- If I should die, think only this of me:
- That there's some corner of a foreign field
- That is for ever the home of the free, the land of the brave.
- There shall be
- In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
- A dust whom America bore, shaped, made aware,
- Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
- A body of America's, breathing American air,
- Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
- And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
- A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
- Gives somewhere back the thoughts by America freely given;
- Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
- And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
- In hearts at peace, under an American heaven.
- Rupert Brooke: my apologizes for changing England to America.
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Monday, June 29, 2009
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Days come and go at the Villa Poggiale, people check in and leave, departing for new destinations and adventures. Their stay is usually brief, a day or two at most. Villa Poggiale has little to keep its weary travelers here for very long, only the solitude of being away from the lights and activity of the city of Florence.
Of those who stayed for awhile, first there was the "office," actually a group of wedding photographers who had gathered at Villa Poggiale to study under Jeff (I forget his last name, but know that he was Australian, and well-known as he was always described to me.) As the office was a self-contained group our speaking was limited to questions of how to connect to the wi-fi. Jeff's wife, a cute thing with a stylish bob hairstyle, was always on the computer when not involved in the groups' activities.
Then there were Rupert and Katie from England, he a HP sales director, who along with his wife was getting away form the drudgeries of business. "competition is fierce," was all that he would allow when talking business, but who wants to bring troubles with them on a holiday.
As for the rest, mostly they come for a night and a day to recharge their batteries before the next stop. The family from Singapore, the father bald headed and austere, who smoked a cigar at meals, and his daughter who offered us a piece of their mother's birthday cake at breakfast. English, American, Dutch, German, and Italian, the guest come from everywhere, ships passing in the darkness with a brief "bon giorno" or other greeting, and that is it.
Sunday, June 28, 2009
It happened on a short run rom the Villa Poggiale into San Casciono. The distance is short, about two miles, and the route from villa to city climbs the hill that San Casciono sits atop. The way up is not steep, winding left and right through the olive orchards and, now and again, past houses that butt into the road like the prow of a ship. Even when the houses do not narrow the roadway, the olive trees grow right next to the road. The road is narrow. At its widest, the road can handle two cars and then a little bit more. At its narrowest, cars stop to allow one to pass when two would not fit.
I said that I almost lost my life.
I was running along the road. I was on the left side facing traffic, the way my mother had taught me. All of the sudden, speeding along toward me was a car - sporty, short, and fast. European cars are built that way so that they can hug the corners of the small roadways like a Grand Prix racer. This car coming at me was like one of those racers, cutting the edge of the road so that he could cut down on the distance of his turn by an inch or two, and, in doing so, he came within six inches of me. I flatten myself against the hedge that grew along side the road, as he sped on and on.
Bicyclists seem to have no problems on these same narrow twisting roadways. But then, cars treat them with respect as if each bicyclist was in the Tour de France. Runners are not treated the same. Runners on Italian roadways are aberrations. They are like deer, fair game.
Doors and windows are among the most photographed images in France and Italy. Red, blue, green, they are weathered and stained. Usually, doors and windows are set off by pots filled with colorful flowers or by vines arching above and over the entrance.
A door, a window and a cheese shop - even when the paint is not kept up, the look of the building is other-worldly as if time has frozen and we are transported in time and place to a simpler life.
Finally, add a bicycle to a door and a window and you have a perfect setting. Who needs a car?
The sitting room of the Villa Poggiale uses trompe l'oeil in its arched 18 foot ceilings. The manner is more in the style of French Renaissance with the use of architectural features rather than with the use of natural scenes.
Florence because of its trade in wool and financial interests was a supporter of the Guelphs. Then again, allegiances shifted within cities and parties often vied with each other for financial or religious reasons.
The tall towers that highlight the town of San Gimilgnano were built during the period that the Guelphs and Ghibellines vied for control and were in part built as a defense against the warring parties.
The area facing to the north is a suburb of Florence. To the south are spectacular views of the wine and olive growing area of Chianti. The area is one for rest and relaxation after the bustle of Florence.
Saturday, June 27, 2009
Communication is simple. Press the comment button and type. Don't be intimidated by misspellings, they are a natural part of life.
As it was raining, we took refuge in this small restaurant run by Marco, a waitress who always wore sunglasses, and a cook who looked to be Marco's mother, who toiled over a traditional Italian oven.
The surprise is sometimes the food, which is excellent; sometimes the setting, which is old or beautiful; and sometimes the staff, who are humanly wonderful.
Our waiter, Marco, was as gracious as could be imagined. The restaurant held no more than four tables in the one room that was open, and Marco was proud to serve his limited but delicious fare. A peek in the kitchen revealed a traditional Italian grill where the food was lovingly prepared by one cook, Mama.
Eventually, the rain lets up and it is picture perfect again.
"Are you connected?" refers to the simple fact that much of our life depends on our connection to the internet. The internet brings us our mail, our news, it allows us to communicate in ways that we have never before imagined.The internet exponentially increases our connections with the world in which we live and the people who inhabit that world.
My dependence on the internet was brought home to me this morning as I sit here in the drawing room of the Villa Poggiale. The hotel is an eighteenth century villa more designed to keep out the outside world out than to bring it in. Still, to accomodate guests, the villa set up wi-fi, so that businessmen could conduct business; and casual travelers could keep in touch with love ones at home and make the next reservation for the next hotel along their journey. Alas, I am without a connection. I cannot communicate with friends or family outside the sphere of this small villa.
This experience of being unconnected is disconcerting. Like the Robin Williams - Peter Pan character in the movie "Hook;" I on vacation with family, but constantly checking in with the internet to find what is going on back home. In Robin Williams case, it was a cell phone. His wife and children are exasperated, as are mine, with an obsession of staying connected to business clients while ignoring the needs of the family. In the movie, finally the son, I think, chucks the phone out the window and his connection is gone. Robin Williams, the Peter character grown into adulthood must now confront his personal fears.
My family surrounds me while I sit at the computer impatiently waiting for me to drive them to San Gimilgnano. I am unconnected. But, then perhaps the message is that connections can be interpersonal as well as digital. So, for a time, I need to connect to my family and friends in a way that does not involve a computer.
Friday, June 26, 2009
The adversity was a car breakdown on the autoroute at Piacenza. This was the final resting place of Adam's Volvo V4o T4. Adam said that the car was once as fast as "shit off a shovel." Now it is just "shit". The temperature gauge went from 100 degrees to 140 degrees. "I got the hood up and there was oil everywhere," Adam said. "I put water in the radiator and, like a geyser, the water rose 40 feet in the air."
Travel insurance allowed the family to be towed into the city where they were put up in at a Holiday Inn. An evening at Bella Napoli, the restaurant where all the footballers go. Then, the next day they got a rental car.
Now the Workmans are in Tuscany. We are sitting here and drinking wine out of a box, South African Red Wine with a picture of a zebra raising its tail. The wine tastes like the picture.
2. San Gimignano, the City of Beautiful Towers, is a classic medieval walled hill town, famous for its 14 surviving medieval towers creating a beautiful skyline visible from the surrounding countryside. The oldest tower dates from 1298, its duomo from the 11th century. In the interior of the cathedral, see the fourteenth century frescos illustrating the life of Christ.
Try its white wine, Vernaccia.
3. Lucca has one of the best-preserved city-walls in Italy. Atop the walls are paths and gardens, allowing you to walk completely around Lucca's historic center. Lucca has several towers from where you can get fabulous views of the city.
4. Cortona is the Tuscan hill town made famous by Francis Mayes in her book Under the Tuscan Sun. Surrounded by Etruscan walls, the city was founded around 3000 years ago. Cortona is built upon the more ancient Etruscan civilization .
Google map of Cortona.
Photo from fotostock, see more.
5. Montepulciano is built on a narrow limestone ridge. Montepulciano wine is called Vino Nobile. The city has one of the most impressive main squares in Tuscany and has many beautiful Renaissance buildings. Nearby is Montalcino with a castle at the edge of the town that has wine tasting. Continuing on along the scenic route, Pienza is a small, beautiful Renaissance town.
Picture from Lovely Planet.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
The restaurant is a traditional trattoria, that is, there are set menus, but there is also a fixed menu that most locals eat. The appetizers were eggplant made in a tempura sauce and three types of bruschetta. The segundi, or second course, was pasta - a traditional pasta with sausage and tomato sauce, one with mushrooms, and, finally, one with buffalo. The last choice strangely out of character for Italy.
There was a final course of steak prepared on a arugalla salad. Delicious.
Will was watching Brazil versus South Africa on TV. The score nil after the first half.
We get back to the Villa Poggiale after ten p.m. and have forgotten the key that gets us in the front gate. I climb over the ten foot iron gate with pointed spears at the top. We are then met by a concerned security person, who lets us in. Crisis over.
The Villa Il Poggiale is a country home, surrounded by olive groves and grape vineyards, set in the Tuscan hills just south of Florence. This traditional Tuscan country villa dates to the Renaissance period and has had such illustrious proprietors as noble families Corsini, Martini, and Ricasoli-Rucellai. It has been in the Vitta family for the past 50 years.
The hotel is recommended by Karen Brown and by friends from Wichita, Chris and Dan Clothier. The interior is beautifully decorated in period pieces of the Belle Epoque. Twenty foot ceilings with crystal chandliers, English upholstry, cherry and walnut furniture, oil paintings and artwork abound. The rooms in the main house are large and spacious. A guest farmhouse is available for larger groups.
Come here to get away from the crowds. Visit the Villa Poggiale website.
Photo by Karen Brown.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Driving into Arles itself was a challenge. The city is small, about 50,000 people, but no changes have been made to the roads since the days of Van Gogh, and then not many since the time the Romans ruled this area. Then, imagine a stream of cars, taxis, and tour buses all conbverging on the city center from all directions. The lines getting into town were a mile long, and then imagine my frustration when I made a wrong turn and had to get back in line. No fun, but I took a couple detours that shortened the return trips.
Checked into the Hothttp://www.hotelatrium.com/el Atrium, a Best Western that lives up to all my expectations of what a Best Western would be - outdated, musty, but convenient and passable. Moreover, the sitting room where I am doing my computing has all those garish Van Gogh colors of orange, lime green, brown, and chairs that look as if they have come out of one of Van Gogh's paintings. There is even a vase with red poppies.
The hotel has a parking garage and it is air conditioned. The clerk at the front desk spoke English and we laughed about the driving in France. After i told him how bad I thought the traffic was in Arles, he asked me if I was going to Marsailles. "If you go, don't stop at a red light, nobody does," he laughed.
Monday, June 22, 2009
Gaudi's architecture was influenced by nature as reflected by his use of curved stones, twisted iron sculptures, and organic-like forms, all traits of Gaudi's Barcelona architecture. Visit the Cantabrian Mountains near San Sebastian to find natural formations which inspired Gaudi's work.
The cathedral was 44 years in the making and was unfinished at the time of Gaudi's death in 1926. It is referred to as the Sagreda Familia, Sacred Family, or sometimes as the Unfinished Cathedral.
Barcelona is peppered with his works, and when walking you are likely to come across one of his surrealistic architectural interpretations.
There is also a park in the north part of the city where Gaudi lived that is devoted to his architecture.
Nothing makes Will so happy as a soccer game. In Valencia and in Barcelona, Will was able to get into some street soccer games. There is no language barrier where there is a soccer ball.
His second biggest thrill was a visit to the Real Madrid soccer stadium and then the one in Barcelona.
The TV is 24 - 7 soccer, so Will is in soccer heaven.
He will always be Daddy Matt to his grandchildren, but to his friends, formally, he was General James Madison Pearson. He was born in 1888 in Birmingham, Alabama, enlisted at 17 in the army and went to fight in the Philippine Insurrection with Black Jack Pershing. During World War I, he fought in France in the Haute Marne (near Metz and Verdun, west of Strasburg, near the Vosges Mountains). He was wounded in action, met a French girl by the name of Marguerite Chevalier, fell in love, and married her. My mother, Elmire, was their first child.
These are his campaign ribbons.
Sunday, June 21, 2009
My advice for men is wear long pants, black in color, and button down the back pocket. Get rid of the baseball cap and tennis shoes which mark you as an easy target.
Kathy and Mike,
I got your comment. The best way to contact me is by posting a comment on the contact me post or email me at http://email@example.com.
I am heading to Italy after Spain. It is ten days or so under the Tuscan sun and then back through France to England.
While in France, I will visit Graffigny-Chemin, a small village in Haute Marne, the former Lorraine, where our grandmother was born and where she met our grandfather while he was fighting in World War I.
Grandmother Marguerite's maiden name was Chevalier and Meine. After World War I, she took the name of Chevalier because of anti-German sentiment. Kathy has the most information on Granny.
Paris for three days and nights.
St. Emilion for one night.
San Sebastian, Spain for one night.
South to Segovia for a night.
Past Madrid to Toledo.
Back north to Madrid.
On to Valencia.
Then to Barcelona for three nights.
Next stop Arles, France.
Honestly, there is so much to see in Barcelona, that I have had very little time to say anything about the Hotel Princess, which we have been staying in for the last two days. The hotel is located off the Ronda Litorial at the intersection of the Diagonal, so it is easy to find. The best time to stay here is on the weekend when you can get a rate of 80 euros, after that it is the standard 130 euros.
Well, you get what you pay for, and then sometimes a little more. There is a spectacular view of the Mediterranean from our room. It is not, and this is important, in a tourist area, but rather it is right by the beach and close to the Metro so that you can get anywhere.
The staff was ever so helpful in recommending a great restaurant, el Asador de Aranda, where Will and I had the best lamb in a Moorish inspired building.
All tourists in Barcelona and a few locals, converge on La Rambla, a street, or more properly a series of streets, off the Plaza Catalonia - in Catalonian, Placa Catalunya. If you are looking for "what to do" in Barcelona on a Satruday night, this is the place with its vendors of exotic pets and varied choice of street performers.
Just off of La Rambla is the Barcelona market which is a must see on any day but Sunday.
Barcelona's best known merkt or mercado, is located off la Rambla, in the heart of downtown Barcelona. A visit to la Rambla is itself an adventure on a Saturday night - thousands of tourists walking this way and that, more than a few pick pockets, and so many street performers. But, it was the market that we came for, since it is closed on Sunday, and we were not disappointed.
There is everything for the palate: fish, cheese, meat, eggs, fruit, vegetables, spices, wines, and then there are the bars and restaurants where one can take their selections and have them prepared.
This market is not for the faint of heart. Be prepared to see rabbits and chickens skinned and displayed with head, feet, and torso. Then, there are the cow's tongues and intestines.
Give yourself plenty of time to take it all in, and, of course, plan to eat your selections at the market itself.
The reservation for dinner at la Asador de Aranda was for nine thirty. We were late as the taxi went up the hill of the fashionable Avenida Tibidado.
The taxi ride was long and for a moment we despaired, thinking that the driver had gotten the address wrong, or that the helpful hotel clerk, Veronica, had sent us off on a quest for something not as fine as we had anticipated. Then, the taxi pulled off into a side street and there rising above us was a vision of a Moorish inspired building brightly lit in the dark night.
We climbed the colorfully tilled floors of the restaurant and eyed the arched windows and timbered ceilings.
The hostess greeted us with a smile, and offered us the choice of sitting inside in the beautiful dining room or outside on the patio in the coolness of the night air. Each choice being equally as fine, we chose the patio where we were seated under an old bouganvilla vine.
For a first timer at the restaurant, the only meal to get is the house recommended dinner which consists of an appetizer plate of Spanish meats, a main course of baby lamb on the bone, and a desert of sweet Spanish liquor and a pastry.
Dining in Spain is a leisurely activity. One is seated and you talk. The waiter only comes after you have had a chance to gather yourself and admire the surroundings.
Patience is a virtue and should be practiced. Drinks come with the meal and not before as is the American custom. The servings are generous by anyone's standards and come only when the first course is completed and not one on top of the other, as so often happens in America.
Our lamb was cooked to perfection. The meat fell from the bone. The salty and sweet juice of the lamb dripped from each forkful. The desert liquor had the taste of licorice. The pastry reminded me of a Napolean.
Is it possible that each restaurant can be better than the one before.
La Asador de Aranda.
Saturday, June 20, 2009
The Hotel Valencia Center wasn't bad, it just wasn't good.
First, it is not in the best location. It is a mile from the beach, another mile from the old city center, but close to some museums which I am not up to visiting.
The parking garage was a challenge to squeeze into. How I did it without scraping the car in the narrow passageway will remain a mystery. The rooms are large and spacious, television with American channels, if your into that, and a large modern bathroom. And as always, toiletries abound - a toothbrushe, a comb, soaps, shampoos, and a few surprises. There is a pool, that Will is off to right now, and a fitness center.
Breakfast was great, consisting of an assortment of cheeses, meats, eggs, rolls, fruit, coffee, and juice.
Friday, June 19, 2009
Old Spain certainly still exists. Senoras fan themselves to keep cool in the midday sun, couples walk the beach front, but there is also the feeling that life must be enjoyed. Children fill the streets playing soccer, couples stroll with child in hand. Life in Valencia is alive.
Valencia held out longer than any other city against the forces of Franco's nationalists forces. When in Valencia, one realizes that something has changed from the rigid conservatism of Madrid. The people of Valencia are different. The attitudes are more liberal. Their freedom is expressed in the way Valencians live their lives.
Valencia is a beautiful city with wide beaches, good food, and gentle waves.
On the Playa Levante, one discovers the abuela of paella restaurants, the Casa Pepin. It is the first of many restaurants that line the beach front. It is the most popular of all the restaurant. First, an appetizer of calamari or mussels, or both, then, a beautifully prepared pan of paella for two. This is the restaurant of Ernest Hemingway. It is a treat for the eye and the mouth.
I enjoy reading the College Hill Commoner, the best paper west of the Hudson, written and edited by someone who came from the Hudson River Valley. (I think I got that right, if I didn't Barry will correct me.)
There are a slew of Wichitans traveling to Europe this summer despite the dismal exchange rate. Will and I left June the 8th and have been scooting by car throuygh France, Spain, and eventually, Italy, and maybe Switzerland and Germany. My wife Robin and daughter Hannah will join us in Florence. Craig and Deana Robinson, along with others on a K-State sponsored trip, friends and newlyweds, Nick and Tara, and other friends from Overland Park, Carol and Chris Walker. We are all converging on Italy from different directions and can be found in the area in and around Florence.
I am lost in Valencia. I think it is a common ocurrence, since the streets change names every block or so; nothing is straight, right, or left. Stop number one, somewhere in the old town area, I ask a gentleman standing next to a kiosk that sells maps to the city. "Donde esta la Avenida de la Francia?" I inquire. Person number one is puzzled, doesn't understand. Person number two is helpful, but doesn't know. He goes to the kiosk vendor who pulls out maps, can't find it, and then sends us down the Calle Rio. Stop number two, next to the hotel Westin, somewhere near the beach, three people standing outside a museum all give advice and send me off. Stop three, two ladies shake their heads in disbelief at how I got to where I am. They point to a red bus turning onto a large street and say go that way. I hear the word "treni," which means train and I am off in pursuit of the train station. A couple of minutes later, there is the train station, and I know I am getting close. Next person I ask works in a grocery store. He points, says, "directo," and I guess I am just about there.
Lo and behold, there it is, the Avenida de la Francia, one hour since I arrived in Valencia.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
Just off the Plaza Major in Madrid is the Casa Botin, the world's oldest continuously running restraurant since 1725. Will's dinner was the salad Botin and roasted baby lamb. Art had the gazpacho soup and roast suckling pig. The serve sangria, but I think that this drink is better left for the Catalan coast.
The gazpacho soup is an Andalusian specialty, cold and made from tomatoes, celery, and onion.
Poor pigs and lambs. They end up on a plate just after being born.
Some thirty years ago, NASA began a search for intelligent life forms out side our galaxy, SETI, and sent into space a rocket with a message for anybody who might be there to call back, to speak to us, to communicate an intelligent word or phrase; let us know that we are not alone on the planet earth. At the same time, scientists have trained huge listening antenna on the galaxies in space to see if somehow and somewhere our telescopes can pick up someone else's version of "I Love Lucy" on intergalactic space waves.
Is anybody listening?
If you are there, all you have to do is post a comment and say something, anything that demonstrates that life is not simply an existential nightmare of waking, eating, and sleeping - just kidding.
Casa Botín: In business since 1725, la Casa is one of the world's oldest restaurants.
Andrew Zimmer enjoyed 'angulas' (baby eels), whole roast suckling pig, and baby squid in their own ink. Will has been waiting for this experience since we got to Europe.
Recall Ernest Hemingway's recommendation in the Sun Also Rises, "It is one of the best restaurants in the world."
Nothing is in walking distance, not even the park. The metro is the best way to get around central Madrid, but we haven't tried it yet, so I can't say how it is.
The driving is crazy here. It is a game of chicken where cars and buses vie to fit into spots that don't yet exist. On top of the congestion is the confusing array of calles, avenidas, paseos, dead ends, one ways, and who knows what. There is no such thing as straight ahead (de recho). It is left, right, half left, or half right.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
There are hundreds of bars, restaurants, and cafes in Toledo, each one catering to a different group - traditional tapas are gathering places for men, then there are the wi-fi cafes, the outdoor cafes, and the tourist traps that usually surround the plaza majors.
Off on backstreet is Kumera, an outdoor cafe catering to the locals; it's the kind of bar where if you come often enough, everyone knows your name. We arrived at nine thirty and even then we were only the third table to be served. The sun was still above the horizon and a thick humidity hung in the air.
Within 15 minutes, every table was filled, other patrons entered and went down stairs where there was more seating.
Our fare was the price fixed plate, which this time consisted of Mediterranean salad with fish, and a thin piece of fresh fish with calamari, topped off with a desert of two scoops of ice cream.
People watching is the past-time of most Spaniards at outdoor cafes, we were no exception.
Our waiter worked hard.
In Toledo, we are staying high on a hill across the river Tagus from Toledo. The hotel is called Cigarral el Bosque.
Will's choice for tomorrow night is back in Madrid at the Ayre Gran Hotel Colon just to the east of the Parque del Retiro. For Madrid the price is right, coming in at 100 euros with breakfast, parking an additional 20 euro.
I guess I can't say enough good things about the hotel San Antonio el Real. The breakfast puts the finishing touch on an outstanding stay. The setting in the reconfigured courtyard of the monastery is beautifully done in modern European styling with plush sofas and comfortable dining chairs. The lighting is subtle and the music playing in the background is southing. Linen table cloths are set on each table.
The food, did I already mention that it is included in the room rate, is a buffet of eggs, fresh fruit, rolls, meat, cheese, orange juice, coffee and even an apple tart for those who are ready for desert at nine in the morning. The waitress is friendly and fills up your coffee cup when needed.
Sadly, I checked at the front desk and this hotel is a one of a kind, there are no others in Spain.
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Researchers have placed construction of the aqueduct between the second half of the 1st Century CE and the early years of the 2nd Century—during the reign of either Emperor Vespasian or Nerva. (Wikipedia).
Two niches are visible, one on each side of the aqueduct. One of them held the image of the Egyptian Hercules, who according to legend was founder of the city. The other niche now contains the images of the Virgen de la Fuencisla (the Patroness of Segovia) and Saint Stephen.
The aquaduct was reconstructed by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella.
It runs from the nearby mountins and the Fuente Fria almost 20 miles before arriving in the city.