Archive for the ‘Slim to None’ Category

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:

Polyspaston
Archimedean screw
Large armed lodestone
Astrolabe
Jovolabe
Thermometry
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!

Ciao!

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

howdy!
****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

AND HERE I THOUGHT DOWNHILL WOULD BE EASIER….

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!

Ciao!

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HITTING THE TRAIL

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.

image

AND SO IT BEGINS

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).

Let the Juicing Begin…

Saturday, January 26th, 2013

Come and get it!

Come and get it!


I will not quit I will not quit I will not quit…

This has become my mantra today, Day One of the Great Reboot, undertaken in solidarity with my daughter, who has had to begin a vegan juice fast for some stomach problems she’s been dealing with.

My daughter is already a vegetarian, so the idea of a straight-up veggie liquid diet ought not to be so foreign to her, though it is. She likes her veggies in a chewable state, thank you, and isn’t thrilled with this whole juicing mandate, which his why our family decided to support her cause by joining along.

Me? Well, I hate vegetables. I was weaned on Froot Loops and it was only downhill from there as far as my nutritional intake from the get-go. I grew up on a steady diet of Fluffernutter sandwiches and Twinkies and processed garbage that tasted not too shabby, if I do say so myself. Sure I ate fruit here and there. Usually in the summer when peaches and plums were in season. But veggies? No way, man.

It wasn’t until adulthood that I gradually incorporated a handful of vegetables into my annual diet repertoire. Yeah, you read that right: annual. Not like veggies are a daily part of my life anyhow. I’m exaggerating a bit — I do consume vegetables, but not often. With the ironic twist that I’m all about the Buy Local food movement, and buy local produce as much as possible. Mostly for my family.

I mean I’ll eat a salad if someone else makes it and it’s super gourmet. And contains things like nuts and dried fruit and goat cheese and artisanal croutons and homemade dressing. Now that’s my kinda salad. And I pick around all of the vegetables in it and mostly eat the add-ons. I’m fine with a veggie platter as long as it’s really fresh and it has a homemade ranch yogurt dip in which to drown said veggies. Throw in the occasional asparagus, maybe a mushroom or two (only if they’re fresh white button mushrooms), perhaps a sugar snap pea (the operative word there being sugar), and well, you’ve got the extent of vegetables I can tolerate. In fact most of the “vegetables” I find palatable are technically fruit, anyhow (tomatoes and peppers, for instance).

So you can imagine me trying to fathom undertaking a vegan juice fast. Might as well insert the true name: starvation diet. Alas, as explained by my daughter’s doctor, you have to keep your grehlin levels on an even keel, which means starvation isn’t an option, because it will defeat the whole idea of a juice fast. So avoiding vegetables as a means of this juice fast is not an option, darn it.

What, you may ask, is the idea behind a juice fast? Um, hell if I know. I’ll get back to you on that one. Okay, I lied. Basically the plan for your average Joe is to detox, get rid of all that crap and sludge that builds up in your system. Cleanse the liver and whatnot (note to self: no need to make matters worse with that liver by overconsuming delicious red wine on the eve of said juice fast. Of course my liver’s still trying to process that bad Advil I popped at 4 a.m…).

In addition, it can give your stomach a rest if you’re having trouble digesting solids. And by juicing you are piling on the nutritional value of plates full of vegetables, with every glass you drink, while enjoying the benefits of micronutrients or some such gobbledy gook I’ve been told. You’d be hard-pressed to ingest the normal way the amount of vegetables that you’ll consume in a juice fast. Check out the obscene volume of produce we had to purchase for four of us to fast — and this is just for the next several days.

our organic veggie juicing stockpile

our organic veggie juicing stockpile

I have a friend who undertook a juice fast last year and became downright evangelical about the benefits of juicing. She’s already one of those age-defying, gravity-defying women who you want to just assume has amazing genes, because most people her age look her age, yet she looks a good five years younger than me and she’s got a decade on me. She’s been a great source of encouragement and a wonderful resource for information. Shame she can’t also just drink my juices for me, since she loves them and I, well, I just don’t.

Which brings me to my first encounter with juicing today. Until now I have used one of those old-fashioned juice presses to squeeze delicious blood-orange juice, which I incorporate into my morning smoothie. That smoothie I thought was so healthy for me, what with mounds of berries and greek yogurt (all that protein!) and protein powder to boot. With fresh-squeezed blood orange juice. But evidently that’s nothing on plunking an orange, skin and all, into the juicer and consuming what comes out. Unfortunately mixed with all sorts of less-desirable greenery.

Juice!

Juice!


So breakfast today consisted of a bunch of kale (that’s about 14 leaves), a half head of romaine lettuce, a host of carrots (probably about 8), a cucumber, a lemon, and about 1/2-inch piece of ginger root. I will tell you never once in my life has kale (or any other healthy green, for that matter) passed my lips. I’ve probably eaten about 10 carrots in my whole life, and hated each bite. Cukes? I can deal with them in small quantities in salads. I mean they’re practically tasteless. I do love them in tzatsiki dip, if that counts (which is primarily simply a vehicle for the pita bread, which is what I really want). It was fun watching all those veggies transform into a bright green juice. It was not fun putting that juice to my mouth and knowing it had to go in. And down. While ensuring no return visit.

(Click here to see how that first glass went down)

I tried the first sip cold turkey. It was not delightful. I even put it in a martini glass to make it more festive. The thing is I couldn’t fool myself. It was green juice. I felt like I was on a goat diet. And I don’t mean a diet of eating goats but rather a diet of eating what goats eat. Actually goats probably have it better because they’ll eat the occasional shoe. Plugging my nose helped somewhat but there is always still that moment when you can’t run from the flavor a minute longer. And that’s the moment when you have to gulp and gulp fast, just get it down there, away from the taste buds, and have it start doing it’s thing.

As far as it’s thing? I’m not convinced of that yet.

“Your skin will look great!” Said the doctor (and others have corroborated this allegation).

“You’ll feel so energetic!” Says my friend. She is awfully energetic. I still chalk it up to genetics for her.

“You’ll lose weight!” Claims Joe What’s-His-Name, creator of the inspirational documentary Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead (more about that in a minute).

Right now I have a headache drilling through the center of my skull. My stomach is growling like an angry wildcat. I feel weak and woozy and just screamed at the dog for barking. I’m that surly that I can’t even let the poor dog do what a poor dog does. Ten days from now looks like eternity as I face the prospect of what the hell I can juice without dry heaving?

For me, food is such an integral part of daily life: the shopping, the preparation, the meal, the conversation, the communality that comes with it, the whole thing. So to have fueling one’s body being boiled down to its essence: i.e. stuffing a slew (and I do mean a slew) of veggies down the throat of a juicer and throwing back the end result as quickly as possibly just to get it over with, well, it sort of takes a bit of fun out of the day.

To make matters worse, already I find myself hand-washing dishes out the wazoo: bowls and cups and strainers and knives and cutting boards and all the receptacles that go into the production of a measly bucket of juice have to be re-used frequently all day long, especially when there are four of us juicing. My daughter who is away at college is grateful she’s off-the-hook for this one, happily ingesting dorm food (oxymoron, I know). “Well, looks like I’m not coming home till you’re done with this!” She said. You go right ahead and enjoy that dorm food. Which is going to start sound downright tasty before I know it. Grrrr.

My teeth are lonely and bored. They’re waiting for their chance to get to work. And they’re not gonna get it for a good long while. I wonder if bubble gum counts in a juice fast?

I swear to God my burps taste like meadows. My friend said, “Let’s hope you don’t leave behind meadow muffins!” I second that. I can’t fathom ingesting enough calories this way for that to be a worry.

My juicing daughter says she now has more empathy for her rabbit–though at least he gets to eat things whole!

So far I’ve done two rounds of juice — which translates into about a whopping 16 ounces and it’s nearing 2 o’clock. I tried to make the second juice more user-friendly (i.e. upped the ante, fruit-wise). You can’t get too aggressive with fruit, or you’ll end up with a sugar high and a sugar crash, and insulin levels off the charts. There’s clearly a fine line in introducing sugars (via fruits) to cut the edge off the green. I’ll be working on that. My second juice consisted of: a stick of pineapple, a blood orange, a handful of kale, a half head of romaine lettuce, 6 carrots, a cucumber, an inch of ginger (too much!), some watercress, some mint, and the kitchen sink (well, practically). The ratio is supposed to be 25% fruit to 75% veg. My daughter and I object and wish to reverse that, though clearly we don’t get a vote in the matter. That said, fruit in the juicer isn’t like fruit juice: once you throw it in there with the rind and all, well, it just doesn’t taste spectacular. Or maybe it’s the added kale juice that’s the killjoy.

The irony is my husband and my son, neither of whom needs a juice fast, are totally loving it. My daughter and I, the food lovers in the group, are muscling through, like it or not. For her, it’s not an option: she has to in order to maintain enough nutrition to not need medical intervention. For me, I have to, primarily to have her back while she’s suffering through this process. Though I admit I could definitely use the weight-loss that sure as hell better happen in great volumes from this thing. I’ve admittedly been in food hangover mode from a 3-month long food bender thanks to extensive traveling and celebrating a landmark birthday, with holidays to top it off.

For my third juice of the day (and I’m at half as much consumed as I’m supposed to be — I’ve only had 24 ounces and should be double that), I came a bit too close to puking it all back up. My daughter cackled at me.

She shouted up to my son, “Did you hear that?”

“The retching?” he asked.

Clearly sound travels. Glad we’re all getting a laugh at my expense.

“Think of barium, Mom,” my daughter said, cheering me on with glass #3.

This in reference to the hideous chalky liquid one has to ingest by the gallon when having an Upper GI done. Swallowing barium is an unpleasant experience, to say the least. And it ranks a close second to this juice fast so far.

Even the dogs are averse to this thing. When my daughter dipped her finger in and gave it to the dog to lick, she backed away with a shudder. So clearly even dog food is preferable to this stuff to some of us…

My evangelizing juicing friend had told about the documentary Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead. About a very wealthy (and personable) Australian man who’d lived it up a bit much and was paying the price for it with a huge gut and autoimmune problems for which he was on permanent steroids. He decided to fly to the States and cross the country while on a 60-day juice fast, recording his experience while enlisting people along the way. When my daughters doctor also referred to it, I was more curious to watch it.

I’d contemplated joining her on her mandatory fast, though there was that niggling problem of hating veggies. It was kind of like I really want to run a marathon, but my bum knee won’t ever allow it. So I can’t control the marathon dilemma, but dammit, I could control the vegetable aversion. I think. I thought. I don’t know.

But once in on this thing (and with a vast stockpile of vegetables we have to plow through), I’m in on it for the long-haul. I just wish the long-haul could be a bit more pleasant….

In the big picture, I have to stay in it to provide moral support for my girl. That is what will force my hand, when the taste of this stuff gets me down.

A doctor on the documentary said “It’s about retraining your tastebuds.” But I’m wondering if they’ll simply become deadened to their misery. Hard to say. I’m seeking out recipes on their Reboot website, hoping I’ll hit upon something that is my jackpot juice. In the meantime, my face is really itchy. Could I be — horror of horrors — allergic to vegetables? Maybe it’s been my body’s way of avoiding them all these years, by making me hate them.

I’ll keep you posted.

 
Sleeping with Ward Cleaver

Slim to None

Anywhere But Here

Where the Heart Is

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

Downton Pre-Premiere Q&A and Giveaway

Thursday, January 3rd, 2013

Wellllll…I haven’t been around my blog in a good while…I’ve got plenty of excuses, but who wants to hear them? But I’m baaa-ck, with a giveaway!

But finally dragging me back over here to blog is one of my favorite shows, FINALLY coming back to the States, for all of us Anglophiles…Downtown Abbey returns Sunday night!

I’ve teamed up with Tracie Banister, whose book Blame it On the Fame I might have mentioned I really enjoyed, along with a host of other fun writers to celebrate and dish about Downton. To get ready for Sunday’s show, feel free to stop by everyone’s blogs and read their amusing answers to these Downton questions. Oh, and please join us for a virtual tea and crumpet-fest Sunday night on twitter, where we’ll partake in #DowntonGala to tweet/snark as we watch.

One lucky winner will receive a copy of a veddy Downton-esque novel, To Marry An English Lord, so please, join in the fun! {and p.s., to ratchet up your chances of winning, you can earn up to nine entries if you want to leave a comment on all nine of our blogs}.

(the giveaway will run until midnight on Thursday, January 10th and a winner will be announced on the 11th)

From the Gilded Age until 1914, more than 100 American heiresses invaded Britannia and swapped dollars for titles–just like Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham, the first of the Downton Abbey characters Julian Fellowes was inspired to create after reading To Marry An English Lord. Filled with vivid personalities, gossipy anecdotes, grand houses, and a wealth of period details–plus photographs, illustrations, quotes, and the finer points of Victorian and Edwardian etiquette–To Marry An English Lord is social history at its liveliest and most accessible.

Here are our questions, and I’ll tell you MY answers. In the meantime, check out the other authors answers as well by linking to their sites.

Without further audieu, pip, pip, cheeri-o and all that rot!

1) You’re planning a dinner party for the Downton crew – who would be No. 1 on your invite list?

JG: Duh. Matthew. And NO ONE else but Matthew. And me. ‘Nuff said?


2) Whose closet will you raid before the party?

JG: Definitely not the Dowager Countess LOL. I’d have to go with Mary’s. And while I’m at it, can I steal her figure too?


3) Once your guests have arrived, who are you most likely to flirt with?

JG: Duh. Matthew. I wouldn’t even play hard to get. I’d be easy. You might say a downright Edwardian trollop!


4) Who will you likely smack before the dessert course?

JG: Welllll…I don’t want to smack Mary for taking Matthew, but I mean how else do I get rid of her? If not her, then definitely her venal sister Edith. Someone needs to set that chick right!


5) Let’s adjourn to the drawing room for some not-so-polite conversation: What’s your theory on Patrick Gordon aka The Bandaged Man? Impostor or legitimate Crawley?

JG: Totally an imposter. How dare he insinuate himself wrongfully into my clan?!


6) How about Bates? Did he do it? Could he do it? If not, who killed Vera?

JG: No way! I think Thomas, the conniving footman did it so he could set Bates up. He’s that sinister.


7) Favorite quip from the Dowager Countess?

JG: In deference to living in Charlottesville, which I’m surprised isn’t called Jeffersonville…Here’s one of many favorite exchanges of Violet:

Dowager Countess: Good heavens! What am I sitting on?

Matthew Crawley: A swivel…chair

Dowager Countess: Oh, another modern brainwave?
Matthew: Not very modern; they were invented by Thomas Jefferson.

Dowager Countess: Why does every day involve a fight with an American?


8) Favorite Downton spoof?
 

JG: Hands-down, Jimmy Fallon’s is my favorite

 

9) Now you’ve done it! You’ve landed a guest spot on the show. What’s your storyline?

JG: I’m Matthews long-lost bride and mother of his children (this’ll cement the deal) who’s come to retrieve him to his rightful home with moi, naturally. I might have to jack up some of those princesses to get my wicked way.


10) What would you like to see happen in series three?

JG: Well…I saw a PBS teaser and they’re saying the Crawleys lose their fortune, which does not please me. I’m hoping my darling Matthew hasn’t lost his, at least. If they all have to start wearing dowdy second-hand clothes and serve meals to the servants, it won’t be quite the same show, will it?

 

Okay, then. Thus concludes my answers to the the Downton Abbey Q & A. Don’t forget to visit the other participating authors’ blogs to see what they’ve got in store!

And if you’d like to be considered to win the book, I need you to answer question #4: Who will you likely smack before the dessert course?

And I hope to e-see you at the #DowntonGala on Sunday night!

Now scurry off to visit these other authors’ blogs for more fun Downton questions and answers!

Tracie Banister:  http://traciebanister.blogspot.com/
Laura Chapman:  http://change-the-word.blogspot.com/
Jen Coffeen:  http://jenniferanncoffeen.com/
Jenny Gardiner:  http://jennygardiner.net/blog/
Cat Lavoie:  http://www.catlavoie.com/blog/
Tracey Livesay:  http://traceylivesay.com/
Elizabeth Marx:  http://elizabethmarxbooks.blogspot.com/
Meredith Schorr:  http://meredithgschorr.wordpress.com/
Jen Tucker:  http://authorjlht.blogspot.com/

Sipping away at my Earl Gray, with pinky extended…

Jenny

 
Sleeping with Ward Cleaver

Slim to None

Anywhere But Here

Where the Heart Is

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

find me on Facebook: fan page
 find me on twitter here
 find me on my website

I Swore I’d Never Write a Vampire Novel…

Friday, July 20th, 2012

Really, I did.

For years I would lament to my friends, family, agent, anyone who would listen to me about how annoyed I was with the vampire trend; like the subject matter of these novels, they simply would NOT die. Made me crazy that fabulous novels were being passed on by publishing houses while mountains of tripe were being published under the guise of a “literary” craze. Sure there were good vampire novels out there, but really? I’d bet the vast majority of them were mediocre drivel.

So I was meeting with my agent at a conference, bemoaning the finicky state of publishing, and jokingly mentioned an idea I had for a vampire novel, one I’d never write, because it was a ludicrous idea, so I figured it would be the thing publishing houses would go for (as opposed to the books I wanted to pitch but weren’t the ones pub houses were looking for).

“So you have this woman who is turned into a vampire by her cheating husband, who was turned into a vampire by someone he’d slept with,” I say with a laugh. “She then spends the rest of eternity trying to exact revenge on him for his betrayal. And it’ll be a funny book.”

I expected her to pat me on the knee and tell me to get back to writing a good book. But instead she said she liked the idea and thought it might have legs.

A week or so later, she tells me she had lunch with an editor who loved it and wanted to see pages. Pages of a book. One I hadn’t planned on and wasn’t planning on writing. So I got to work cranking out this non-novel of mine; I hunkered down and wrote and wrote and wrote. Got about 80 pages into it and slapped together a synopsis and sent it off to my agent, assuming that would be the last I’d heard of it.

Turns out the editor loved the partial I’d sent on, and she was taking it to ed board. Well, if you’ve been around the publishing business long enough you learn about ed board. It’s the gathering of insiders in a publishing house who either green light or kill your dream. Long gone are the days in which ed boards embraced risky books, or different books or anything but for what seems like something penned by the reality TV celebrity du jour, who doesn’t actually write the thing anyhow but goes on a huge national tour earning gobs of cash while flacking their lousy book that no one with a modicum of self respect ought to even purchase, let alone read. Okay, off my soap box.

Anyhow, after the economy tanked and the publishing industry lost its last ounce of true soul, it became damn near impossible to find consensus on a whole lot of books, particularly in women’s fiction, which at the time was a hard sell on a good day anyhow. So when my book went to ed board with an editor who loved it and really pushed for it, I still figured it had a minimal chance of getting the thumbs up. And sure enough, apparently the editor in chief or the publisher or someone all-powerful in this ed board determined that humor in these kinds of books either works or it doesn’t work and they weren’t going to chance it. Thus driving a stake in the heart of my vampire-novel-that-wouldn’t-be.

My agent shopped it around a little bit more, found another editor who apparently really liked it but then she quit the business a week later. By then the genre had finally, finally died. Just in time for me to try to break into it. (This tends to happen with me–give me a genre and I’ll kill it in a day flat; certainly worked well with chick lit).

Since then, my novel has been collecting dust in the far corners of my computer. I’ve entertained the idea of finishing it and publishing it myself, but really have just been too busy with other things to get around to it. So I figured I’d throw this up as my trunk novel and get your read on what you think of it. Should I keep this vampire hermetically sealed with garlic cloves and silver stakes in my laptop dead file that should be re-named “The Graveyard”? Or should I resurrect this monster and give it a new life on your e-reader of choice? You decide…

 TIL DEATH US DON’T PART 

by Jenny Gardiner

It all started innocently enough. Well, as innocently as these things can start, anyhow. And perhaps I wasn’t entirely guiltless, if only because I succumbed to that most human of conditions: lust.

Although it wasn’t the lust that killed my marriage. That came later. The demise of our union came courtesy of my execrable, lamentable and most deplorable husband, who decided to spring upon me an unexpected midlife crisis, in which he was overtaken by the entirely selfish urge to sow some wild oats. Or barley. Or grass seed, for all I know. For that matter I didn’t know much of anything. All I did know was that that fucker dumped me. High and dry. While I was doing a load of his whites.

“I’m not feeling fulfilled,” he’d said to me that day as I sorted the more stained clothes from the hamper into a separate pile.

“Fulfilled?” I asked, not even looking up as I un-mated yet another pair of his soggy gym socks (why he re-rolled dirty socks was always a mystery to me). I thought he was talking about a dearth of intellectual stimulation in his life. “Take a class or something.”

Jude toed the ground in front of him with his black-soled sensible accountant shoes, scuffing the freshly-polished hardwoods of my sparkling laundry room. I’ve always felt that a laundry room is a reflection of the rest of one’s life and my laundry room floor was clean enough to lick. Not that my life was particularly lickable, but you know what I mean.

I leaned over with a spray bottle of Murphy’s Oil Soap, always at the ready, and pumped two squirts at the offending marks, wiping them clean with a pair of his BVDs that were awaiting a bleaching.

“Are those my Calvin Kleins?” he asked, grabbing them from me, glaring at the brownish Murphy splotch right on the butt of the things. I suppose if that didn’t come out in the wash it could cause some embarrassment. But then again who would see them but me, anyhow?

“No worries. They’re going in the wash for a good soak, so I thought I’d just save myself having to clean a dirty rag.”

I suppose it should have been a red flag that the underwear in question was of the designer variety, and that he even knew that they were. Until a few months ago I could buy Jude’s tightie whities in bulk at Costco and he’d have only praised me for my thrift. But at age forty-five, his seeking out designer drawers should have been the first of my indicators that our relationship had gone awry.

“Look, Marina, I don’t appreciate you using my Calvin Kleins as a dishrag.”

“In case you hadn’t noticed, there are no dishes here. Besides, I didn’t use your underwear for anything more than wiping up your scuff.” I pointed to the ground for emphasis.

Jude put his hands in his pockets and looked toward the doorway, sighing, his shoulders actually slumping as if I’d tossed a hefty sack of potatoes over each one.

“I need some space. Some time away. I’m not happy.”

I stopped in mid-sort and stared at him, trying to peer into what I then realized was quite a blank face, one masked with apathy.

“Just because I used your tight whites to wipe up some dirt off the floor?”

“They’re not tight whites. They’re boxer-briefs.”

Oh, my god. Boxer briefs. Twenty years of marriage, dissolved over a semantic disagreement about a pair of undies. I began to wring my hands, stammering to find the right words to come out. But what could I say? One minute I was just attending to my household obligations and the next I was being kicked to the curb.

“Look,” he said, his usually pleasant face contorted in such a way that he appeared as if he was torn between trying to apologize for being a dick and thrilled that he’d finally come out and said it  his inner demons plying his visage like a glob of silly putty. “I’m sorry. I tried to fight it. Really I did. I just need to work some things out.”

“Things? What sort of things?” I sobbed, spritzing some Windex on the surface of the washing machine to clean up the liquid Tide that had dribbled there. “Or is it some woman named ‘Thing’?”

He shook his head back and forth. “No, there is no thing. Well, there are things. But no Thing. Does that make sense?”

“Of course it makes no sense. You’re not making sense.”

Jude buried his face in his hands. “It’s bigger than me. You simply have to believe me when I say this. It’s out of my hands.”

With that, he turned and walked away, striding through the kitchen and out the garage door as if he was late for a doctor’s appointment, with only these parting words, “I’ll make sure you’re taken care of, you know. I don’t want you to think I’m a complete asshole.”

As if.

 #

But it goes without saying that when you’ve been married for two decades and you have gratuitous sex on a somewhat regular basis for half your life and then wham!, you aren’t having any at all, well you might just overlook your better judgment when that green-eyed horntoad comes hop-hop-hopping along. I hadn’t gotten laid in several months; a girl can only take but so much deprivation.

So how was I to know it was going to be a huge mistake? And not just shit, I wish I’d bought those fabulous shoes on sale at Nordstrom’s last week huge, but oh crap, it’s the end of the world as I know it huge. As far as mistakes go, this was of the A-bomb variety.

Jude had come by to drop off a support check. It was the least he could do after everything. Bad enough he abandoned me and our lives, but to do so and leave me with no cash to pay the bills and the mortgage, well that would be entirely unseemly and Jude was nothing if not seemly when it came to finances. What more could you expect from a CPA?

I’d already poured myself a second glass of wine (having tossed one down my gullet in anticipation of his arrival) so I didn’t exactly notice Jude’s peculiarly cold stare and peaked countenance at first, the whites of his azure eyes a stippled with red. I thought maybe he was just tired, and I was plenty satisfied to see that his footloose lifestyle might not be agreeing with him so much. Hey, I know at this point in life carousing all night is not as easy as it once was.

I invited him to have a seat and I took my place to his right, expecting him to initiate conversation. I straightened a stack of magazines in front of me on the coffee table, then fanned them out, finally settling on a neat stack while awaiting a word from his pursed lips.

“What’s the matter   cat got your tongue?” I finally asked him after a few long minutes of awkward silence. I know it seems weird that I’d even let the man into my house, all things considered, but I am a firm believer in trying to remain on speaking terms with one’s ex. Of course I never knew I’d have to practice what I preached in that regard, but now that I must is no time to drop one’s standards.

I grabbed another Waterford goblet (the pattern we’d registered for together at Bloomingdales all those many years ago) from the china closet to pour Jude a glass. I couldn’t have the man leaving me money without being somewhat polite toward him.

“Wine?” I asked.

His eyes lit up a little bit. “What do you have?”

“Red okay?”

He loosened his necktie, looking ravenous, as if he hadn’t had anything to eat or drink in days and my offering was going to solve that problem pronto.

“I’ve been dying for something red,” he said.

Of course I didn’t even think twice about it. Sometimes I could kill for something red myself. We talked for a little bit about this and thats, nothing important. I asked if he was doing his laundry fine and he said he’d found a woman in his apartment building who had offered to do it for him. Figures. Wonder if she’s staining his Calvin Kleins.

“What’s she getting in return?” I asked as I squinted a bit, afraid I could guess at the answer. He merely raised his eyebrows, but I swear I saw a passing glimpse of pain alight on his face. But just as quickly it dissipated, and he leaned back against the sofa, stretching his arms across while crossing one leg over the other.

“You look good, Marina,” he said, nodding up and down at me. I guess he liked my new red highlights.

I half-laughed a sort of sad, hollow laugh.

“No, seriously. Good enough to eat.” He reached across and tucked a finger beneath the strap of my pink camisole Hello Kitty! pajama top. I guess I had been looking a little better lately; a marital break-up has a way of helping a girl slim down in no time.

“But not good enough to see you through your crisis of self I suppose,” I said looking down at the ground. I couldn’t help but remain conflicted about the man. Part of me hated him down to his DNA and wanted to reach into his throat and extract his internal organs and splay them in front of his face, just to exact a bit of revenge. But the other part of me couldn’t get over what we’d once had. Up until a month ago I had loved this man and no other. I’d trusted him.

“I told you, Marina, I’m just trying to get my head on straight,” he said, running the fingers of his free hand through his wavy, black hair as if whatever was on his mind was paining him. Yet he continued to twirl the strap of my top.

We sipped some wine and talked about Bittsy, our black cat, a bit. So far Jude hadn’t made a play for custody of Bittsy, which was good. Because I’d no sooner give her up than I’d die for the man.

Jude wiped his lips after finishing off his glass of wine. I took a final sip of mine and a trickle of wine missed my mouth, trailing down my chin to my neck. Just as I was about to dab it away, Jude, always the chivalrous man, came to the rescue.

“Here, let me,” he said, and I fully expected him to blot the drip with his thumb. Instead he leaned forward and dragged his tongue from the base of my neck to just beneath my chin, then licked his lips for emphasis. It sent chills up my spine. Unfortunately not bad chills, either.

There was something eerily sensual about Jude that night. Like how a male stripper can be both a turn on and a turn off at the same time. Fact is, I’d never done it with someone as seductive (or forbidden) as a male stripper before, and for some reason the notion of illicit sex (or at that point, any sex) sounded so appealing.

“What was that for?” I panted out the question as if I’d just sprinted the hundred-yard dash.

“You know you can be terribly irresistible, Marina.”

Jude licked his lips again in an almost wolfish manner. Now, throughout the course of our marriage, the sex was fine, but it was never downright erotic. There was never once a moment when I felt the kind of thrill you might get, say, if you rob a bank. Not that that would thrill me, mind you. Yet here was my ex-husband, the ink barely dry on the divorce decree, heating up my libido with the mere trace of his tongue across lips?

I was trying to figure out what to say next when Jude took matters into his own hands. He grabbed the bottle of Merlot from the coffee table, and poured a splash down the center of my neck, into my cleavage. A small part of me was mentally shrieking “Why! I never!”   what with the guaranteed wine stain on my pajama top (and don’t even remind me of the one on my dupioni silk divan). But an ever bigger part of me was in hubba-hubba mode, because I hadn’t ever driven a man to do something like that.

Before I knew what was happening Jude was atop me, licking me like a starving schnauzer that’s been given a bone coated in peanut butter. His hands were under my top before I could even protest (and at that point how could I?) and before I could do much more but surrender both of us were clawing at each other, hurling clothes as far away as the kitchen. I should’ve demanded a condom —what if he’d been sleeping with the laundry lady?— but foolishly discounted it (we’d given up worrying about pregnancy years ago, to my dismay).

“Marina, you make me do strange things,” Jude said as he entered me with far more force than I ever recall, yet far more passion as well, grabbing, groping, pulling, and nipping as he was.

“If this is what you call strange then I’m all for making it more familiar,” I said as I searched for his mouth, which seemed to be in a frenzy trying to stake his claim all over my body.

“Oh, my God,” Jude groaned with one final thrust as his hungry mouth came down along the column of my neck.

“Oh, sweet Jesus,” I screamed as I felt as if a staple gun had just punctured my throat. “What the fuck are you doing?”

For a moment all I could hear was panting, his and mine intermingled, but mine more with fear, his more with what seemed to be repletion. As Jude finally released his grip on my neck, I reached to feel what the branding iron pain was from, and my fingers came away smeared with blood.

I pushed Jude off of me and sat up, naked, trembling. “What the hell is wrong with you? You hurt me!”

“Oh, shit.” He wiped away a trickle of blood from his lips then rolled off of me and groaned, first quietly, but then louder and louder until he was screaming. “Oh God! How could I have done that?”

“Done what?” He was really scaring me. First with that bite that came out of nowhere and then this, as if he’d unleashed the Hounds of Hell on me and now regretted it.

I looked closely at his face and saw that his pallor seemed to have perked up. He almost glowed with good health.

“Have you done something that will get you into trouble?” I ask, rubbing my neck, which hurt like a sonofabitch.

Jude stood up and began to pace, muttering inaudibles over and over again, dragging his fingers through his hair as if raking up a leaf-strewn yard.

“Marina, you’d better sit down.”

Considering I already was sitting down   stark naked, I might add — that was hardly sage advice. I had this feeling come over me, a really bad feeling. Like when my mother broke the news to me that my father was dying of cancer. Somehow I must have sensed that whatever Jude was about to say was going to throw my world into upheaval.

Jude was pacing like a convict awaiting the executioner, and deliberately not making eye contact with me. Naked pacing ought to be considered an obvious sign of trouble ahead.

“Now what I’m about to say you’re not going to like,” he started out. And by phrasing things that way he assured himself that I’d be unhappy with it. By then I’d grabbed a dishtowel to blot the blood from that bizarre little love bite of his. Whatever was up with that I figured I’d never know.

“You’re giving me the creeps, Jude. Just get on with it.”

Jude sat on the coffee table, facing me, then stood up again, pacing some more, his dangly bits flapping around like a semaphore warning.

“Christ, Jude, the floor’s going to catch fire if you don’t stop making so much friction on it. Okay, okay, I get the hint. You regret having slept with me. I can deal with it. To tell you the truth I only did it because I was horny anyhow

“You only slept with me because you were horny?”

I gave him a “no duh” look, rolling my eyes.

“But” 

He began to knead his face with his hands. 

“When I said I had to leave you it wasn’t because I didn’t love you, Marina,” he said. “It was because something happened. Something horrible happened.” 

I just stared at him, not sure whether I should call 9-1-1 or push him out the door.

“I met a woman. And I’ll admit, she was beautiful. Blonde, stacked. She had an amazing ass.”

“Cut to the chase. I don’t need to hear about your infidelities at this point. We’re divorced, now, in case you hadn’t noticed.”

Talk about tacky, fresh after hooking up with your ex, chatting about a booty call with another woman.

“No, but see, I didn’t want to be unfaithful. Sure, I didn’t mind looking at her. I mean she was a knockout. I’ll admit she got my blood stirring. God, that wasn’t well-phrased. Let’s take that back. So maybe she inspired some thoughts in me. But I loved  love  you, Marina.”

“Don’t talk about love with me, Jude. I’m the one who loved you and look what you did to that.”

“But that’s what I’m getting at. I had to leave you. And it’s because of this woman. I met her through work. She came in one day, without an appointment, said she wanted to meet with me. I told her to talk to DeeDee about setting up a time. She did, but in the meantime she followed me after work one day—she seemed so insistent about this. Claimed she needed an accountant for a business that had been in the family for many generations. Wanted to meet over drinks to discuss what she needed from me. I was going to tell her to just stick with her appointment but she begged me.”

“Since when did you succumb to a woman begging you?” Jude was not your average bird dog when it came to women. I can’t remember him even watching another gal in my presence.

He put his finger to his lips; I shut up and let him continue. “Finally I relented and told her we could meet for a drink. I met her at Q Bar, the one we went to for your birthday last year.”

“You took her to my birthday bar?”

“I didn’t take her — I was just meeting her there. I was a few minutes late and she was drumming her fingers on the bar, looking most impatient. Once we sat down to talk, I realized there was something about her, something eerily mesmerizing. I couldn’t keep my eyes off her, like I had no control over myself. Sure I stared at her. Who can look at a Da Vinci without an appreciative eye?”

“Are you trying to piss me off?”

“I’m just saying. But I soon realized the more I tried to look away from her, the more she fixed her gaze on mine, pinning her focus on me so precisely it was like a laser beam being used to hone in on its target. I couldn’t do a thing about it. Before I knew what was happening, we were in an alley behind Chili’s and she had her hand on my” 

“I told you I don’t want to hear about your dalliances, Jude.” 

“But it’s relevant information,” he said. “Now, where was I? Oh, yeah, she had her hand on my crotch and even though I knew in my heart it was wrong, I couldn’t help myself, babe.” 

“Don’t babe me.” 

“Honestly I couldn’t help it. And then I was pushing up her skirt and she was tugging down my pants and somehow deep down in my gut I felt certain I was going to be having the best sex of my life when she opened her mouth wide, wide like a snake about to eat something ten times its size, and then she clamped down on my neck and I felt this pain, like someone had

“Shot a staple gun in your neck,” I said, my whole body beginning to tremble.

“I didn’t know what had happened at first,” Jude continued. “I looked over at this woman and she looked as if someone had just infused her with sunshine, she practically glowed all of a sudden. And then I

“Reached down and felt your neck

“And it was warm and wet

“And when you took your hand away

 “There. Was

“Blood.”

I was shaking, the sort of 7.0-on-the-Richter scale tremors that happen when you’re coming out of anesthesia following surgery. I wanted a warm hospital blanket and a soothing nurse at that very moment to calm me, to tell me I was all right. For that matter I’d have been much happier to realize I’d emerged from mere surgery with a simple organ removed, rather than my entire future excised without having even signed a consent form.

“Before I could find anything more about this woman, she was gone. The only thing I had left with the slightest hint about her was a web address she’d given me:

  v_sanguine.net

“I thought it was her business website, so I looked it up, but there was nothing there. Nothing. Then when I typed in the word sanguine, I hit the jackpot. Well, jackpot in a bad way. I realized then what had happened.”

By that time I’d grabbed the wedding afghan that my Aunt Bertie had crocheted for me, her twelfth niece, and wrapped myself , mummy-like, with it. I didn’t particularly like the thing, but always felt so badly that poor Aunt Bertie died a spinster and I knew someone had to appreciate her handiwork, even if it did catch fingers and toes if you tried to sleep with it. And was the color of  oh, God  dried blood. 

“I still hadn’t fully embraced what had happened. I mean, yeah, I’ve watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But that was just television. I knew there was nothing like this in real life. Surely this was just some insane woman who had a really creepy fetish.”

I was feeling especially lightheaded, the way you feel after you’ve given blood. Only no one was nearby to hand me a cookie and a glass of orange juice. Oh, wait, I had given blood. Only not of my own volition. I still hadn’t the energy to say much of anything, so I sat back and listened, staring as if in a trance. 

“I knew I’d done everything wrong. Everything. I mean, I had sex with this stranger. Even though I was married to you. And that was bad enough. But then, but then…” he trailed off and just sort of stood there, still naked, his shrunken willy looking about as forlorn as I think he was. “After I came home, I tried to research more about this. But everything I read kept coming back to the same thing. And as the days progressed, I began to feel weaker, I knew what I needed, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I mean what was I going to do, go down to the local blood bank and ask to make a withdrawal?” 

At that my stomach began to lurch, like a very flat tire trying to progress down the road. Flop, flop, flop. I could feel the wine and the Moo Goo Gai Pan I’d eaten an hour earlier (along with about four Chips Ahoys and a box of Jujubes) all vying against one another to be the first back up the chute. 

I raced to the nearest receptacle, my kitchen recycling bin, and heaved repeatedly. For the record, the Jujubes won. 

I stood up, my ugly vermillion afghan draped across me like Dracula’s cape — oh, God, no — and stared at my husband. My ex-husband.

“You mean to tell me you’ve fucking turned me into a vampire?” For a whisper of a moment, the amount of time it takes a hummingbird to flap its wings, I stood frozen in place. But then I surged forward, pounding my fists against Jude in rapid-fire motion, as fast as Phil Collins with a set of drumsticks.

“YOU FUCKING TURNED ME INTO A VAMPIRE??? You bastard!” I screamed, pounding with what felt like a bizarrely superhuman strength, as if I’d suddenly been imbued with invincibility, but realizing that it wasn’t even eliciting a flinch from the man. Beast. Whatever he was. Or I now am. “Everything!,” I shrieked. “Everything! I had everything ahead of me!” 

Well, maybe not everything, but I could have if I’d have wanted it.

“And now, just-just-just look at me” I pointed at my chest. “Look at these!” My droopy middle-aged breasts were slumped across my torso like a broken spirit. 

“I kept meaning to make an appointment with a plastic surgeon to discuss fixing these puppies! Couldn’t you have at least waited till I’d gotten around to doing that? Now I’m stuck with sagging tits for all of eternity?” 

“I’m sorry, Marina, I tried to resist,” he said, letting out a sigh that seemed to reached to the bottom of the earth. “But when I saw you looking all sexy like that, what could I do? You know that all men think with their dicks. Why would I be an exception? Besides, I love your breasts just the way they are.” He reached over in an attempt to tweak one but I swatted him away immediately. 

“Sexy like what? I was sitting here minding my own business in my Hello Kitty! pajamas! You’ve got a hell of a lot of explaining to do.” 

Jude grabbed a throw pillow and plunked down on my burgundy leather Queen Anne (which would surely stick to his sweaty flesh. Unless vampire flesh has a Teflon quality to it I don’t know about). He at least had the decency to cover himself up with the pillow. 

“So the more I read about my dilemma” 

“Dilemma? Are you mad? Dilemma is trying to figure out how you’re going to get to work on time when you’re stuck in rush hour traffic” 

“Okay, fine, the more I read about my predicament, the more I realized it came with all sorts of, well, let’s say contraindications to our staying together.” 

“Contraindications? Now we’re cribbing from the pharmacy warning labels?” 

“Would you let me continue? This is hard enough, in case you hadn’t noticed.” 

“You just sucked blood from my neck, Jude. Like some greedy two hundred pound mosquito. You’ve apparently just made me immortal, for fuck’s sake  nothing I ever wanted, by the way. So don’t look for much sympathy from this corner of the peanut gallery.” 

He gave a subtle nod in my direction, meager acknowledgment for his transgressions if you ask me. “Anyhow. The longer I went without sustenance, the more I craved it. At first I was able to stave off the yearnings. I was eating steaks  rare  every day at lunch. But I soon discovered that steak alone wasn’t going to do the job. I had to go on the prowl.” 

“The prowl? Like some middle-aged Mr. Goodbar?” 

Jude rolled his eyes at me. “I was trying to protect you, Marina.” 

“Clearly that worked.” I glared at him. “So this is when the fancy underpants came into play?”

“They’re not underpants.”

“Whatever. So this is when you started dressing to, what, kill?”

Jude flinched at that. “I wasn’t trying to kill anyone. But I didn’t know what to do. And really, I didn’t exactly kill them. I just changed their natural state.”

“I’ll say. Like going from a state of ecstasy to the state penitentiary. Only this prison’s for all eternity.” Was it for eternity? I was trying to probe the recesses of my memory for some notion about vampire lore. I dressed as Dracula for Halloween once or twice, but I didn’t bone up on Drac’s habits for the occasion.

“So did you have extended hook-ups with women? Or did you just nab ‘em in the elevator and give ‘em the old one-two?” I made a hook and an uppercut with my arms, then looked over and saw the truth carved like wrinkles into his face. “You slept with them and you killed them?”

“I couldn’t help it, Marina,” he said. “And I didn’t kill them. I just” 

“I know what you just” 

“I was trying to preserve us. Honestly, I did this for you.”

“For me!!!” For about one more millisecond I was rendered speechless but then the tidal wave of fury beckons forth from my mouth -— that very mouth that is now going to have to find a taste for blood. With me, a vegetarian. Jesus. I’ve always been pretty good at math, but this sort of calculation doesn’t add up no matter how many ways I try to work the equation. 

“First you have sex with a strange, beautiful woman in a dark alley. Then you start cruising for new meat like some sort of, of, of cannibal, doing god knows what to get your fix, and now you’ve destroyed me, destroyed my life.” I pace the room back and forth like some nervous father-to-be awaiting a cigar and an It’s a Boy! declaration. “Jesus! My mother warned me about men! But did I listen? No. I told her you weren’t like other men. But she told me one day I’d know better. This is one time I wish my mother wasn’t right.

“It’s all making sense now,” I said, trying to feign calm while teetering on the edge of manic rage, a veritable cattle stampede of anger. “First the damned underwear. Then the steaks! You gave up red meat for me years ago. But then you started sneaking behind my back eating steak again. I thought I smelled blood in your sweat at the gym, dammit. Steaks. Now my life is going to be about steaks and stakes. Jesus, fuck. And you knew about my blood aversion. It’s why I didn’t go to med school. I can barely attend the annual Red Cross gala. And I practically faint at the sight of blood! Goddammit Jude, how could you? You know I’m not a night owl! And now I have to avoid daylight?? How the hell am I going to get a suntan? You tell me that. Christ, I should’ve known ex-sex would lead to no good. This is bad. On a bad scale with zero being a paper cut and a hundred being my dog got hit by a train, this is a bazillion on that bad scale. A bazillion, Jude, do you hear me? You’ve just sentenced me to an even worse fate than you because a) you betrayed your wife when you fucked some strange woman behind the Chili’s  and god, we don’t even eat at Chilis!  so you deserve this, and b) this is going to really put a kink in my life. How the hell do you expect a vegetarian hemophobe to survive as a vampire? You tell me that? Am I supposed to mug a blood courier? Cause I’ll never do what you just did to get by.” 

Jude grabbed another nearby blanket and wrapped it around his waist. “First off, I don’t know where you get the idea that somehow you’ll be afraid of gay people” 

I poked him in his forehead with my forefinger, wishing I had the power to make an actual indentation, a keepsake for him to remember what an ass he is. “I said hemophobe, not homophobe.” 

“It was a joke, Marina. Remember, we always love to joke together?”

“Joke’s on you, too, cause this is no laughing matter. Why’d you go and kill me, Jude? Did you hate me that much?”

“I didn’t kill you  I made you immortal!” 

“Whoo-hoo! I get to be immortal. With these!” I screamed, pointing again at my ta-ta’s. 

“But don’t you get it? It’s not about that stuff. It’s bigger than all of that. It’s about Us, with a big U. Us reuniting. Back together again. Maybe on some subconscious level I did this on purpose, because I wanted — needed  to share my forever with you. Just think, now we can be together for all eternity.” 

Me? Together with you?” I shrieked yet again. It seems that shrieking might well be a hallmark of vampirism. “For all eternity? Are you out of your fucking mind? You just killed me, and now you want me to be yours? Put it in a goddamned valentine.” 

I got up, supercharged with my newfound and roiling anger heaving like a stomach with a bad case of food poisoning. I stormed across the living room and kitchen, collecting bits of my ex-husband’s clothing, confetti that started out celebratory but now only served as a stale reminder of what wasn’t. I opened the fireplace screen, pulled the flue handle down, and piled his pants, shirt and shoes atop the andirons. I pulled the matchbox off the mantle, upon which was the last remaining picture of me and Jude together, which I grabbed and threw in with the rest, and lit the pile on fire. Jude came rushing over. 

“Marina! You can’t do that!” 

“Oh I think you broke the bank on can’t do that’s. I most certainly can, and watch me.” I blocked his body as I let the conflagration erupt, the soles of his shoes smoldering longer than the flash-fire cotton of his shirt. 

“My clothes. I need my clothes” 

“My life. I needed my life, and you snatched that right out from under me.”

“Honey, why don’t you just sleep on this, maybe you’ll see things clearer in the morning.”

“This isn’t like breaking up with my first boyfriend. Nothing will become clear in this picture. Now. GET OUT.” I wiped my hands against each other, as if erasing him from my existence. I grabbed a fireplace poker and skewered him in the butt, pushing him toward the front door.

“But Marina, honey, I love you.”

Out!” I began hitting him, hoping he’d finally take the hint. As we made it to the doorway, enacting the very reverse of that newlywed tradition of the groom carrying the bride across the threshold, a flash of white caught my eye, and I reached down to spear what I saw.

“Don’t forget these,” I said, passing Jude his beloved Calvin Kleins on the spear tip of my fireplace poker. “I think you’re gonna need them.”

 ### 

Please check out my books that have been published!

Sleeping with Ward Cleaver

Slim to None

Anywhere But Here

Where the Heart Is

 

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

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