen in Allied POWs); and incessant barking (the latter two no doubt being mere subsets of her dominatrix spirit).

The aggression surprised us—we’d brought home an extremely docile puppy. Hell, those first few days, we could’ve bitten her and she wouldn’t have complained, sleeping peacefully in our laps as she did. But once we de-wormed her and got rid of a bad case of temperament-suppressing parasites, Bridget morphed from mild-mannered to wild-mannered, so dominant she even lifted her leg to pee. So dingo-dominant we took to regularly saying with a pronounced put-another-shrimp-on-the-barbie accent, “Dingo ayte mah baybay” when in her presence. She’d put any male dog to bitter shame, hands down. Our first task was to dominate the hell out of the dog by poking, prodding, picking, pulling, and otherwise letting her know we were her bosses. This worked, to the surprise of the vet who’d warned us to give her away because her aggression could be dangerous. But we could never have cast aside a pup our family had fallen in love with, and so we worked within her constraints. Sure, maybe she transferred her dominance of people to dogs, but that we could live with.

By then the kids had taken to calling her Lulu, a highly extrapolated bastardization of some Portuguese term of endearment our Brazilian neighbor used with her daughters. It sounded something like pichulinha, which the kids changed to Poochaleenia, which then became Smoochie Pooch, which then became Looch, which then became Loochie, which then became Lulu. For good measure we threw in the middle name of Louise, so that when it came time to chastise her for bad behavior (a frequent happening), we had just the right cadence: a commanding “Bridget Louise Gardiner” in a stern voice that seemed to elicit far more respect than merely hollering “Lulu!”

notice the wolf-like shadow: even on a leash, she wanted to be a wild wolf

notice the wolf-like shadow: even on a leash, she wanted to be a wild wolf

With the dominance at least in check, we had to address her unrequited wanderlust, so that Bridget didn’t end up on the wrong end of a hunter’s rifle in the plentiful woods surrounding our home (even I have mistaken her tan, rust, and black camouflage coat for a fleeing deer amid the autumn woods), or meet a premature end courtesy of a passing car. Used to her freedom since infancy, being contained in an acre-sized yard was practically solitary confinement for Bridget, whom we’d learned was part Blue Heeler, an Australian dingo-canine marriage bred to nip at the heels of wayward cattle to keep them in line. Whenever we take Bridget hiking, she runs loops around us, as if to herd us along according to some mysterious genetic dogma. The irony did not escape us that a dog tasked with corralling other creatures defied corralling herself. She has the speed of a cheetah and can accelerate from zero to sixty faster than a Mustang convertible. So being limited to the confines of a quasi-rural suburbia wasn’t exactly to her liking.

looking bashful, but really a wolf in sheep's clothing ;-)

looking bashful, but really a wolf in sheep’s clothing ;-)

We took to calling Bridget the Pickup Truck Dog Living in the Minivan World. Poor thing was ill suited to a universe not completely of her own free will. When the standard electric fence failed to restrain her escapist tendencies (I swear she sat there smugly buffing her nails, puffing her breath to polish them up just as she steeled herself for the breakout each time), we knew we had to graduate up to the “stubborn dog collar.”

Powered by a nine-volt battery in a fist-sized pack, the collar issues a jolt to any border-crossing violator who dares compromise its perimeter. Finally we were able to somewhat confine Lulu to prevent her from being hit by a car (or terrifying elderly passersby and impressionable children with what ultimately became a rather menacing ice blue glare she’d mastered). We still recall the guilt-inducing moment at which Bridget first tried to breach her mother-of-all-dog-fences: She let out a yelp so long and loud that our parrot immediately picked it up and began repeating it, just to make us feel worse (even if it was for her own safety). This fence didn’t always keep Lulu in; rather, it gave her pause to consider long and hard whether it was worth the zap. So at least her meanderings dropped from daily to quarterly. Progress, in our estimation.

The barking, however, seemed to defy any and all of our attempts to subdue it. We’ve been told it’s the husky in her, but whatever it is, her barking is the hallmark and bane of our lives. Bridget barks to get in, she barks to go out, she barks to go up, she barks to come down. She barks to get fed, she barks because she doesn’t want food. She barks at houseguests, our neighbors’ houseguests, probably at houseguests in the neighborhood adjacent to ours. She barks at the mailman, the UPS man, the FedEx man. If we had a gardener, she’d bark at him (or her). She barks at people walking by, dogs walking by, cars driving by, birds flying by, bunnies hopping by, deer gamboling by, squirrels, mice, cats, tumbling leaves, mist, enveloping fog, fear-instilling thunder, jangling telephones, and our wing-flapping parrot. You name it, she barks at it.

bridget loved to catch wasps--waiting to pounce

bridget loved to catch wasps–waiting to pounce

Yes, attempts were made to curb the behavior. Clicker training—known to work even on feral cats!—meant to whip Bridget into obedience shape worked basically only when Bridget wanted it to. That would be when she was in the mood for the malodorous liver treats that worked best. Unfortunately, Bridget has always been an eat-to-live dog (unlike our live-to-eat Labrador, who would probably tap dance while whistling “Dixie” if it meant getting more food), and more often than not couldn’t care less about a freebie Scooby Snack. Fact is, the only thing we had that she really wanted was her freedom.

And so one night when my husband was away and I was hosting a large gathering of women from the neighborhood for a ladies night out party, Bridget’s barking became too much. Despite the deafening din of the chatter of nearly a hundred women, Bridget’s shrill, ear-piercing bark each time the doorbell rang was threatening to ruin the party. Now, I know that everyone “in the know” in the dog world sees nothing wrong with crating a dog. Sure, crating has its purposes. But crating Bridget in particular always gave me pause, because despite her love of a good cave to protect her from an abiding fear of impending storms (trust me, she’s crashed her way out of all containment vessels, scratched her way out of drywall and even wall-to-wall carpeting when the crack of thunder or fireworks is upon us), she loathed being stuffed in a dog crate. But I knew it might be my only chance at silencing the thing. I tried to placate her with a large beef bone. Bridget had what’s called a hard mouth and could chew her way through stainless steel if given enough time, so we’d abandoned cute little puppy toys—which ended in shreds and shards—in favor of the more durable beef shank bones, which I’d boil and stuff with cheese or peanut butter. I’m fairly certain hundreds of years hence, archeologists will encounter countless cow femurs buried in the myriad holes that Bridget has dug in our once pristine yard and will wonder what kind of legs-only creature once must have roamed this land.



Sure enough, for the duration of the party, Bridget remained quiet in her spacious cage in the darkened mudroom. Somewhere in that reptilian area of my brain that senses impending disaster, I knew that she was stewing. Stewing and scheming. I just felt it in my bones. But a few glasses of wine later, I was sufficiently lubricated into a false level of trust in our little beastie girl.

A few weeks earlier I’d overheard a neighbor at a Christmas party lamenting, “And she just barks and barks and barks.”

Still fairly new to our town, I was especially sensitive to our dog’s intrusive ways.

always on the alert

always on the alert

“I hope you’re not talking about Bridget,” I said with more than a bit of trepidation.

“As a matter of fact, I am,” she replied, minus any warm smile that would have assured me it was fine.

So when another invited neighbor couldn’t attend my party because she had to awaken at four in the morning to catch a flight, I knew I didn’t want Bridget to pull her usual shenanigans post-party and sneak out to bark at the moon and various nocturnal creatures when I wasn’t looking.

Bridget dominating poor Sassy even in the car. She loved going for rides in the car...

Bridget dominating poor Sassy even in the car. She loved going for rides in the car…

Nearing midnight, as I focused my attention on hauling several leaking and bottle-laden garbage bags out the back door, that opportunistic canine, obscured from my view by the bags, thrust her way past my legs and took off into the night.

Dismayed, I at first stood on our back deck and naively tried kindness to coax Bridget into coming back into the house. Bridget, by then at the bottom of a steep seventy-degree hill that leads to our soccer-field-length backyard, was well beyond reach, and barking nonstop. Chasing the thing through landmines of dog poop and dug holes (her specialty) was not going to yield my prize. So I spoke with the mellifluous voice of a parent to a newborn, hoping cooler heads would prevail.

“Come on, sweetie,” I cajoled.


“I’ll give you a tre-at!” I promised, extending the word into two syllables.

If Bridget could have stuck up one paw and extended that middle digit my way, she would have. Instead she resumed her bark-a-thon.

After a good half hour of failed kindness, I tried wile. Maybe not SPCA-endorsed wile, but wile nonetheless. I went inside and picked up our aging, user-friendly calico cat, Hobbes, till then soundly sleeping on the sofa, and carried her out to the deck.

And then I did something I’m particularly not proud of: I held Hobbes aloft in a precursor to Michael Jackson on the balcony in Germany with his baby boy Blanket before his throng of adoring fans, and suspended the cat to tempt Bridget to come in. Okay, so I was tired. And I figured Bridget always loved a good cat bark session, so surely she’d fall for the old kitty-dangling maneuver, right?

no she is not imprisioned!

no she is not imprisioned!

But matching my exhausted-mom-of-three-and-four-glasses-of-wine-induced stupor to her perpetually alert wits was useless. Again came the one-finger salute. Figuratively, of course.

I then took to stewing in my own juices. By then a good hour had passed. It was after one in the morning; I was exhausted. My bark-averse neighbor was no doubt dialing the police to lodge a complaint. The other one was going to start her vacation exhausted and pissed at me. Since Bridget was nearly as fast as a gazelle, a chase would never land in the win column for me. What I needed, I knew, was a lasso. But I didn’t have anything resembling that (nor the skills to use it).

Now understand, my brain was fogged. Logic was not at the forefront. But I remembered from obedience classes that a spray bottle of vinegar water works to stop bad behavior in dogs. Only she was far out of reach of my little spray bottle. But I remembered using a can of wasp spray one time and damn, that stuff shot far. I picked up the phone, dialing the emergency vet.

“Hi,” I said, warming up for the stupid question. “I was wondering, if I sprayed wasp spray at a dog just to temporarily disable her, would that endanger her?”

“Um, can I please have your name and address?” the vet tech asked.

Bridget loved to bark dogs along her walk (seen here with neighbor dog Sprocket)

Bridget loved to bark dogs along her walk (seen here with neighbor dog Sprocket)

Realizing that animal services would soon be two steps behind the police who were no doubt heading my way, I hung up. Okay, clearly wasp spray was toxic and a bad idea. But what? What could lure an intractable and deliberately defiant canine at what was then two in the morning? And then it came to me. In the dead of winter, on a frigid January night, while Bridget continued to bark undeterred, I fired up the gas grill and went inside to unearth a package of desiccated hot dogs buried in the bowels of my freezer. With a sharp knife and mallet, I hammered at the slab of rock-hard meat until two hot dogs gave way. And then I slapped those puppies on the grill.

I wondered if any neighbors noticed in their sleep the acute aroma of roasting hot dogs floating across the cold night air (and wonder who the insane person was barbecuing at that hour). But I had my plan. And when the smell seemed to overtake even the hint of skunk that often lingers late at night, I knew it was time. I grabbed my frankfurters and proceeded down the steep hill to the flat yard.

“Hey, Bridge,” I cooed.

“Look what I’ve got for yo-u!” I singsonged, knowing she was bullshit-proof but feeling desperate enough to give it a go anyway.

First she stopped barking for a minute. Then she brazenly made eye contact with me. I tried the “I’m the boss” stare, fixing my gaze upon hers with riveting intensity. Ever so slowly I inched forward, like a cop trying to persuade the bad guy to drop the gun. And I dangled those weenies, closer and closer. Promise, I’ll get the judge to reduce your sentence if you just come willingly.

And finally, whomp! Straight out of the fairy tale in which the fox chomps down on the Gingerbread Man, Bridget made her move, snatching at one of the hot dogs in a front-back pivot attempt to grab and go. But I was pissed, and a defiant dog is no match for an angry, exhausted me in the middle of the night. I reached down, grabbed her collar, and marched her up the hill without benefit of a hot dog reward, which I flung in the woods for some other wild creature to enjoy, while strains from the ebullient victory march in Peter and the Wolf played in my mind.

Over the years, Bridget has mellowed. And despite the frustrations with her defiance, we love our girl and appreciate that much of her dominance, at least in her mind, is for our own good: She’s got our backs, even if it means she’s not exactly in close proximity while she has them.

I’ve always felt bad that we didn’t have the time to channel Bridget’s energies by training her with canine agility classes, or even dog Frisbee. She was ready-made for such fun. But the other side of that is she’s had a long, happy, and somewhat independent life with us. Had we not rescued her, or had she been adopted by someone who then listened to the advice and got rid of her, Bridget would never have lived to see a decade of life, because she would have been put down.

Bridget in her weaker moments--afraid of a thunderstorm (wearing her Thundershirt)

Bridget in her weaker moments–afraid of a thunderstorm (wearing her Thundershirt)

As she climbs into her twilight years, she can’t always run like she used to. Two torn ACLs keep her down occasionally, rendering her a bit like a thoroughbred left to pasture. But sometimes she’ll muster up the same eff-you attitude she used to use with the stubborn dog fence and will spring into action to chase some deer or a rabbit. Her hard mouth has become softer; bad dental genes have left her in a tooth deficit. And the older she gets, the more she is hamstrung by impending storms (some internal barometer of hers has always warned her hours beforehand). But Bridget has remained loyal and loving and every day we are so grateful we didn’t listen to that well-intended advice to get rid of our adorable little pooch. She’s enriched our lives probably more than we hers, and even when she is gone she will be immortalized for the rest of Graycie’s life each time the parrot warns our Smoochie girl not to eat her by saying, “Bridget, no! You’re a bad, bad girl!”


Rejection or High Praise? You Decide…

Thursday, February 19th, 2015

Rejection? In the publishing world? Ha! That is downright inconceivable! I mean, isn’t writing all about pouring your heart out into the novel of your dreams and then everyone loves it and you sell it for a fortune and land huge film deals and you earn enough money to quit your day job and take some fun trips and maybe pay off some loans and you all live happily ever after as you write subsequent bestsellers in your lovely Parisian artist’s garret????

Welllllllll….Gather ’round, kiddies, and let me dopeslap enlighten you!

Not to complain, but just to burst your bubble open you to the potential soul-sucking vagaries realities of the publishing business…

Rejection isn’t simply the rejection of your words by agents and editors and reviewers. It’s really more like the endless obstacles that threaten the potential success of your writing career/marathon.

A sample of such things that you might well encounter along the way:

  • A director of sales at a publishing house who doesn’t like your book and therefore won’t do much to try to sell it (which means forget it, your book is doomed).
  • A publishing house that goes belly-up and you never see payment owed you (don’t quit your day job!).
  • Editors who are Goldilocksian in their rejection of your masterpiece (Too long! Too short! Not happy enough! Not sad enough! Lacking character development! Too much character development! Plodding! Too fast paced!). I think if the future of the human race relied upon editors loving someone’s work, the species would be long gone by now.
  • An agent who disappears off the planet after you sign with said agent, who then simply never does even the basics of what needs to be done to pitch your book, leaving you flapping in the wind and your career on default life support.
  • An editor who leaves the business halfway into the editorial process, leaving your book with no advocate (also known as Dead in the Water; see doomed book, above).
  • An editor who loves your voice and loves your book and really wants to publish it, but one editor on editorial board kiboshes it, so it’s not going to be acquired (Dead in the Water, natch).
  • A big name author who bails at the last minute with the cover blurb promised you for months.
  • You get so bogged down with marketing and publicity that you never write another book.
  • An industry that changes like the shoreline, leaving you feeling as if you are trying to capture elusive air between your fingers.
  • Life crap that decides to interrupt your creativity so that you fall off the planet and miss the myriad changes that have befallen the industry and, as an added wallop, lose your readers, while you were in a life-induced writing coma.

A career as an author is not for the faint of heart. It is for someone who has deep conviction in their product and one who is determined and hearty and perhaps a little foolish and—despite deeply-entrenched, occasionally self-sabotaging cynicism—holds out a bizarre scintilla of optimism in the face of overwhelmingly grim odds (this could simply be human survival skills at work).

So my advice is this: ignore everything. Ignore it all. Because you can’t control one damned bit of it. Instead, just write. Get back to the basics: read and write and write and read and refine your craft as you so do, and to hell with the rest of it.

In the early days of my career, writer friends and I repeated to one another this mantra: TPT—Talent. Persistence. Timing. Honestly, I can tell you from some books I’ve read that talent is actually optional (though desirable)—plenty of crap books get published, which still mystifies me. Persistence, however, is essential. And timing? Well, that’s the ingredient over which we have little power. If you’re lucky enough to have the fairy dust sprinkled over you and you write a book that becomes a blockbuster and you are the darling of the publishing world, well, hey, good on ya’. But if you don’t, it’s vital that you are able to maintain that very core of what started you on the process to begin with: you love words, you love stories, and you know you have an ability to combine them in a way that works.

And sometimes, that’s all you can hang your hat on.

I was quite frustrated recently, feeling as if launching a book nowadays is sort of like felling a tree in a remote forest—does anyone hear a thing? —wondering how anyone can hear about your book if no one is listening.

And then, voila, I got a lovely review from a book reviewer, which helped me to remember what it’s all about: writing something that will touch others.

Now go. Write. And to hell with all the rest of it.

The first of my IT’S REIGNING MEN series was just released: SOMETHING IN THE HEIR. Here’s the cover (alongside the covers for books two and three in the series–more to come!)

JennyGardiner_SomethingintheHeir200 JennyGardiner_HeirTodayGoneTommorrow200JennyGardiner_BadtotheThrone200



and some time soon I’m going to reissue Anywhere but Here—I’ll keep you posted.

Sleeping with Ward Cleaver

Slim to None

Anywhere But Here

Winging It: A Memoir of Caring for a Vengeful Parrot Who’s Determined to Kill Me

Accidentally on Purpose (written as Erin Delany)

Compromising Positions (written as Erin Delany)

I’m Not the Biggest Bitch in this Relationship (I’m a contributor)

And these shorts:
Idol Worship: A Lost Week with the Weirdos and Wannabes at American Idol Auditions

The Gall of It All: And None of the Three F’s Rhymes with Duck

Naked Man On Main Street

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find me on my website

The Trials and Tribulations of Losing Your Fat Clothes…

Sunday, February 15th, 2015

First and foremost, let me say this: never, ever, ever give away your fat clothes. I say this while sporting my current uniform: a grungy 20-year old Penn State sweatshirt and once generously stretchy yet now extremely stingy yoga pants that haven’t, alas, been donned for their true purpose in ages.
My other uniform consists of a black shirt and jeans. Black because it’s slimming. Ish. And stretchy jeggings, to be exact. Thank the lord for tender mercies, i.e. stretchable cotton. Though I was probably better off in the more punitive Levi’s of yore, which kept me honest, size-wise (that is until I could no longer wedge myself into them, and then so much for that honesty, eh?).

trying to avoid this

trying to avoid this

A couple of years ago I got, well, not skinny, but more mainstream, size-wise. Skinny hasn’t happened since the Reagan administration (when I had a youthful metabolism, not that of a tree sloth). After slimming down, I waited over a year before donating my voluminous stockpile of fatwear. They were beautiful clothes, too, all styles that helped mask the added weight I was lugging around, sadly. In giving them away, I figured it would be nice if someone in need of them happily found their way into my, um, largesse.
I think the very day I dropped them at Goodwill I gained four pounds. Which brings me to another pointer for this New Year’s resolution-minded message: never, ever, ever, ever stop getting on that damned scale.
Years ago, I’m pretty sure it was during the holidays, when food and wine seem to just jump into my mouth when I’m not looking, a wise, thin friend urged me not to get on the scale every day. “Oh, your weight can fluctuate by several pounds daily!” she assured me. “Just get on once a week.”

Evil Scale
So I took this advice to heart. After all, it was from a skinny person. They must know, right? But if you get on the scale one day and weigh two more pounds, well, news flash: wait seven more days and nothing good comes of it. Trust me on this.
My weight has fluctuated so much I should’ve been called Yo-Yo. And not the person who’s great with a violin. The person who can’t seem to stick in a healthy pants size to save her soul, that’s me. This time around it was a tumultuous series of life events that kneecapped me. Not that that’s any excuse, mind you, but hey, I am the first to tell you it is really quite easy to stuff your emotions with food; I’m a pro at it. In fact if there were an advanced degree in it, I’d surely have earned one.
This time around I stupidly doubled down while outgrowing my wardrobe: I bailed on the gym. For pretty much my entire life, no matter how plump I was, I always, always, always worked out. Whether it was with the Jane Fonda record (yes, I’m dating myself with that reference), Tai Bo, P90X, lap-swimming, obsessive amounts of tennis, hiking, spinning. walking, or anything, I always made time for some form of daily exercise.

Feel the Burn...
But then I wasn’t being productive, professionally, failing to get in the writing hours I needed. I was dropping the ball, big time. So I couldn’t justify spending time at the gym. My girlfriend and I were just discussing this gym/work dilemma. Because I get my best work done in the morning. But I also get my best workout done in the morning. That inherent conflict means choosing one over the other (I know, I could technically force myself like the grown-up that I am to do one at an inopportune time of the day, but I haven’t, okay?).
And so I made the grave mistake of bailing on exercise because I should be writing prolific amounts. But instead I spent a lot of time wrestling with all those stuffed emotions and not doing diddly squat (make that any squats). Occasionally I resumed working out, though didn’t dare show up at the gym because everyone knows you don’t want to be seen at the gym while fat.
I got back on my spinning bike at home, until I had a rather weird spinning accident, requiring 16 stitches on my shin. That was enough to kibosh my biking career for a while. I got back into it later in the summer, even biking one day for about 36 miles, which was really fun since we didn’t get hit by any cars, but still, I was feeling guilty for not getting work done. So I have holed up for the past few months writing. The good news: I’ve got my writing mojo back. The bad news: I shudder to witness my reflection in a plate glass window and cringe to see pictures of myself. For sure ain’t no selfie-taking going on for me (while dressed in slimming black).
I imagined my zaftig brethren this holiday season wearing my really pretty hot pink raw silk jacket, or that sparkly sequin top, and all those many outfits I gave away, while instead I jammed myself sausage-like into a stretch black velvet pantsuit that somehow escaped my closet purge. I refuse to buy more fat clothes, as it feels like I’m abandoning ship, figuring thin me is a thing of the past. But with my oversized clothes shrinking (they are just shrinking, right?), where to next? I don’t want to be Admiral Perry navigating the unchartered territory of what to do once the fat clothes don’t fit.
But new beginnings can start at any time. Sure it feels cliché for that to be with the new year. But now’s as good a time as any, so here’s hoping I’ll eventually be able to give away my latest wardrobe, even though they’re not even cute, just functional. Wish me luck.
If not at, let’s hope Jenny Gardiner is at the gym, rectifying her mistakes


The first of my IT’S REIGNING MEN series was just released: SOMETHING IN THE HEIR. Here’s the cover (alongside the covers for books two and three in the series–more to come!)

JennyGardiner_SomethingintheHeir200 JennyGardiner_HeirTodayGoneTommorrow200JennyGardiner_BadtotheThrone200

and some time soon I’m going to reissue Anywhere but Here—I’ll keep you posted.

Sleeping with Ward Cleaver

Slim to None

Anywhere But Here

Winging It: A Memoir of Caring for a Vengeful Parrot Who’s Determined to Kill Me

Accidentally on Purpose (written as Erin Delany)

Compromising Positions (written as Erin Delany)

I’m Not the Biggest Bitch in this Relationship (I’m a contributor)

And these shorts:
Idol Worship: A Lost Week with the Weirdos and Wannabes at American Idol Auditions

The Gall of It All: And None of the Three F’s Rhymes with Duck

Naked Man On Main Street

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find me on twitter here
find me on my website

Catching Up!

Sunday, September 15th, 2013

We’ll start first with a quiz. Anyone who can define from your memory the follow terms gets an A:

Archimedean screw
Large armed lodestone
Condensation hygrometer

Yep, if you’re like me, you haven’t a clue. And still don’t. But that’s okay; I had fun trying to figure it out nevertheless.

Last week I decided for my first museum in Florence I’d go somewhere a little more off-the-beaten-path: I decided to get my science on (yes! those who know me will think I’ve lost my marbles!) and visit Il Museo Galileo, which was a most fascinating little museum that very few people go to. But for, uh, engineering types, I gathered. Because besides me the place had mostly engineering-type looking middle-aged guys there, most of them shaking their heads in marvel at the genius behind so much Renaissance science.

It is the largest collection of all things scientific in Italy, thanks to I think Lorenzo the Magnificent (or was it his son?) — one of those Medicis who wanted to preserve and consolidate scientific discoveries in one place.

I found the artistry of many of the designs to be the most interesting (maybe because I hadn’t a clue what the hell the things did!) and I loved the ancient globes and maps, of which there were a few. My morbid curiosity piqued, though, with the preserved remains of Galileo’s finger and tooth (of course I took a picture). And I was most amused as I go around with a pedometer attached that my friend Birgit gave me, and they had a very old-timey pedometer that was about the size of a bicycle — not very practical for every day useage.

I’ve lost track of my days but I think that was last Sunday. That evening I went to a restaurant in Piazza San Spirito which is a sort of funky area across the Arno (in the Oltrarno). We’d been there last year, I knew to order the half portions because their servings are so immense. So I ordered a half portion of homemade gnocchi in tomato sauce and as I awaited its arrival I was amused by a nearby accordian player who chose to play Hava Nagila, not exactly the most Italian of songs. Must be hired for a lot of Jewish weddings in town.

When my gnocchi arrived, I was surprised to see this scalding bubbling vat of gnocchi drenched in some horrid truffle cheese sauce which smelled so vile it churned my stomach. When I finally got the waitress’ attention, I asked her where my order was, reminded her this was not what I had asked for. She told me the gnocchi with tomato sauce wasn’t available in a half order so I got this instead. Uh, right. We call that the African “yes”, as when we traveled in Africa this often happened. Odd, though, in the heart of Florence. I think I could safely presume that my subsequent plate of spaghetti al pomodoro probably had some spit in it from the waitress’ ire…

I finally got to enjoy using a real live washer and dryer at the hostel. Was overpriced and exceedingly long: an hour for the washer, which I’d put in cold so as to not have all colors bleed together (they did anyhow), and the dryer TWO HOURS even though the temperature, I am convinced, was set to Scalding Pot of Boiling Oil setting. Even after two hours, my meager 8 things in the washer still hadn’t dried. Very strange. Makes me appreciate my aged 15-year old washer and dryer that make a lot of noise but get the job done (knock wood). But it was interesting that the washing machine automatically put soap in. Handy.

I’ve noticed a lot of people out there in the world are void of spatial awareness. Either that or they don’t give a care that you are walking right where they’ve decided they want to go. Which means you have two choices: divert on your path, or crash into them. Well, I’ve chosen choice three: I stand my ground and let them get out of the way. This is especially necessary when carrying a large backpack on your back, but I’ve taken to doing it on principal. I guess it is a pedestrian survival of the fittest thing. But it works: it doesn’t annoy anyone, but it keeps me from having to zig and zag all over the place while getting from one place to another.

On Monday since many things in Florence are closed, I took a bus up to Fiesole, a lovely hillside village overlooking Florence. I wandered around, climbed to the scenic top and wandered around a lovely monastery (it was St. Bernard’s, yet again he shows up on my trip — I’ve found so many times, in Siena, in Switzerland of course, St. Bernard had gotten around. This monastery had the cell in which he resided (creature comforts were definitely not his gig). I then sat in on I forget what it was called, not vespers, but it was noontime and five monks were in the small church chanting prayers. It was a little DaVinci Code-esque, these guys cloaked in brown robes, ropes knotted around their waists, hoods draping over their heads. Also a bit mesmerizing to listen to.

After that I got back down to Florence, tried Gelateria Caroze, supposedly the best in Firenze but didn’t hold a candle to my favorite one (my gelato tasted like cilantro, a deal-breaker for me), and decided to invest in a Firenze Card (all-you-can-tour pass, kind of like at Disney, and gets you to the front of the line everywhere) and started out at Palazzo Medici, a palace where the Medicis lived when they weren’t at one of their other palaces all over the place.

I spent the afternoon at the Palazzo Vecchio, yet another Medici art-fest. I climbed the campanile (the bell tower) for sunset and it was a spectacular one, with tufts of melon-colored clouds painting the landscape. I love that in Florence many people have terra cotta-colored satellite dishes, so that they blend in with the terrain and aren’t so obstrusive when people are looking down on the city. And I had divine tortelli rossa at Vini et Vecchi Sapori again. Yummm…

Tuesday I spent the morning with David at the Academia. It is really such a beautiful work to behold. I enjoyed just sitting with it for a while, and eavesdropping on tour guides. I was interested to hear one, who was an art history teacher with students, pointing out that David isn’t circumcized, even though he should have been — he said this was one of many subversive designs Michaelangelo included to stick it to the man (artists I guess have done that throughout history). He also mentioned that back in the day most statues were lacking that piece of male anatomy, as people stole them all the time. So dismembered statues were the norm. Go figure — people had a sense of humor back then even. I can see putting THAT on my mantle back home…

Another conversation I overheard at the Academia between to very expensively-dressed American women, one of who lamented that after all of her travels, she’s seen more artwork than she can care to mention. Her friend then said to her with a straight face, “So, are these the kinds Of things you put in your house now?” And I wanted to ask her, “You mean statues by Michelangelo?” Weird…

After David I checked out the Cappelle Medicee, I surmise several of the Medicis were entombed there but regardless upon their deaths they were enshrined there. It’s a humble little shack. I was amazed at the amount of reliquaries housed there (and elsewhere) — all sorts of gewgaws from saints throughout the ages, whether it was a body part (there was some martyr’s head at the Duomo museum in Siena, the whole gorgeous skull in a beautifully ornate silver box) to fingers to teeth to just things I guess they owned. I suppose the modern day version of this is having an autograph from Michael Jackson that you’d frame, now that he’s dead?!

I then wandered the San Lorenzo market, feeling not a need to buy a thing (and noticing the prices for similar things I’d seen in San Gimignano totally jacked up here), and inside at the large indoor food market. It would have been nice to buy things to cook but wow! I haven’t cooked in weeks! Not exactly the kitchen in which to prepare anything but ramen noodles at the hostel…

I saw a dog that was the spitting image of our dog Bridget, snapping away at a fly. I swear it must be in their DNA, those dingos…

I spent the afternoon at the Palazzo Pitti, which is an exhausting tour. Just gobs and gobs of priceless artwork, room after room of splendor and wretched excess, just fascinating to see and sort of sad you ultimately say “Meh, another fourteenth century masterpiece. Whatev!” I’m convinced that were the Medicis alive now, they’d star in their own Hoarders type reality show. Or have a documentary made about their greed and gluttony and desire to Have It All, Dammit. After a while I was just wondering when the palace would run out of rooms so I could go pass out from sheer exhaustion. Tuesday I ate at Trattoria (or Osteria?) Casalingha in the Oltrarno — was good food, mostly locals, which is always a good sign. But it poured rained starting around sunset Tuesday. I went out with a rain jacket in my backpack but should’ve packed an Arc. I’m lucky though as it’s mostly been the only rain I’ve had to contend with but for Switzerland on that first day.

Wednesday I toured the Museo dell’Opera dell Duomo (the museum in which the statues, famed doors of the Baptistery, etc are held in safekeeping and restored). Unfortunately much of it was closed off due to rennovations, but I’d seen some of the most famous statues last year when we went with Kendall’s art history class, so it was okay. I also toured the Baptistery and climbed the campanile and read a book at the top, waiting until the bell tolled (it wasn’t as loud as I’d expected).
I then returned to the Galleria Uffizi, again, lots of beautiful artwork. By then I was beat and hung out at the Piazza della Signoria and ran into a nice Aussie guy I’d slept with (haha! gotcha!) in one of my many hostel rooms (I had to change rooms almost every night because of the last-minute nature of my booking; I was lucky to get any room at all, and I am most grateful for Dennis, one of the managers, who took good care of me). I was in a 6-bed room with one bathroom in the hall, then a four bed room with one bathroom, then a deluxe four bed room in a more separate and private area (with a nice young couple from the UK) and private bathroom. The hallways here were weird as they had this eerie light that vibed from purple to pink to green all night long. And the passkey was magnetic, which was kinda cool. I then got bumped to a six-bed room for three nights with a two bathrooms shared by I’m pretty sure half of Florence. THAT was less than perfect, especially as invariably someone had an alarm (the classic iPhone ring) blaring at 5:15 a.m. so they could catch their train or flight. That got old fast.

Very young Wednesday night I ate at Trattoria Nella again, then wandered the streets. Saw a bride in a very frou-frou meringue dress greedily licking a cone of gelato as she promenaded by — she looked like a girl playing dress-up. When the sun goes down in Florence, the African immigrants show up with knock off purses galore, spreading sheets out on the Via dei Calzaiuoli. Funny, this whole subculture of immigrants selling schlock in Italy — lots of southeast asians selling little wooden linkable trains to spell children’s names, or gooey ooze that they’d continually slam against a wooden block on the ground, all day long, tempting someone to purchase it. And faux paintings of all sorts of scenes. It’s a gauntly of “non, grazie” to every vendor wherever you walk.

I then happened upon that Charlie Chaplin-esque street performer again — the one who drew the huge crowd. I was able to finagle my way in when people thought he was done and was passing a hat but then he chastised people for walking on his stage (!!! it’s the street!!) when he wasn’t done with his performance. While he passed the hat he’d kept his three “victims” (three people he pulled from the audience, one a now-shirtless Asian man with a beer gut who had had doing all sorts of embarrassing things). One was a little boy of about six, with that sweet as can be face that little boys have that just tug away at your heartstrings. Well, this performer sort of had the boy park it for a while while he brought others from the audience in, did a few kind of raunchy skits, and he’d put the music on and off occasionally, and the music was a bit sad sounding. I don’t know what prompted it but I looked over to the little boy and could see he was figting back tears, yet no one did anything about it. I assumed his family was nearby, but nothing, Finally the guy came back and sat next to him and that poor little boy couldn’t fight his tears anymore and just started crying, it was so heartbreaking. Meanwhile the performer ignored him! And FINALLY the kids parents came over and he ran off, so ashamed. But people rushed him, snapping away as he sobbed outright — it was so weird. Poor little thing. I’d regretted giving the guy any more for his performance after that. He was kind of aggressive and had an attitude (and said he’d been doing it for 27 years — maybe time to retire?!).

In florence I’ve had to constantly dodge people’s pictures, which can be futile as everywhere you turn someone is being photographed. I’ve also taken so many pictures of couples, families, you name it, together, I should hang up my shingle. I also turned into a total gelato snob and won’t eat it unless it’s amazing artisanal gelato. Probably not such a bad thing to cut back on…

A few references in various pieces of art I noticed, that made me laugh. In a famous Statue of Apollo somewhere, it referred to the “ecstatic look in his eyes”, which reinforced what an art oaf I am, because all I saw was a cold marble stare! (though in my defense I think the look in David’s eyes is so compelling: it’s sort of like “Yeah, okay, took care of that. Come on world, give it to me!”)

Another one said the artist Ghirlandaio was “in the grip of restless spirituality.” I’m picturing the guy speaking in tongues, taunting snakes at a backwoods revival meeting in Appalachia…

At the Uffizi & Palazzo Pitti — every surface, every nook & cranny is greedy for your undivided attention — I would forget to gaze up, where you’d be treated to even more extraordinary artwork. And every piece of art has so much going on in it, it’s impossible to give each piece the attention it deserves. The Italians are fortunate to have such an embarrassment of riches at their fingertips.

It made me think about the sort of legacy that will be left behind from our generation and it will likely be nothing more compelling than cat videos that we will bequeath to future generations of humanity. Only they won’t be able to play it because there will be some newer technology that took the place of whatever one we are using now…Ahhh…our lasting heritage…

I tried to find the original Dwarf Morgante statue (he’s the Bacchus-like figure astride a tortoise) but couldn’t figure out where it was. I think it was at the Museo de Bargello but never made it there. Oh well, I saw the fake one…

Oh, in restaurants one thing that sort of bugs me is they never come give you the bill, and it’s impossible to get anyone’s attention to ask for it. Especially when alone, after a while you just want to get going, but you wait and you wait and you try hard to catch someone’s eye…Meals go on for HOURS simply because the check hasn’t been delivered. At least my Italian has improved somewhat. Though I am lazy if someone speaks English, I defer to it for ease. I do get a little charge when I execute an Italian phrase properly (or at least without failing miserably). And I understand much more of it (and know if someone is saying something they don’t realize I can understand!).

Thursday I left Firenze, boo hoo. It was time to move on. On the way out I stopped at this fabulous sandwich shop, a little carryout called i Frattelini — the BEST sandwiches in town. I was catching a bus to the airport where I was renting a Radio Flyer with an engine (a Panda Smart Car).

Getting out of town was interesting. First off I had NO idea how to drive this car. It’s sort of a training bra for driving a stick shift — who knew? So it expected me to change gears and I was like, damn, this little thing sure does lack pick-up. I was like the Little Engine That Could just trying to get out of the parking lot. I finally figured out that, which helped. And finally figured out how to get onto the A1, which was interesting and only a few flubs to do that. Once on there I was fine, and found my way relatively easily to Poggio Istiano, a lovely farmhouse in Florence we’d stayed at before. On the road before arriving here, I happened upon two pilgrims who’d been walking the Via Francigena since leaving their home in France 2-1/2 months ago (!). A husband and wife. I gave them my power bars. It had been raining on them, and yes, they were slogging along the very busy Cassia (SS2), a two-lane road that is the road to Rome from here, the cars drive very fast and there is no allowance for errors. Absolutely no shoulders on the road, either. While some of the Via Francigena is off-road here. I’d say 50% of it is on the roads, which made me glad I’d abandoned my walk. I just wasn’t comfortable walking on roads like that all the time. It was funny that the VF quite literally goes through the farmland here where I’m staying, I think on the far side of their property line.

The farmhouse is gorgeous, the property spectacular, the views, amazing. The color of light here is so beautiful. There is only another couple staying here and they speak no English, so it’s a little quiet to be here alone. I laugh because the woman goes around tending to the flowers — dead-heading geraniums, pulling weeds. Such a paying guest!

Thursday night I went to “grab” a quick bite. I was told of a “nearby” restaurant, which turned out to be like 30 minutes away, me in the mini-mobile on very dark roads, no lights, windy hairpin turns up mountains and down. Needless to say I was mildly stressed. I kept going back and forth, certain I’d missed the place I was told to go to, as she’d said it was nearby! But I finally found a human being in a town and asked directions and it turns out had I gone 1 KM more than I had after having turned around, I’d have found it…Oh well. Was a tiny Osteria, all locals. The guy kept insisting I order more than the pasta I’d ordered (which they were out of, so I ordered another one, which they were out of, so I ordered yet another one). It was good but I was so beat by then, I would’ve been happy with cheese and crackers.

I spent a delightful day Friday in Montepulciano, such a lovely Tuscan hilltown. I followed Rick Steves’ directions and went to a Cantine (they have the cellars in the basement of the palazzo) at the top of the hill, owned by the same family for 1000 years (!) and this older gentleman named Adamo took a hankering to me (I think it’s the hair color) so I got preferential treatment over all the others who were touring. This guy was a hoot — a total schmoozer, and his daughter (I think she was his daughter) Antonietta, was delightful. I tried to find a vineyard (cantina) as I left town. Some Americans from California, for whom I took a picture (!) said they knew wine and it was the best around. They showed me from afar where it was, said you just go down this road and go left. Oy! Turns out the vineyard shares a name with a town, and when I failed to find the vineyard and asked directions, I got sent by THREE people to a town 30 minutes away. I was so damned determined to find it. So I googled mapped it that night and yesterday set out to find it. Stopped in Monticchiello (like home!) for lunch, then headed there, though directions from Google had me going on a “white road”, which is basically a non-road, from gravel to good-luck-hope-you-can-make-it. Google said it was for about 250 meters. It went on for 10 KM. I was four-wheeling in this damned Smart car, but by then I’d been lost enough I realized that eventually in Tuscany you end up at a crossroads and there just aren’t that many roads around, so you can’t get *too* list (she says, laughing).

Had a lovely dinner at Rocca D’Orcia last night — a fortified castle town atop a hill. The place was in front of an ancient cistern, and the restaurant was quaint, the food amazing, and the tiramisu the best I’ve ever had…Delish…

Yesterday evening the owners hosted a birthday party for 5-year old Matteo, grandson of the owners of the farm. His festa buon compleano

And this morning I laughed as an older German man who was staying here this weekend took out a hose and washed his car before departing. An odd thing to do on holiday, but such a good idea I hosed down the Panda, as it was covered in dust from my four-wheeling episode….

The only other guests of note shared a wall with my room last night. I’m guessing they were young. And yes, the very thick walls are oddly quite thin…

Today I head to Castello di Procena — a castle! I’m staying the night in a castle! I”ll be there till Tuesday morning when I have to figure out my way to the Rome airport and I pick up Scott! We then take the train (finally!) to the Amalfi Coast. Can’t wait! Will post more when I’ve got more to post!


Hanging in Firenze

Sunday, September 8th, 2013

Yes, when the Italians kept questioning my sanity when I was headed to Fidenza instead of Firenze, it was because they knew anyone would be pazzo to go to the former rather than the latter.

Florence is my kind of city. Vibrant, gorgeous, and very user-friendly. Easy to get around (though a bit easy to get lost while navigating the many tiny streets), and you can choose to go the museum route, the church route, or just wander aimlessly and absorb the vibe. Since I’ve been here before, I’ve been doing just that: taking it all in and meandering the streets.

I’ve been staying at a hostel which is actually pretty nice, all things considered. The location is unbeatable, just steps from the Duomo, which I find to be such a breathtaking masterpiece of architecture. Walking down my street, I’m taken aback by it’s imposing presence just 50 meters away — it fills the panorama. Of course when you get to the piazza del Duomo, it’s overrun with throngs of tourists and vendors selling amazingly useless tchotchkes that somebody must buy. There’s such a buzz of activity, it’s very infectious. But also makes you want to get far away from the influx of tourists ;-). I also love the Piazza della Signoria, just a few blocks away. It’s where the gorgeous Palazzo Vecchio and the Uffizi Gallery are located. The Piazza is filled with statues (including the fake David that some people actually think is the real one!). My favorite is Perseus holding the head of Medusa.

On Thursday night I headed over to Trattoria Nella, one of my daughters favorite restaurants in Florence where we ate last fall when we visited her. A terrific little local place, reminded me of Cheers, where everybody knows your name. There was a couple from California there, and we all got to talking with the owner, who is a professional french horn player and was performing in Rigoletto on Friday night. I’d hoped to make it to it but timing just didn’t work out. Just as well as it turns out it wasn’t where I thought it was so might have been lost, as it turns out the California couple was and never found it. There were a handful of the owners friends just hanging around the place, and one, who reminded me of the opera signer Andrea Bocelli, was a self-appointed DJ with a fondness for the BeeGees, alas. But what was funny is with every song he joined in, like his own personal karaoke, wailing with the falsettos and all. It was quite hilarious.

On Friday I just meandered about the city, worked my way across to the Oltrarno, across the River Arno. When we were last hear last November, the Arno was raging with flood waters after record heavy rains. Now it seems a bit stagnant, still with the heat of summer lingering. It’s still a lovely view from the Ponte Santa Trinita, looking across to the tourist-overrun Ponte Vecchio. At the other end of the Ponte Santa Trinita is the best gelato at Gelateria Santa Trinita, so it’s a daily destination ;-). I also made it to my daughters (and my) favorite pizzeria, Gusta Pizza, down the Via Maggio a few blocks and over toward the Piazza San Spirito. I sat in the shade on the church steps and wrote for a few hours, very peaceful (albeit with a little pigeon-shooing a necessity). Speaking of pigeons, I saw another dead one — this is getting ridiculous!

Friday night I was lucky enough to get a reservation at a tiny osteria we’d been to last year — had heard good things about it, but then it was booked for ever, yet they had one time slot available Friday night, fortunately. I was shocked that Tomasso, whose parents own the restaurant and who oversees it himself, remembered me from when we were there last November. He even remembered what we’d ordered! So surprising. He was delightful and treated me like a friend, and even offered to let me return Monday for dinner, despite there being no reservations. Apparently in the past year their restaurant, which has been around for 27 years, got ranked as one of the top restaurants in Florence. It’s fabulous, homemade pastas, just delightful, simple yet awesome food.

After dinner I wandered into the Piazza della Signoria again, and caught some of the Italy/Bulgaria World Cup qualifying match that was on a large screen on a nearby restaurant patio. Then I heard what sounded like a marching band, and saw around the corner in front of the Palazzo Vecchio was a large municipal band, and a host of performers. It was so sweet — there were baton twirlers, then ballet dancers, and folk dancers, and some noted conductor. I managed to get a seat on the ground in front and hung out there for a while.

On my way back to the hotel I heard a loud crowd a few blocks away, and a street performer who’d held the audience in his thrall the night before was at it again. Amazing, he had at least 100 people gathered around, and while he engaged his audience with his schtick, I think the biggest draw was that he played his music very loud, and it was sort of patriotic marching music that drew people in. I’m sure he was making lots of money.

I saw a girl of about 12 standing atop the back rack of her fathers bicycle — quite a balancing act on both of their parts. I can’t imagine tooling through the streets (and wending through hoards of tourists) that way! I also saw a dog planted not so securely on the floorboard of his owners motorcycle!

I’ve seen a lot of tshirts with references to moustaches on them. Not gonna ask.

And I laugh at the many women who force their boyfriends and husbands to take countless glamor shouts of them in front of famous works. They’ll be walking along and then the woman jams her cell phone or camera into the guy’s hand, no questions asked, then she strikes her pose, to the side, jutting out her ample breasts or behind, and he snaps away. It’s like a silent “Yes, dear.”

I’m amazed at how many Russians are here — wherever I go hear I hear Russian being spoken.

Yesterday I wandered again, working my way to the Giardini di Boboli. The Boboli Gardens are part of the Palazzo Pitti, a massive Renaissance Palace in the Oltranaro. I’ve never toured inside, only been in the gardens, which are a sight to behold. I think I’ll try to get to the palace either today or Tuesday. I was intent on finding one of my favorite statues, it’s actually quite bizarre, it’s of Bacchus astride a turtle, looks like he’s had quite a night of partying. I bought a deck of cards with that picture on the back for Kyle years ago because I thought it was so funny, then I became intent on finding the thing. It was a little underwhelming in person, though I know it wasn’t the original — in Florence, as in probably most cities filled with antiquities, the originals are often put away for safekeeping and protection from the elements in museums, and copies (often still old) are the ones remaining in their place (like the fake David in the Piazza della Signoria, where the original David once stood).

So after finding Bacchus, I walked around the gardens for a while, sat down in the shade to read, and promptly fell asleep for a few hours. A very relaxing/lazy Saturday afternoon. Last night I ended up back at Trattoria Nella, as did the California couple. It turns out they closed the place on Thursday and there was quite the drunken debauched time that I’m glad I missed. They were all laughing about it, the french horn player was strumming a broken guitar he keeps up above the bar, while all swilling grappa and Campari in abundance. Definitely glad I missed that. But they were well on their way to repeating the performance last night. I kept waiting to just get my bill, passed on the grappa and the Limoncella and instead the french horn-playing owner kept filling my glass with more chianti. So my “meal” ended up taking about three hours until I finally got the bill and left.

It’s really quite a gift to be able to not have to be somewhere, and to be able to just be in the moment and not worry about what to do in a few hours, or days. Which is not to say I don’t think about it — especially since my plans have evolved quite a bit from my original intent, I need to figure out where I can go and do it on the relative cheap. Not like I can hang out in Florence in a 150 Euro a night hotel. So I have been pondering my next move, which could be to a farmhouse we love in Tuscany, but might be to the Amalfi coast, if I can get a room at the hostel down there (otherwise too expensive). Scott comes in in a week, at which point we will probably hike the Via Francigena for a few days or perhaps we’ll make the trek to the Amalfi Coast to Positano (so beautiful there), and end up in Rome for a few days.

Today I think I’ll go to the Galileo Museum, which I hear is interesting and not overrun with tourists. A nice cool retreat in from the heat. The weather has been spectacular but hot, and I saw large storm clouds rolling in yesterday afternoon, and today is overcast, so I expect rain might be on the horizon. All the more reason to find a museum. Tomorrow most of them are closed, unfortunately, so if open I will probably go to the interior courtyard at the Palazzo Strozzi, an art museum. The courtyard looked like a nice place to beat the heat and write for a while.

once again i’ve tried to add pictures but the app is crashing, so none to add right now! sorry!

La Dolce Vita

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

****I FIXED SOME ERRORS FROM LAST NIGHTS POST–the WordPress app crashed so glitched things…here goes again!

Sorry a few days passed, just no chance to catch up here. Will try to do it justice now.

So enjoyed my day in Lucca and went off to the Cinque Terre for a day, by train yet again. You’d think by now I’d have gotten the groove of ticketing, etc here. Ha!

I’m an uptight traveler — I get totally anxious having to figure out unfamiliar modes of transportation & I’m sure I come across as a complete half-wit to the locals as I frantically try to make connections. Trenitalia does a good job of enhancing my neuroses by offering incomplete directions, inoperable signage, and providing little in the form of human interaction if one needs to figure out why the ticket says to lucca but nowhere is there a train to lucca on any sign board. Obviously I need to know the end destination, but there are so many small tracts of rail connection so many areas here that it takes a while to figure out if I’m boarding a train at La Spezia and need to stop at Lucca, on *that* line then my train is for Firenze. Of course there are other nearby lines also stopping in Lucca, local trains, but that’s a whole nother story. So basically when the ticket fails to provide basic information like train numbers, well, I sorta freak out with 30 seconds to make my connection, having no clue what track I need to race to. I am hoping I will better acclimate but instead I seem to plod along, just maniacally seeking my next train, not wanting to be stuck in a small, unfamiliar town at 10 pm knowing not what to do. I told you, I’d make a lousy vagrant.

To a certain degree this can get to me while walking, too, with many legs of the journey now 30+ km/day, which I know with my massive pack us too much distance to successfully cover. I have no clue if there will be a town at which I can stop midway, which also arouses that damned anxiety. I know before I left I told myself if I got stuck having to sleep outside somewhere I could deal with it but in truth, I have NO desire to do that, especially in unfamiliar territory.

And I am for certain a transportation weenie…I’m sure my girls remember the time several years ago when we arrived in Paris in advance of Scott & kyle, who’d remained in Germany for another World Cup match. We were staying in some stratospherically-removed exurb of the city (it said it was in Paris but was about as much Paris as Gainesville is Washington, DC, and I was tasked with getting me & my two fairly young girls into the city central. I was paralyzed with inadequacy, and if I recall correctly my 9-year old figured out the damned trains while I stammered and fought panic during rush hour. Sadly, I could no sooner interpret the Parisian subway system then I could have read a dissertation in Slovakian. I choose to attribute this to my discalculia (I swear I have this, it’s sort of the dyslexia of math, and I assume by extension it includes failure to figure out maps etc. I’m sticking with that story…).

At any rate, as I tried to get my tickets for the Cinque Terre at the stazione, I had maybe 15 minutes but the queue for the ticket person was 15 deep. The self-service machines were broken (all but one) and I kept vacillating between the line and the remaining ticket machine. I saw a Dutch woman with whom I’d eaten the night before — I was trying to get a table outside at a restaurant but they were full and she offered for me to join her. Really sweet woman, so interesting, travels everywhere by herself, about 28 yrs old, and very venturesome. So I watched her do her ticket on the machine, however she was doing the most expensive route to the Cinque Terre. I knew because I’d researched online the night before that I could get to the CT for about 8 euro, but that it could cost as much as 50+ euro if I took other trains. So I wanted to be sure I didn’t do that. I decided to get on the machine after her, and naturally you click for it to be in English but all of the warnings that pop up as you try to get your ticket are in Italian. So every train I try to include in my route is rejected with a confusing explanation in Italian. Meanwhile I have a posse of pissed off commuters and tourists piling up behind me, wanting to get their tickets in time, and I am trying to save myself 40+ euro by doing it myself. Argh. Finally I played idiot tourist and went to the front of the line I had been in for a while for the ticket person and begged to have someone let me in, at which point I was able to get my ticket for the price I’d hoped for. With probably 15 people wanting to kill me.

Meanwhile Danielle, the Dutch girl, was on some of my trains and I was sorely tempted to just get the transfer with her onto the luxurious train rather than the non air-conditioned local, but I didn’t want to get busted and fined fine is steep). Stupid of me, as I learned eventually that there is a network of illegal immigrants here in Italy now who travel with a stockpile of crap they sell on the beaches of the Mediterranean — carvings from Africa, useless nonsense from SE Asia, that, weirdly , apparently, Italians will buy on the beach (I asked a local woman and she shrugged — I couldn’t imagine why a tourist would go to Italy to buy a carved wooden african man on a motorcycle or giant wooden carved hand — but she said the Italians scoop it up b/c it’s cheap). So anyhow, these illegals ride the trains for free, basically staying one step ahead of the ticket man on the train, they are constantly on the watch and on the move as he enters a car, they move to another one. As he goes down the aisle, they take the steps to the 2nd floor if there is one. It’s fascinating to watch. Of course the woman complaining to me about this also warned me how unsafe I was in Italy alone…Sigh…She was definitely a doomsdayer.

I enjoyed the Cinque Terre but it was rushed. Plus parts of it felt frightening overrun with tourists, which puts me off even though I am one. After not being around many people, it’s overwhelming to be around loud Americans (even though I can be one too) being embarrassingly loud Americans…And all of the shops selling so much junk. Too much. By the time I found one of the villages that was more laid back, it was time to depart. But I put my feet in the Mediterranean for a minute, and I got to take ferries from village to village, enjoying the exquisite weather. Kendall told me of the perfect dessert place to go to away from the crowds in one of the towns, so I made a point of going there and it was a great choice, had a fabulous mid-day meal of panna cotte and fresh fruit. Awesome…And he insisted I try his iced coffee which was scary good — a coffee milkshake basically, made with fresh cream. SO good. As I was racing (quite literally) to catch my train, out of breath, with about 12 seconds before the train was to depart, I’d sort of regretted not staying the night up there, but only so many things you can squeeze in. It’s a very beautiful place and would be gorgeous to hike (because the hiking is ALL views, unlike the VF). I was cockily glad my trains had all been on time when my last train was late. It was hard to hear the announcement (and to understand it) b/c all of the Italians were talking above it, so that’s when I asked the Italian woman nearby what was going on. She was the complainer — perfectly nice but just ragging on everything. So that last train was delayed a while, so we sat by the track inhaling 2nd-hand smoke (still so many smokers in Europe! I thought that had gotten better! Now it seems many roll their own).

One thing that is sort of ironic is how hard it is to plan to do the hiking without internet. My hotel in Lucca had lame internet that worked impulsively. It’s hard to go online and figure out where to stay the next night and to book it. So that was making me nuts. That said, the night manager was very kind and offered to drive me one town over to pick up the VF again — I didn’t want to start at Lucca because apparently that leg was mostly on roads, leaving city areas tend to be industrial and busy roads. So I thought leaving from Altopascio would be better, and my buddy said he’d drop me there on his way home in the morning. I decided because these legs of the walk were substantially longer, I’d need to unload some of my stuff I’d brought for the colder weather in Switzerland, so I ambitiously stopped at the post office. Ha!

Don’t ever be fooled by the cool, contemporary look of Postitaliane: they are a model of bureaucratic inefficiency. You take a ticket, and depending on the service you desire, you wait in line and wait til your number comes up. Much like DMV, and we all know how that works. So while I was one back in line, 30 minutes later and probably 10 people called before me later, I finally drummed up the courage to question this to one of the women at the desk. I think she realized what a messed up system it is, so finally she shrugged and decided to help me, rolling her eyes frequently (I’m pretty sure not even at me). The only other line that was designated for packages had a woman who I presume was having a lifetime of documents somehow processed, as it took an eternity as I waited for her.

The paperwork was staggering. She was displeased that I put the “sender” address as my previous hotel — normally I’d have put myself and my home address, but I wrongfully assumed that would be wrong. So she then had to remove that stick and replace it, which took another 10 minutes. No scratching anything out! I had to sign in I think quintuplicate. My post office lady clearly enjoyed power-stamping each document with her fist-sized stamp.

So then I was finally on my way, some 45 essential minutes later (essential because the later start meant the heat of the day was on me already).

As I stopped at the library to ask how to get to the VF, there were two young French women asking directions to the VF. They were wisely sharing backpack duties — one carried a heavy one, the other one a daypack. I didn’t even bother to ask to join them, as I knew they’d be there before I was even halfway there.

Leaving Altopascio was precisely what I expected leaving Lucca would be: just ugly, industrial, dreary. I assumed it wouldn’t last long. Meanwhile, I was at a busy traffic circle not 15 minutes into my walk when I rolled ankle on some crumbled pavement and nearly face-planted as the weight of my backpack threw me my forward. It really terrified me as had there been a car there at that very minute I’d likely have been hit by it. Sheesh. Not confidence-instilling. And I must have looked like a sight, hurtling toward the ground with cars zooming by everywhere.
So, the walk was I think about 24 km long. I’m going to mix my km and miles because my pedometer is set to miles so it’s how I quantify my distance. Easily the first 5 miles of the walk was on stinking hot miserable pavement with cars flying by. Even though it became less populated, it was just ugly. Broken glass strewed the roadside, litter, etc. It was entirely unpleasant. For those who live in Charlottesville, it was akin to walking along Route 250 from Boars Head in Ivy to Keswick. Just mile upon mile of nothing great to look at and cars and exhaust and trucks and no shoulder on the road and HEAT. Suffice it to say I was getting bitchy. Thank goodness there was no one with whom to get bitchy with. But yeah, the f-bomb was being muttered sporadically by my evil bitchy alter ego.

Meanwhile the directions were frustrating, trying to discern when we’d get off of that road. There was some turn onto an “unmade” road — define, please! — and FINALLY I see what appears to be a damned unmade road, complete with a sign for the Via Francigena! Hurray! So I take it. This is ostensibly on the original VF, from 1000 years ago, an old Roman road. So what do I know of old Roman roads? I followed the sign. So I’m walking and walking and walking. It’s definitely not a road, it seems pretty unmade to me. And then all of a sudden, it just stops. Not only that, but there is a vague VF sign pointing kind of the way I came but almost off to another direction.
So I’m wondering where the hell I am to go. So I follow the way it could be going, which seems counterintuitive, directionally. But who knew? Maybe it took a path way into the woods? But as I walked and the paths became more and more small and diverging in different directions, I had NO idea what I was to do. I was already a good 40 minutes into this route when I finally took some path headed toward a farm (a not very scenic one with mean barking dogs) and finally found a little old woman with few teeth and less English in her repertoire, who conveyed to me I should’ve just stayed on the road. Stupido me!

Alas, when I was up north I had this fabulous app called Pocket Earth, on which we thought we’d loaded the entire VF (thanks to Scott for that as I was failing miserably in that attempt). But for some reason it didn’t load some parts of it, so while I was up north I could track immediately if I’d gone off-piste, now I’m on my own. Technology does exist to help those like me not get lost, but the other part of that was the GPS tracking that we had access to turned out to be not for Macs, so by the time we finally got the right waypoints to download, it wasn’t working and I had to get to the airport, so that was that! I do have a guidebook but it has some terminology with which I’m simply not familiary (“turn off on white road” — um, WTH is a white road? It is DEFINITELY not white, by the way). So it can throw me off. Plus I truly suck at reading maps and directions.

As I navigated the ugly road, I realized the fragrant Swiss cow dung aroma had given way to the stench of Italian dog shit, which was everywhere. Trekking along the lovely glass-strewn road. Yeah i was not digging that LOL. Still not seeing animals but seeing more dead birds. I think now they’re too slow to escape the path of oncoming fast drivers. I was definitely not feeling the love for that walk.

After my wrong turn, my meltdown ensued, so it would take an act of god to rectify my attitude. I truly wanted to make limoncella out of lemonade (sorry, stupid pun while in Italy). I finally found the ancient roman road, which sounded far more charming than it was. it paralleled an easy-to-walk white gravel road, but that was marked with a big slash sign, do not use. So on the cobblestones I walked, but they were very hard to navigate without wrenching an ankle, so it was slow-going. It still wasn’t scenic, but at least off-road. For the next many miles it simply alternated between roads to off-road but not pretty — more like fire roads, and washed-out stream beds, or where you’d take your four-wheeler if you wanted to go get muddy and trash the place. Absolutely no view, nothing. Mostly no shade, so blazing hot (my thermometer on my compass said 95 degrees but it could be broken at that temperature as there is somehow a crack in it). The flora that was roadside was just nothing beautiful — mostly scrubby, weedy. I’m sure my naturalist friends would find a host of wonderful finds there, but to me it all looked like weeds.

After a few hours, voila, I encountered the French girls, who still had no interest in talking to me (in the morning the same). They’d discovered wild blackberries along the side of a very busy road and were picking away. I think they resented I did so as well — they wouldn’t talk to me even when I addressed them in french! They then just started walking again. As I picked berries all happy for the berries till I looked to my left and there, nestled in the brambles, a dirty diaper. Ahhhh, wilderness.

I did laugh at myself thinking about those French girls: they just looked like they were “la la la la la” out for a stroll, hadn’t broken a sweat, and I was in slog mode, with that song, what’s it from, with the laborers chanting “Oh, eee, oh, oh eee oh.” Lugging all that stuff and schvitzing my arse off and feeling immensely cranky, that was indeed my theme song…I was almost hoping a wild boar would jump out of the woods & put me out of my misery (boar eats me versus the other way around, as I’ve been yearning for a Tuscan specialty, pappardelle a la cianghale, a wild boar dish). Meanwhile I fear there are permanent divots in shoulders from hauling my pack at this point. I’m stooped, I swear it! Stooped over like Strega Nona from that Tommy DiPaoli children’s book LOL (she was a creepy old witch with a wart on her nose).

Sometimes the path goes through a town or village. Some towns are cheerful, vibrant, welcoming, while others seem deeply downtrodden (as if I’d chosen to walk through Scranton, Pennsylvania).

I finally reached a point after 10 miles that I’d hit my limit. I still had like 6-7 miles to go at least, not including a huge climb to the top of the hilltop town of San Miniato once I got that, which at that point would’ve been in 2014. So I made the executive decision to find a taxi at the next town. Doesn’t it figure, as I’m approaching the next town it finally looks pretty, there are hints of scenery and vistas etc. I cross a busy road, see I have a huge climb uphill, so then look to my right and see this industrial park that has a contemporary pizzeria at the front of it. I decide to wend my way the 100 yards or so over there, and see on the other side of the building a group of tourists with bright green shirts on and I’d hoped to go beg a ride off of them, but they disappeared before I got there. So I try to enter the pizzeria but it’s closed. Sigh…So I have to climb this steep hill, intent on calling a cab in the next village (which at least was a sweet little village, not one of the grim ones). FINALLY I get an overpriced cab, and the drive alone was 25 minutes, so thank you Jesus I didn’t walk it (it would have taken HOURS), and he takes me to my overpriced hotel (I was unable to reach anyone by phone at the convent after trying for two days), but wow, that hotel was a drink of water in the dessert. Meanwhile, who do I encounter but the greenshirted folks, who turned out to be a group of Brazilian women who’d walked the Camino in Spain and now were walking Lucca to Rome. They, too, lamented the route was miserable, and far too long (apparently different with the Camino), and they’d been trying to get a cab at the pizzeria as well! They ended up going into some industrial place and calling from some office. Now they have the smart plan — they have a travel company transporting their bags from place to place, so they are just walking. I could totally do 30 km a day without lugging 16 pounds of stuff on my back. Plus their travel company has them booked into really nice hotels each night, also not a bad thing when you’re hot, sweaty, and needing comfort.

San Miniano is a delightful hilltop village, just beautiful, palazzos everywhere, very majestic with amazing views. I unfortunately wasted too much time there trying to plan logistics for the next several days, which I had to do with internet (calling to reserve overnight stays, places I was seeking on the internet, so I’m sort of a slave to when I can find WiFi. What did they do 1000 years ago without it?! LOL).

Last night I went to a small restaurant down the hill and was tacked onto a table with a middle aged couple on date. E-harmonia, perhaps? (sorry, trying for bad Italian word play). They were yakking away, laughing at each others jokes, heavy flirtation occurring right under my nose. He (his name is Giovanni) was multo expressivo, with very gravelly voice that got very high when giggly. She was totally Italiana hot, though her eyes might have used a little tuck ;-). As if I can talk… They were leaning into each other big time, their hand gestures very receptive. Ahhh, amore, the international language. I love being a snoop, in any language.

I’m in tartuffo (truffle) country, and the smell assaults your nostrils the minute you step into a restaurant (I’m dining at Osteria L’Upapa–love that word, I think maybe it means woodpecker?). So it took getting used to that aroma as I’m not a truffle fan. To think thus town hosts a weeks-long white truffle festival — blech! Ah, but I got my cinghiale al pappardelle, was multo buono.

So after my yesterday fiasco I decided to reevaulate my mission here. So much of the VF seems to be on roads, and I’m not loving that from a safety perspective and also from a hot pavement ratcheting the temperature up another ten degrees perspective. I’d hoped for a lot of beautiful views like in Switzerland but much of the walking offers nothing of the sort, at least yet. I know I run the risk of missing some beautiful legs of the walk right now, but I decided instead to divert, getting over to San Gimignano and then to Siena, and then spend a few days in Florence.
Alas, what I didn’t realize is that once I got myself this far into Tuscany, mass transit is non-existent. Which means my ONLY way out was by taxi. Argh. So I took a very very expensive taxi to San Gimignano, which was a very good decision.

Along the road I could see that a lot of the VF continued on roads, attesting to my decision being right for me, as I just wasn’t loving that part of it. I was amused to see a sign before some town boasting their Festival di cacciatore (bunny stew festival) — sorry Kendall! The bunny in the sign looked so happy! He clearly didn’t know his fate…

My taxi driver’s ringtone was Tom Jones singing “Its Not Unusual”, which is sorta retro, I kept hearing it each time he got a call.

When I arrived in San Gimignano, I was at first dismayed by the onslaught of tourists, galore. But once I started wandering and going up side streets, I had a great day. This is a lovely town, very beautiful, and if you look you can find this awesome park that takes you to the top of the walled village and it’s a fabulous view of Chianti, the region I’m now. So I’m totally happy with my choice. I just have zero interest in dodging speeding cars in busy roads for eight hours a day. So after a few days in Florence to recharge my battery, I’ll aim to try to rejoin the the VF somewhere here in Tuscany. And I’m so happy that Scott’s going to meet me for the last week, and we’ll walk a few days on it and then go to Rome. So while I’m not adhering to my original plan per se, I’m totally comfortable with this choice. Perhaps since I’m a writer, I realize that when the story’s not going in the direction you’d hoped, sometimes you have to change the narrative. I have enjoyed many parts of the walk so far, and hope to enjoy many more over the next few weeks, but have to be realistic about my goals and about how best to achieve them. I realize there is no way I’ll make 30 km/day, which means it would be double the time I’d have to take on the VF, with no mid-way stopping points. And my 3 liters of water runs out at about 8 miles. So I’m just making this up as I go along. In florence I hope to just tuck into quiet places and find time to write, also revisit some places I love there as well. I’ll be staying at a hostel so that should be interesting. It promises to be a quiet hostel and not aimed at 18-year olds (please!), so hopefully it’ll be ok. But me and 3 strangers in co-ed room. Honestly. How old am I? ;-)

I found this tiny restaurant when I first got into town — totally off the beaten path, which often bodes well. The woman at my b&b then suggested it when I asked for a good local place. It’s as big as a sneeze, rather cozy, but smells divine, plus more like local prices, so looking forward to it!

On tonights menu (but not for me): ox tongue. That’s on a lot of menus. I must clearly be missing out, but choose to remain in that state…I loved the owner of tonight’s restaurant, had that classically Italian way of speaking English: Today’s-ah-specials-ah-beef-grillata-ah-with-ah-vegetables-ah-no tomate-ah.

After dinner I walked back up to the piazza — San Gimignano has gorgeous architecture, with fortress-like palazzos at every turn and beautiful and imposing towering arches and crenallated walls–you feel as if you are protected within the castle walls. Just missing a moat!

I hung out on the steps reading while a very annoying flautist played music, accompanied by a karaoke version of We Are the Champions. Someone should arrest him for disturbing the peace. He’s definitely reached point of diminishing returns, audience-wise, and should call it a night & spare those of ya seeking quietude on the piazza. Ha! My bad. People actually clapped when he finished. Go figure. He reminds me of when those people pull out the Peruvian pan pipes in public venues to try to draw some cash.

Allora, I am off to bed. Had a lovely day in San Gimignano and go by bus (not foot as it would be 3 long days at great distance) to Siena before heading to Florence for the weekend. Will try to pick up the VF next week again…Ciao ciao!

***update: spent nice day in Siena but when I realized my hotel room smelled like urine I decided to hop thesis to Florence this evening so here I am in another great city! Staying at a hostel (I’m no doubt the granny of the group) but its actually quite nice. Though sharing room with six others…tomorrow through mondsy coed even. Should be interesting…

chianti region at sunset


Thursday, August 29th, 2013

Catching up on a few days here. Will try to add pictures at the end. Many are on my phone but I’ve got some on my iPad I can post.

Two days ago I slept in after arriving very late to Bourg St.Pierre, was a good decision. I had originally planned too much walking for that day and it would have killed my plans to walk those cute St.Bernards…Luckily I didn’t do that b/c it would have been 4 tough hours uphill at high altitude only to get there and walk the very route back down for 75 minutes with the dogs and then back up again! I’d have killed myself!
Instead I boarded a bus, which was an experience in itself. Only a 20 minute ride but along precarious roads, with each turn the bus would overhang the escarpment, giving me near heart failure. Don’t know how the guy drives the bus! Crazier still, I looked up at one point and saw a man climbing out of his construction equipment onto an escarpment with 100 foot drop below, completely nonchalant and flicking his cigarette butt as he jumped out. Oy vey. I sure wondered how many buses plummet off cliffs up here!

As I said that walk with the dogs was along the Via Francigena. Only going down the mountain it was a very rocky path, with 175-pound dogs pulling at you, not so easy. Hard to keep your footing. The dogs were adorable: Bunti, Wenda (pronounced Venda), Justin and Ranna. Most adorable. If you can’t tell I have a thing for St. Bernards. My (grown) kids are lucky I haven’t a millimeter of space in my backpack or I’d have brought them back cute but useless St. Bernard stuffed animals. (yes, I know they just purged all those stuffed animals!). Two other families were on the walk, several kids, who made much better timing than did I. Oh well! I was savoring my St. Bernard time…

Was great fun w/ the dogs, they’re sweet as can be and precious, though the one boy (Justin, pronounced in the french way) kept going after the girl I was walking and sometimes he’d start barking a little too aggressively for my tastes — happened w/ one of the kids right there. Of course these dogs are well-trained so I don’t doubt they’d not do anything, but still…I think old Justin had love on the mind…

After that I just walked in the town for a few minutes (“town” is an exaggeration — it’s the hospice, which is a building housing a church and chapels and housing facilities, a hotel across the street with a bar, and a smaller bar down the street that sells tchotchkes. And the kennels. I went to the smaller bar in search of hot chocolate — it’s COLD up here! Especially at the top. When we walked I got warm and could have taken off my long-sleeved top but no chance with dogs on the go. But up top it’s very blustery.

The day was beautiful but chilly at the top but after sunset a shroud of fog descended on the place — was very haunting. Dinner was served promptly at 7:15, just me and about 25 strangers, none of whom spoke much English (or French or Italian for that matter). Met two young men from Czech Republic who are walking across Europe searching for work. Not, perhaps, the most efficient manner in which to search for jobs, but they seemed nice and I felt badly for them that no one will hire them. I dined with a Swiss doctor from Lausanne who was wearing a Jawbone bracelet (it quantifies everything you short of motive) and I pointed out my son has a Fitbit now and quantifies it all. He laughed and said, “Yes, I think it was Shakespeare who said ‘I think, therefore I am.’ But now it is I measure, therefore I am.” So true…The guy walks the steps (15 flights) at the hospital at which he works. A modern day esthete I suppose (who voluntarily goes off to Monasteries for holiday!). The food was what you’d expect in a religious hospice. The place was very clean, which was nice. I cannot begin to tell you how cold it was. I’d been avoiding taking my backpack out b/c it is so nicely packed and I knew it would be a struggle to get it back in this tiny sack. Finally I sucked it up and used it, and owe my daughter Kendall much gratitude for her lending it to me. I almost cried to be warm! The simple pleasures do become amplified when things get boiled down to more basics. It was quite the grudge match getting that sleeping bag put away though…

We were awoken by music — the monks’ way of telling us to leave? Had a quick breakfast of stale bread and was off.

So onto today’s walk. The walk. The walk!
Okay, first off. I have a newfound respect for the Family Von Trapp. How they trekked through the mountains of Austria to escape the Nazis with all of those children and no hiking gear is beyond me.
Let me tell you, they don’t call it the Alps for nothing (whatever that means!). I was operating under the delusion that I was on the downhill and thus it would be much easier. I was wrong. The weather was spectacular — could not have been better. Started out crisp and cool but a few minutes hiking took care of the cool. The path was steep and rocky so it took a great deal of concentration. I’m still wondering where all those meadows are that I’d expected. The scenery was stunning. I passed lots of cows with those musical bells — must make them insane, though, clanging away all day long. And deaf! But it is lovely to hear in the distance, before you even see the cattle. I laughed at the passivity of cows around here — the only thing that keeps them from straying to land not theirs is usually a small rope strung across a path. Perhaps they’re just so happy where they are.

Much of the way was steep and rocky with very little between me and certain death if I lost my footing. Humbling. I have bonded with my walking sticks (though lost the tip of one on my first day, darn it). The trail was well-marked at first, but after I stopped for lunch in St. Rhemy and returned to the trail with the intent of walking to Etroubles, I ended up on a nasty trail that got the better of me. Much of the time it was a barely discernible path through dense overgrowth. Loads of crickets leaping about. I saw a sign for St. Oyen, the next town, which claimed to be 50 minutes away, and I couldn’t help but wonder if that was in dog years. Speaking of dogs–where’s a St. Bernard when you need one? I’d have loved to have one rescue me by about 3 pm, when my trail led me to an enormous construction site where I had to climb over piles of rebar and cement blocks just to get out of the woods. Crazily I wasn’t lost but it sure felt like it. At that point I decided my best plan was to hop a bus to Aosta so that I could still catch a train to Fidenza tomorrow, my plan being to pick up the Via Francigena around there (near Parma) and climb through the Cisa Pass, part of the Italian Appenines, which is supposed to be beautiful. Debating whether to divert first to Florence or afterward. Will see how my legs are holding out in the morning as to whether I hope a series of trains to Fidenza or Firenza ;-).

I met a lovely woman and her mother while waiting for a bus in St. Oyen. As she described her job and had a hard time translating it, I realized she is an urban planner, which is what Kyle’s in graduate school for, so that was a small world. She and her mother were delightful, fluent in english. Her mother was lovely and wanted to bring me home to Torino and feed me her specialty — spaghetti. I was sorely tempted, though Torino is nowhere near my planned itinerary. She also wanted to show me her duck cross-stitch — her daughter said she was terribly obsessed with it (as a quilter of past I can relate!)

I washed a bunch of clothes and hope they’re dried by the time I leave in the morning. Went out to a great meal of tagliatelle al sugo (duck confit and pasta, yummm) and semifreddo di fruitti di foret (I’m no doubt spelling that wrong). Was perfect. Now I’m going to head off to bed, but let me add some pictures!







Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

The weather started out perfect this morning, the clouds gentle tufts of lambs wool against a bluebird sky.

Too bad I chose the morning to get my collective merde together,which means I got a very late start, again trying to figure out my gps (dear garmin: you SUCK). Thank goodness for pocket earth, a fabulous app that has been helpful in keeping me on track so far.

Oh well, weather was great at first, but as I got further in elevation in the Alps it sure did rain. But it was almost like being in the tropics, minus the cloying heat — rain, stop, rain stop. I was most grateful I finally pulled the trigger and bought a large poncho, something the guy at REI said he never bothered with. I’d have been drenched without it. The poncho was great, albeit a bit stifling, heat-wise, at times. I did, however, look like a giant green Oompa Loompa. But that didn’t matter, as I saw exactly no one for most of my hike (nine miles, 99% uphill). Saw a few folks here and there at the beginning, and midway as the path crossed through villages, but that was it.

I did find I talked to myself after a while of no one with whom to converse. I am such a chatterbox, so it’s weird not having someone to talk to. At home I definitely talk to the pets all day long when no one is around. Hmmm…

But with my huge green Kermit the Frog poncho on, traveling through wooded forest all alone, I kept remembering my lines from a place we did in French class when I was in elementary school. Why I still remember that is beyond me. i just hoped no wolves were around the bend waiting to lurch at me… “Bonjour, je m’appelle le petit chaperon rouge!” Only I was the grand chaperon vert, this giant green blog (what with my very large pack on my back, to which is attached a sleeping bag and my down coat, stuffed into a small sack. Last night I was most grateful I packed the down coat, which was under great debate for a while. It was FREEZING and I used it as another layer of pajamas.

But back to walking, I mooched a few raspberries while passing through a small village–they were amazingly good. Wish I could’ve cleared the bush. I never ate my bread and fromage til about 6 pm — my walk took longer than I’d planned as I stopped a lot to take pictures and write things before I forgot them. will get around to posting pictures soon, just no time to do so now. Well, I might post one at the end…

I noticed a few hours into my hike I was beginning to smell like the german lesbian couple who are biking La Via Francigen & who I met in orsieres at lunchtime — at the time I backed away at their ripe aroma, assuming they’d been camping, thus not showering. Now I realize it doesn’t even matter if you showered — after a few miles uphill it gets a big much. Good thing I was alone! Before I left Charlottesville, I saw a vagrant toting a backpack (& a mean dog), with seriously matted hair, his skin a few shades darker from dirt. I joked to my family “lets hope that’s not me in a month” but now I think it could well be!

Kept pondering as I walked: To Advil or not to Advil: that is the question. Still trying to avoid it, though when I finally got to Bourg-Saint-Pierre last night I was sorely tempted to. I stretched a ton and mercifully the hotel at which I finally stayed had a clean (!) bathtub, so I soaked for a while — most therapeutic.

With all this wlking I just hope I don’t end up with calves you could land a jumbo jet on…

About 1/3 of the way into my hike, the path got very narrow with unforgiving steep precipice on my left. I kept telling myself the trees would stop my fall (but maybe not in a good way). At one point I had to unload my pack to slip through the narrow confines of a few downed trees blocking the path — even without my pack I could barely make it through. The steep Alpine hills (and occasional meadows) were like something out of Heidi or The Sound of Music — so beautiful. I felt I should start yodeling.

My pop culture-polluted brain kept playing the song from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (or is it Santa Claus is Coming to Town?)–put one foot in front of the other…Yeah that played on an endless loop for too long.

I kept wondering how in the world did Seguric the Serious do this trek 1000 years ago with no one to mark the trails for 2600 km? I suspect his true path was like a drunk soldier–weaving & circling. He must’ve been serious–seriously crazy! Though I’m sure he had porters lugging his stuff for him. He should’ve been called Seguric the Effing Lucky since he got there in one piece — at one point on a very narrow path with a cliff to my left, I planted the tip of my walking stick in what I thought was solid earth but turned out to be like quicksand on steep step cliffside.
For hours cow dung aroma hunh in air but where were the cows? If they were smart, on terra more firma. I heard their bells, finally saw a few way up on a hill.

On the 2nd half of the hike the trail led through beautiful forests. I felt sorry for the towering pines: they grow & grow & grow then they snap. A metaphor for life perhaps? For a long time I could hear roar of rushing water but the river was completely obscured from my view by lush growth. Finally I could see it and respectfully kept my distance — it was beautiful but deadly if you slipped in.

At the start of the last climb yesterday I happened upon a lovely outdoor stone chapel, circular in shape with stone benches running along the inside of the rounded walls. It had a prayer in French, I think it was praying for the safekeeping of those climbing to the Great Saint Bernard Pass. As I continued uphill on a fairly steep incline, I totally understood why they had that chapel there. Though they could’ve installed one halfway up just to give a tired hiker a breather…

I arrived in the evening to the place at which I planned to stay and found out that Fondation Barry was encamped there with a group of older teens, I program, if I understood it correctly, that served the type of purpose that a ropes course would, team-building, confidence-building, etc. Fondation Barry is the charitable organization that maintains the presence of St. Bernards at the St. Bernard pass, made famous by the dogs with casks of brandy at their necks, sent out to rescue stranded wanderers.Theyre no longer used for rescue missions, but are used for publicity and such things as these outreach programs. At first i didn’t realize there were actual St. Bernards there, but then i saw several VERY large dog bowls outside, so I asked if I could see the dogs, and I got taken into a room (FAR nicer than the room in which I was supposed to stay!) and greeted by four gorgeous teddy bear-like ENORMOUS Saint Bernards. The cutest things you ever did see — was such a treat for a dog-lover like me. They were adorable, and Urs (aka Andrew), the kind man with the Barry Foundation, indulged me by allowing a good 20 minutes with the pooches. Great ending to an exhilarating but exhausting day.

Attention Kmart shoppers: this hike could kick my ass into the next century if I let it, but I won’t.



Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

I’m going to have to make this quick as I’m absolutely beat, but wanted to post the start of my journey.

Let’s just say packing was mildly amusing. I am the one who throws in the extra kitchen sink, after packing the main sink. Me and a pack ostensibly meant to hold 15 pounds is just a contrary concept. I tried, truly I did. But all those darned little things added up, not to mention the mere weight of the iPad I brought along, amongst other things.

Suffice it to say, when I start walking tomorrow, I expect tears. I will spew vulgarities about what a stupid git I am for having even fantasized about packing a blow dryer (yes, I admit, I pondered it in the far recesses of my mind, but no, I didn’t pack one. It was the first item on the “no way in hell” list).

It was hard to bid farewell to my family. Moms are conflicted about just bailing on the family, aren’t they? Even though the kids are off doing their own thing, there’s just this feeling that you need to be there just in case. And leaving Scott for a month — that’s a really long time and i will miss him! i must also say how grateful i am that he has enabled me to undertake this journey — his support has been invaluable. But everyone assured me I wasn’t being a self-indulgent self-indulger, so I’ll take it at face value.

So I headed off on my adventure relatively guilt-free but suddenly feeling quite anxious (no doubt mostly b/c of newly-anticipated need for a Sherpa). There’s just so much STUFF you need/want to pack for a month. Particularly when you figure you’ll be roughing it a bit, you want to toss in those little somethings that’ll make you feel mildly indulged (the foot lotion, the soothing arnica oil for muscle aches). Though in reality you should’ve tossed those in the “no” pile right behind that darned blow dryer!

Ah well, it is what it is. I expect I’m going to pull a Hansel and Gretel and leave a trail of divine-smelling toiletries with each kilometer trekked. I’ll keep you posted.

My flight was surprisingly quick and uneventful, though in the small world department, my daughters roommates father was my pilot! He did a fine job! I then met up with an e-friend I’ve “known” online for years, who I learned last week lives near Geneva. What a lovely day we had — we went to her beautiful home and I was able to make myself at home to reconnoiter (boy did I need that), shower (ditto) and enjoy a lovely lunch and great company. Topped off with a visit to her gorgeous horse. I navigated several trains from there to grt to Orsieres, wishing I’d had time to explore the area before departing — very picturesque villages along what I think was Lake Lausanne — stunningly beautiful. The town of Nyon (FIFA headquarters to you soccer fans) was exceptionally so. arrived around 5:30, settled into my hotel & went in search of food.

While wandering through the village trying to find an open restaurant, a man backing out of a parking space pulled over and started telling me in french about the local cheeses, unsolicited. I had years of french growing up but do you think I could converse in the language? Hell no. I hadn’t expected the first few days of my trip to be in french-speaking Switzerland, so I hadn’t brushed up on my french and instead have been blending French from the deepest regions of my brain with butchered Italian that I have been brushing up on — probably all the more confusing for the locals. Ah, well, merde…I was also corrected by a construction worker on my bonjours vs. bonsoirs — didn’t need it as I remembered it as I uttered the wrong word last evening. I think by the time I hit Italy I’ll then be speaking comprehendible French and then really trash my Italian. Thank goodness more Europeans speak English than Americans do foreign languages…Bonsoir mes amies!

(By the way I being my journey walking from Orsieres, Switzerland to Bourg-Saint-Pierre, Switzerland. Wish me bonne chance!)

Juice Schmuice

Monday, January 28th, 2013

I bailed.

Yep, I’m a weenie. Either that, or acutely wise to the ways of my body, which clearly does not tolerate vegetables, particularly in a most vile liquid form…

I couldn’t last a wimp-ish 12 hours. My gag reflex was failing me. With each 3-hour “meal” of yet more veggie juice it became worse. I knew when I was attempting to ingest what was euphemistically dubbed “gazpacho” juice, which tasted more like swamp mud, I was in trouble. After attempting to infuse more fruit in an earlier batch to mask the inevitable verdancy of my juice, only to realize it only made the concoction more visually murky (even less appetizing to observe), and completely failed to enhance the flavor, I was downright giddy when we stumbled upon the gazpacho recipe. I could handle cold vegetable soup! The main ingredient was tomatoes! My fruity friend of the veggie world!

But ugh, the end result of my tomato, carrot, parsley (2 cups!!!), celery, pepper, and red onion juice surprise was that the joke was on me. As I attempted my first sip, my son standing just two feet from me, I paused, juice settling in my mouth like an unwelcome houseguest that won’t leave. I proactively plugged my nose in an unsuccessful attempt to mask the rank odor. I knew then and there if I didn’t employ an Oscar-worthy effort of mind over matter, I would soon spew the intestinal-discharge-colored liquid all over my wonderful child.

I had to keep it together for the sake of dignity (not to mention common courtesy). But I also knew that I could no longer pretend I’d get used to this. Rather I found vindication in admitting it was getting worse. Instead of drinking veggie juice as part of this collaborative family juice fast, I’d simply not eat rather than attempt any more adventuresome juice combos. After trying five different variations, I felt like I gave it the old college try.

By dinnertime, I was certain a cement truck had rumbled down my gullet and set up a construction project in my stomach, every now and then launching that rolling barrel belly just to remind me of my digestive misery, as if the lump of death piling up in there wasn’t enough of a constant reminder. Constipation has nothing on complete arrestation of forward motility that seemed to plague me. I can only imagine an H-bomb of toxic gases was building up in my stomach, with no solid food to propel whatever I was ingesting through the digestive process. One would have thought liquid-in equalled liquid-out. Clearly it’s a more complex math computation when it comes to veggie juice.

To make matters worse, I fear I can never drink a Bloody Mary the rest of my life, what with it’s V8-like ingredient list being too comparable to the near-spewn gazpacho.

By nightfall, the mere smell of juicing was sending me to another room, the aroma so reminiscent of the flavor I couldn’t bear to inhale it. But with an open floor plan in my house, escape was impossible. Our enthusiastically-commenced compost pile — now a trash can probably weighing about 50 pounds with the spoils of juicing — wafts its putrid contents throughout the kitchen at all hours. About that weighty compost pile: it sure is staggering what fiber weighs! No wonder I’m so heavy! No doubt it’s all that fiber I usually ingest…heh…

I admit to almost being a bit jealous of our dogs’ excitement toward dinner on Saturday night: their meal was probably far more delectable than was mine. You know things suck when dog food sounds good.

And that headache I’d been nursing since midday in the fast? By Saturday night it felt as if The Massey Corporation was fracking for natural gas in my brain.

I admit a flood of relief washed over me when I awoke in the middle of the night and realized I wasn’t doomed to face a 24/7 veggie juice fast the next day (or the subsequent 8 that would have followed). Lame of me, I know. But I was elated. While on the juice fast, everything I was ingesting was earthen, and I discovered how much a fan of earthen flavoring I am not. Beets in juice taste like dirt (which admittedly is at least better than the vomitrocious flavor they impart intact). Greens tasted like, well, pastures. And not in a good way. A lot of veggies simply tasted of compost. Not like I’ve ever eaten compost, but I’ve smelled it, and believe me there is a direct correlation. Veggie juice tastes as if you are munching your way through Tarzan’s jungle. Minus the munching action.

Of course now I’m left with the guilt of failing my daughter. And the disappointment of my family for not hanging in, not to mention the shame of not being able to tough it out for even a full 24 hours.

In deference to those who can tough it out around here, I’m left to sneak around the kitchen at mealtimes like a junky slinking around dark alleys and crack houses in search of the next fix. I gingerly open and close the microwave door so as to not betray my food betrayal, willing the inevitable timer beep to shut the ever living fuck up. I prep food quietly and in solitude. Last night I ate in the butlers pantry (since I have no butler, at least I’m making use of the space). I hang my head in shame (while actually cloaked in a blanket of sheer relief) as I prepare my morning cappuccino.

Concessions? I really wanted to whip up a Sunday morning omelet, and I actually craved the aroma of frying bacon yesterday, but in deference to my family’s sacrifices and my sheer, unadulterated loser status, I couldn’t reward myself with that breakfast prize. Maybe I’ll work my way through the fruit stockpile assembled for juicing — I have a large share of responsibility to the farm’s worth of veggies sitting in my garage; after all it was my idea to undertake this solidarity juice fast in the first place.

The bummer is I’m now finding that fruits I once loved are completely repulsive, instead only harkening back to the flavor of them combined with juiced kale. Blech.

Yeah, I feel like I let everyone down, to a certain extent. But like a friend said to me, “Juicing’s not for everyone.” Indeed, I can attest to that.

I’m reminded of an old Lays potato chip commercial “I tried, but I couldn’t do it”…

Perhaps had it been a potato chip diet I’d have had a fighting chance (with french onion dip, natch).