Thursday, August 31, 2006

quickie update

thx all for the bday wishes! i started celebrating a couple of days ago, still going strong through the weekend... ;) internet connection is scarce, and i admit i have been slacking on the blogging offline front, so unfortunately i don't have many details or any pics to show yet.

preparing for my trip east with my two new friends from genova, i arrived a week ago to spend some time here. in this time i got to know more of this beautiful and yet-undiscovered-by-tourists city. i'll post some nice pics next time. oh, and the food... ah, the food. luckily i have no scale to keep track of my weight. all my clothes still fit, but i often find the need to walk after a meal just to be able to breathe... ;)

this sunday morning we're taking a side-trip to Torino, for a couple of days. then the final departure east is saturday evening.

more blogging soon! time to go celebrate some more! :D

Monday, August 21, 2006

week of ferragosto

Memorable. We have spent plenty of time at the local beaches, a new place every day. Visited a couple of sight-seeing spots, like the castle at Le Castella, or the town of Santa Severina for a dinner of typical regional food (heavy on the cheeses and the sausages...) Mornings of sleep for all. Me, lots of sleepless nights. Enjoying the company, feeling every moment. Communal lunches and dinners, games of cards, walks around town... fun fun!

I have finally dug into some of my italian roots. Being with 5 other italians, all my same age, has given me a chance to fill 15 years of cultural gaps. It's like an accelerated course of adolescence through adulthood. I even found someone who understands all the languages I speak. I can switch between them, mess up, and I am still understood. I still live a borrowed life, I am still the foreigner... but I am slowly integrating, I found some vestigial roots. I am starting to feel complete. I have even had brief fantasies of settling down and start a family of my own. I might be finally achieving balance. It is scary. But It also feels right. I have a feeling of home. I missed it.

No worries, I still have some ways to go. I am still a random speck in the world, the battlegirl you all know. A friend has dubbed me "Miss Brown". A particle constantly in motion, pushed by the environment. I still have to backtrack to my earlier childhood. Find some family information. Place myself into this world a bit more. But it's getting closer. Life is funny. It is full of surprises if only you give yourself a chance to be open and try to experience things.

As I look back on pictures of this trip, the people I've seen, the people that have come and gone, those that will always remain, those that I will possibly never see again... I feel a mixture of elation and sadness. What is there to life, really? What are the things to worry about, and what are those that are so superficial, they just hurt you in an instant, but are not to be considered for the long haul? Morals, cultural definitions, they are all so subjective... It's all about respect for those around you, but for yourself most of all.

I wish there was a way to integrate my worlds a bit more. Make the physical distances shorter. I miss everyone so. Some I will always regret not having gotten closer to when I had the chance. But life can always be amazing, if you give yourself the right opportunities. You never know what can still happen.

Aaight, enough philosophizing. The last visitors left yesterday morning. It's now back to myself and my friend. She is back to her 9 to 5, so I have a chance to catch up on blog and things. I got a train ticket to go back to Genova Thu morning. My 30th bday is coming up, there's some celebrating to do! Through Sep. 9 I am going to be hanging around up north, looking up other friends I haven't visited yet. Then I am embarking on the trip to Eastern Europe, which has been confirmed. My two new friends have planned what sounds like an amazing experience. I just hope we won't run into any civil unrest... But we should be near internet spots along the way, I hope to be able to keep blogging. The trip will be 2-3 weeks. Then we'll see.

I'm closing down this blog entry with some new pics that have been in the making all this while. Definitivamente, in Crotone, me` scialat'! ('hope I got that right... spero di averlo scritto bene...)

5 months. I can't believe all I've seen and all I've met. Lucky, lucky me.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

company and shootings stars

After another 3 days of beach, walk aimlessly around, and sleep, Thursday of this week the company finally arrived. Started off the day with a friend of a friend, a local girl who's on vacation from studying, and she was nice to take me around and tell me something about the city. We walked the castle, took pictures, the went through the narrow streets and got lost, took some more pictures, then visited the local park and took pictures at a tree that must be mad old and composed of several fused trees...

Before picking up the first visitor for this weekend, we tried to pick up some fried calzones from a local pizzeria. A specialty I was told I *had* to try. They have the pick-a-number-at-the-door system. Our number: 82. The number on the screen: 8. No kidding. After 20 minutes of waiting, they ran out of food. It was only 1:30pm and they closed down! After picking up visitor #1, a friend from Genova, from the bus stop, we drove around trying to find *anything* open. We ended up at a small food store that had ran out of bread but sold us the ingredients to make a carbonara. So we had a nice hot meal in the early afternoon of the south.. lol.

Since then, it has been one cool experience after the other. We attended a greek play outdoors, it was a modern twist of the story of King Oedipus, done amazingly well. It's a theatre company that does has been doing outdoor plays in archeological sites of the region for 3 years. The background to the stage was a full moon. And since it's the night of the shooting stars, we saw a huge one run across the sky right. The play right at that moment called for some loud noise, and we thought it was the meteorite that had fallen nearby! Oh, and since I finally bought myself a tripod, I took some gorgeous pictures of the rising moon above some clouds. Amazing night.

The next guest arrived late that night. After the play and some yummy pizza on a restaurant overseeing a cliff, we went back to the apt, and since the hostess still had to work (life sucks sometimes...), her and her bf went to bed early. Myself and the other guest went to see shooting stars by the docks. I am not sure if it was the ambient light or what, but we didn't see that many! Isn't this night supposed to be one star after the other kinda deal??

Yesterday was a very lazy day of beach, walk aimlessly around (but it's so much more fun with company!) and then in the evening we all grouped for the meal. The last two guests arrived yesterday evening. We are now a total of 6 people in the apartment, and they are all cool, fun, nice, wonderful!

Last night we tried to see some more shooting stars, but we didn't have much more luck. Either this night of San Lorenzo isn't all it's cracked up to be, or we missed something... Tonight, we're supposed to do the fire on the beach at night, so it'll be the last chance for it :P

Unfortunately I had some probs with the computer and I haven't been able to download pics yet, so I'm leaving you in suspense about the pictures. The internet cafe is closing for a week. I'll be back Monday 21st. Happy ferragosto!

PS) This holiday, Aug. 15, also marks month #5 of my trip...!!!!!

Monday, August 07, 2006

first week in the south

I have been here a week already! I have basked in the hot sun, enjoyed the local hospitality, relaxed and rested, and finally got myself a cell phone number (email me if I forgot to send it to ya). Could I really be trying to settle in? And yet my future is still full of planned trips to other countries...

Tue my hostess started her regular work week. For 4 days I had a chance to do the tourist thing, exploring the city and its people. I found the tourist office down an under-construction alley, a tiny door with a simple "Turismo" tile over it. Luckily the shop guys I asked directions to were good. On my way there I saw no signs to indicate the way. It seems they're just starting to promote the area to tourists. They are doing a lot of work in advertisement, but I'd call it still "under construction". The fact that the office girl kept repeating that she had no official calendar of events for the month, as no one had called to confirm, didn't quite spell professionalism. I did get plenty of brochures and a simple map of the area to help me navigate the streets. I found the beach, and learned that from 1:30 to at least 4pm, but often later, the city shuts down. Only a few food places remain open, but even those close at some point. The heat of the south still mandates life here. Human beings and industrialism haven't overrun nature yet!

In the evening we had guests over, some coworkers that came to enjoy a Genovese specialty: pansotti con sugo di noce. They are a type of ravioli with ricotta and herbs inside, made fresh, and the sauce is made of nuts. Heavy as all hell but yummy, of course! It's a wonder the pasta managed to survive the extra-long plane trip. ...although the sauce did have an odd flavor... :P Still, no stomach ache from anyone the next morning, so it was all good. The fun part was to hear all about their work place during the dinner. Stories of people with mental and physical impairments caused by accidents... just the thing for a pleasant dinner. ;)

Wed. After having explored the town, it was time to hit the beach. Amid the pay-to-enter establishments there are small strips of "free" beach. The only difference being the lack of bathrooms, chairs, umbrellas and bar services. Having a home nearby, and not planning on being there more than a couple of hours, I had no need to pay money to enjoy the clean, sandy beach, clear water, breezy hot sun, and work on my tan!

The next couple of days were more of the same. A stroll about town, looking for summer clothes so I could change the only pair of shorts I currently own. Then the beach, then home to hang out with my friend, tired from a day of work, but up to showing me some spots and do the dinner thing.

Saturday and Sunday we hung out with another friend at a camping area. They are locals but like to have a camper by the beach. Great idea, in my opinion. :) It was a nicer beach than the one in town, in a curved piece of coast. One of the amazing things was the weather. Sunny one moment. Then dark clouds. Then sun. For lunch we had a huge downpour. Then sun. Then when we had to leave, the skies opened up again. The view was amazing. The dark clouds in the background, and the coast of the small beach all sunny. Luckily I brought my camera the second day. So you can see some pictures of Crotone and its beauty!

The next couple of days I am planning on doing some cultural things. Then starting Thursday we're going to have guests. A whole bunch of friends from the north are coming by for the big Italian holiday of Ferragosto, the middle of August. I don't remember what the holiday actually is about. Kinda of a mid-summer day, and as it's usually too hot to do much in August, many businesses just shut down for the whole month and not much gets done. Why not celebrate that? ;)

I'm going to try and work on more pictures. I have been slacking this past week! And there are too many nice places not to photograph. 'Til then!

Friday, August 04, 2006

southern crooks and the (foreign) visitor

Finally! After 5 days of checking out every internet point I found in town, and of being denied in each one to connect my computer, I found one right around the corner from where I live that does it! Still expensive, but now I have the freedom to upload blogs, pics, check email, chat... :D

Here is the first blog entry I had offline. Nice and long to cover your weekend :) Subsequent entries were still incomplete, but I haven't done much more than the beach and walk about. I'll try to have more on Monday, for all of ya bored at work. ;)

Monday evening. I left Genova at 5pm on Sunday, by train, to go to Crotone, at the bottom of Italy. I was scheduled to take 3 trains over 14.5 hours. My friend had a plane reservation for that evening, a trip of just 3 hours. She kept trying to convince me to go by plane with her. ...I ended up getting to her workplace before she did! Her airline was a mess and she didn't get in until 3pm today. My trip, albeit long, was uneventful. Even the half hour delay of the first train didn't mess up my schedule. I found the overnight train with 10 mins to spare, and my companion in the 2-bed cabin was a woman who was very nice and showed me everything there was to the trip, even gave me tips like putting the top bed's ladder in front of the door to prevent break-ins.

Then came the fun part: I arrived at the train station in Crotone. I had 1.5 hours of sleep Sat night. And about 5 hours and several 20-mins naps from the trains Sun night. I went to call my friend, who told me she was still stuck in Rome, all planes delayed. She told me to get to her workplace, get keys to her place from a friend, and make myself at home. I was tired, but not exhausted, and I figured it'd be easy enough to go the 3 miles to her work and then another 3 to her home. So off I went to find a cab.

An older guy offered me his cab, showed me to the car, helped me out with the luggage, asked me why I'm here... the whole nice guy routine. Then we took off. After such a nice train trip, I was all optimistic, and never imagined I'd run into trouble. But I'm older and wiser than I look. When he told me we were taking a shortcut, my little antennas stood to attention. I non-chalantly made sure to say that I just wanted the shortest and cheapest route. And he said it's still going to cost me about 20-22EUR. This for a 5 Km trip. My eyes popped open. Great, so much for a good trip.

I calmly told him that was insane. So he starts going insane. Granted, it wasn't that bad. He just started blabbering that I was insulting him of being a coward and cheater. Still calmly I told him not even in NY we pay such prices. Then he starts to try and make a deal. 15EUR to get there. I told him no. He threatened to take me back. I told him he could leave me there for all I cared. I could give him something for his trouble, but I wasn't going to pay that amount. In the end, he took me 500 meters and back to the station. I even tried to get him to use the meter, which he refused to do, of course. He even said how I just ruined his day, how I was insulting him, how he put in motion this thousands euro machine to give me a service and I was denying him money... I didn't budge, but didn't get upset. I knew the routine. I told him I wasn't a rich tourist with money. I was dropped off at the station unceremoniously, had to take my own luggage off, and he took off with some other tourists.

Back at the station, a group of men, other taxi guys, crowded around me and started asking me what happened. I explained. They told me he *was* taking me the right way, but then they started talking in southern italian among themselves, which I don't understand, and I didn't know if they were unhappy with him or me. I assumed the latter. I went in and asked the customer assistance guy about buses. He was too shy to be a scammer, but told me the buses were the trains' competitors, so he couldn't give me much info. I should ask the guy at the bar, which also sold bus tickets. So I went to do that, got bus tickets, and went back out to wait.

The taxi guys didn't relent. One of them told me he would take me for 10EUR. I told him I already got bus tickets. Then they all started saying the buses were on strike. I was reaching the crying in frustration point, but I figured it'd get me nowhere, and I was better off toughening it up. Back to the bar I went, all the while dragging all my luggage back and forth (never again am I packing this much crap, btw...). I told the bar guy what I was being told, he said he didn't think there was a strike. Back outside I go, and since the cabs were lining the bus stop, I went across the street from there, in the station's parking lot, and waited there.

10 minutes later, one of the taxi guys walked past me, towards one of the cars behind me. I nodded. He went to his car, put some music on, and waited. I didn't even sit down. I had my backpack on, my huge ass luggage on the floor, in the shadow of a tiny tree, hot sun beating on the cement, but wasn't too hot yet, and I calmly waited. I figure he was waiting for me to crack and beg for a ride. My will points were boosted by that, and I resolved to wait there as long as it took. My friend was late anyways, it's not like I had anywhere to go. After 15 mins, he turned the radio off and got up. Somebody he knew stopped by, in a car. They talked. 5 mins later, he came by and told me: "Miss, the buses are *really* not coming today. My friend here is willing to take you. Just give him 5-6EUR, it's all good." I smiled in what I hope was a grateful way, said thank you, walked towards him. Then I had a moment of hesitation, considered the option of being kidnapped and mugged to be shown a lesson... but I figured I was making a point of having no money, the driver didn't look too shady, so I went with it.

The guy was a skinny, silent person. Didn't talk at all during the trip. I tried being alert, observing the route he was taking. He took me straight to the institute my friend works at, helped me with the luggage, and refused any payment! I went from a 20EUR ride to nothing in half an hour! Naive touristy girlie 1, locals 0. :D ...I wonder if I'm riding on the good karma of donating all my good stuff to charity. Thousands of dollars worth of life to the little cement house in Hempstead, NY, to be used by the homeless and whomever that institution helps. The only thing that bothers me at times is that I never seem to repay, but rather pay forward, or sideways. In the bigger scheme of things I guess it works, but I wonder if in the personal world of the people I deal with I'm seen as ungrateful. Know that I'm not! :)

The people at my friend's workplace were real nice, offered me a nutella croissant (yum!), and even a ride to my friend's house. In the end, and all I wasted was the cost of 2 bus tickets, a whole 1.80EUR. :D [note: I later found out there really is a strike of buses this whole week...!] My friend finally arrived in the afternoon, had the stamina to show up for work for a couple of hours, and then we had a pleasant but short evening, as we were both exhausted.

Crotone is a small town, but it has some interesting tourist attractions, including a castle right in the middle, and an archeological museum that highlights its Greek past. It is the home of Pitagoras, the mathematician. It's on the sea, so the beach is a whole 10 mins walk. The water is that transparent clean, clear blue color you see in postcards. The town seems peaceful, just a couple of shady parts. I was told that unemployment is high. My friend's home, which she calls a dump, is a beautiful, big apt in the center.

The heat can get to be a bit too much at night. During the day, from the moment I wake up throughout the day, there is this wonderful breeze that makes the hot sun in the cloudless sky bearable. At night, unfortunately, the air becomes still. AC is seldom used in Italy. So I depend on a cheap fan to work through the night and not melt. :)

The only other thing I have to learn to deal with is that constant reminder that I don't belong. In Italy more than in any other place, since it's my home country, being pointed out all the non-italian characteristics I picked up along the way, all the messes I make of languages and expressions... and being called an American...! It's a bit depressing. Plus the danger of the tourist treatment puts me constantly on alert, which is stressful. And yet, when I really reflect on things, I think I have learned to depend on being unique and separate. I take a sense of comfort in it. Probably not quite healthy, but I'm ok with that, too. All artists need their quirks after all ;) And for every person that doesn't understand me, I have a treasured friend that knows my past, knows me, and to her or him I am just "Val", the sum of an odd life, but a good person deep down. :)

Now let's just hope my stay here will remain safe.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

talked too soon...

Greetings from sunny Crotone! The town is tiny, but it has a castle and the beach with 5 mins from where I am staying. Internet connection is mad expensive and I can't find an internet point that will let me connect my computer, so I will be blogging offline and working on meeting the rich locals, hoping for an at-home connection I can get hooked to... ;) I will be checking just my gmail account once in a while, and I guess I will be reduced to working more on my tan... man, i gotta stop complaining ;)

cross your fingers and send good charm vibes my way, to help me find that internet conenction! :D