Green thumb on the Emerald Isle

In the continuing saga of my time between jobs, I went to Ireland to visit my friend Monique while she is spending time there with her boyfriend Colin. They are working on his mother's old house -- fixing it up after she passed last year and there is a lot of work to be done. The garden is huge and was vastly overgrown over years of perennials gone wild, so I called on my long dormant inner weed puller and went to work. For two days Colin, Monique and I tugged blackberry and ivy, cut back hedges, dug up trees and heaved countless piles of debris into one giant, soon to be mulched, hill. It was so fantastic and I suspect that the vestiges of a few demons were left behind in the mud.

Colin and Monique have neighbors named Joan and Wilfrid who we visited for tea on Sunday and cocktails and showers (since the water was out in the area and they have a well) on Monday. Wilfrid is a brilliant story teller in the vein of George Robertson (a shout out to heaven!) and I could have, and probably would have, listened to him for hours and hours.

A mushroomy fungus thing that grew in clumps on an old log. When you pushed them down, they would release a greenish spore-filled powder. Now we know what leprechauns take when they party.

On a morning walk with coffee in hand.

Colin in the back 40 in the midst of pulling. This is what it looked like before...

My fantastic Irish breakfast. Soooo good.


Mushroom house for a mini something.

...after. The back 40 after two days of hard work.

It's Ireland...green grass, bright leaves and old stone walls.


Bella Roma - part 2

Like a rock concert for God, and the man himself (not Charlton Heston)

Day 5 - WEDNESDAY Vatican day. I donned a black dress - very chic, very cool - and Tom asked, "Why are you wearing that?" I said, "I like how it looks and it is really comfortable for walking around in." And then later, when we were surrounded by believers at St. Peter's he asked, "Why are you wearing that?" "I wanted to be respectful," I said. "I KNEW IT!!!" he said. "You are more Catholic than me!" You'd think that, but I suspect he has his own line to God, because when we woke up he said, "We are going to see the Pope today." And we did. But more of that in a moment. We hurried through breakfast and onto the metro because we didn't have tickets to the Vatican Museum, but thought that the crowds shouldn't be too bad since it was early in the day, off season and a Wednesday. So it was surprising to be packed in the metro car with other people, all of whom disembarked at the same stop we did. It was a mad rush up the street, toward St. Peter's, with me elbowing the odd German teenager who cut me off at an intersection. Of course we didn't know exactly where the Vatican Museum was, but figured everyone must be going there, I mean, WHY ELSE would anyone go to the Vatican on a Wednesday?

So we arrive at St. Peters and there is a massive horde lining up. Discouraged, we decide to bag it (there was an issue of Tom not wearing any sunscreen that day because he thought he would be inside all day and it was VERY bright outside) and stood outside the barricades at the top of the square watching people filter in after going through security. We finally asked an American couple what was going on and they replied, "The Pope is going to be here in about 30 minutes!" thinking we were crazy for not knowing that. Humph. Really? I looked at Tom and said, "How did you know?" "I know things," he said. And that is how a lapsed Catholic and a Presbyterian get to see the Pope. By accident. We ended up getting inside the square to better see the giant screens that broadcast the Pope Mobile driving around with the Pope waving to the crowds and then showed the German cardinal reading out the parishes who were visiting that day (in German), so when he said, "The blah blah blah church from Koln," the 20 or so people in the crowd who were from that parish all yelled and waved little flags. It was seriously like a rock concert for God. Or the man who is God on Earth. Or something. When Pope Benedict gave the benediction, we genuflected and left in order to actually find the Vatican Museum. Which we did. And there were no lines.

A fawn in the Vatican. Paganism is bad, but apparently, not as collectibles.

The museum was impressive and the Sistine Chapel was breathtaking. I was prepared to be underwhelmed by it, but just like "David" in Florence, it is absolutely incredible in person. You are not allowed to take photos or speak loudly while you are in the room, so you have to tune out the guards repeating, "NO PHOTOS. SILENCE." in loud monotones to fully appreciate the environment, which is difficult because people keep taking photos and talking loudly. This annoyed me, and I took out my annoyance on an old couple who spoke no English. When she took a flash photo and I turned to glare at her, he smiled a consipratorial smile and put his finger to his lips. Like THAT is going to work. I squinted and spit out, "Have some re-SPECT!" and walked away, taking my high horse with me. Tom, of course, was taking photos from his hip the entire time we were there. Yin, meet yang.

Michelangelo is going to be soooo pissed when he hears you photographed his ceiling!

Tom, whose Papal dispensation lasted all of five minutes.

After the museum, we wandered around Vatican City, had a glass of wine overlooking the dome and went back to go into St. Peters. Massive. Beautiful. Many priests on the dais -- like 30 of them -- which made me nervous. Such perfect architecture and design which was what moved me. After being in so many churches, large and small, crowded and empty, this one left me the coldest in terms of feeling the spirit, but absolutely blew my mind in terms of what man can build and create.

St. Peters

I had to have "Roman Holiday" moment, and the hand of truth was it.

Not much to report from Thursday. At last we had seen everything that we felt we needed to see and could just wander and enjoy it all. And we really did. We got a late start and wound up having cappuccinos at a cluttered corner bar that we promptly fell in love with. I bought my fancy Italian shoes. Tom checked in on Rabito and the score of the Giants game while I was buying my fancy Italian shoes. We walked around a lot more, met Marco's friend Pricilla for a coffee, went to the most popular Chinese restaurant in Rome, which happened to be up the street from us. In order to get a table, we had to get there early at 7:00. We could have waited until 7:30 or even 7:45, but by 8:00, it was packed. The food was good -- really good. 

Chinese food in Rome is ever so dreamy.

Then we walked back into the center to see what the Trevi Fountain, wedding cake, Pantheon, etc. look like at night. Beautiful, but it was disheartening to be in the middle of tourist mecca at night, when the purse sellers and pan handlers with puppies come out. On the way back to the hotel we took a new route and walked straight through a red carpet event complete with cameras and beautiful people. That was funny.

Old men, a bike and a cart at Campo di' Fiore.

Day 7 - FRIDAY
What an amazing day. We went to Campo di Fiore and Piazza Novona, wandering around the small streets that run behind each area. Vintage shops abounded and I found my perfect Italian purse sitting on a table, minding its own business. I fell in love with it and bargained superbly for it -- my style of bargaining, which is deciding what I am willing to pay, start there and stay there no matter what. And pay in cash. Other highlights: Fresh fig sorbet!!! Saltimbocca, which is a carnivore's delight. Grilled artichoke. Old men by the market who were selling an old bike out of the back of a cart but were more intent on gossiping. Warm sun and white wine. A slow and easy afternoon.

Katie and Constantine.

What a difference a week made. Our last visit was to the Capitoline Museum so I could see the giant head of Constantine. I remember seeing the slide of the head in art history class, and I really wanted to see it in person. Not enough to make a special trip, but since we had time, and it was the last day, and the she-wolf was there too, we decided to go. And it was so worth it! Big head, big foot, big hand and big arm. But Tom's arm is bigger, albeit on a smaller scale. The museum was a good note to end on and on the way back to the hotel I passed by a souvenier stand and shot the photo of all the stuff that lead off the first Rome posting. One thing I wonder is whether or not Pope Benedict feels a little bit like a lesser pope, considering that Pope JPII is still everywhere, souvenier-speaking. Just a thought. Another weird thing? A man had climbed up a building crane and was standing in the basket-part with his hands held out like Jesus. There were police and firemen standing underneath, but they didn't seem too concerned. Perhaps he is there every Saturday. Wish I was!


Bella Roma - part 1

Your one stop Roman shop - from Popes to emperors with every she-wolf and coliseum in between

I feel like I left part of my heart in a sunny palazzo in Rome. What an amazing place and what an amazing trip we had. Here is a rundown by day for the first half of the trip, accompanied by photos.

We had arrived at Marco and Pasquale's apartment around midnight on Friday, so we woke up not knowing where we were or where anything else was either. So we took off walking without a map and promptly came returned to the apartment 20 minutes later to fetch the map after already getting lost. Cut to two hours later when we finally stopped walking in generally the right direction to get pizza (delicious) and caffeine (necessary) and just like that found a metro stop which took us into the center. We decided to go to the most cheesy tourist attraction first, the Trevi Fountain, but turned the wrong direction upon getting off the metro and had to seek shelter in a cafeteria during a brutal thunder and lightning storm (more pizza and my first panini of goodness). When the rain stopped we actually got on the right track and managed to find something! Here I am after tossing my coin, though at this point I wasn't too interested in returning to Rome.

How wrong I was. The rest of the day was fantastic. 
We dodged rainstorms to see the Pantheon -- I loved that we were constantly semi-directionless, so we wound up approaching it from the back, which is very impressive and gives an idea of the scale and age much more than the front does. It is beautiful and bizarre. We got coffee at Tazza d' Oro, one of Rome's best coffee shops, I bought boots because my feet were cold in their ballet flats and no socks, and we wound up having afternoon wine in the cloisters at Santa Maria della Pace completely by accident. The Caravagio paintings at San Luigi dei Francesi were right out of my art history books and stunning. We wound up wandering the fancy fashion streets by the Spanish Steps at nightfall (after Tom had more pizza) and ate dinner at one of Fellini's old haunts. And then we caught the metro back to the nearest station and walked 30 minutes or so to the apartment. I don't think I ever fell asleep faster.

Day 2 - SUNDAY

Exterior and interior of Santa Maria in Trastevere

The morning dawned sunny and cool, and we woke up more mass transit savvy, as we managed to catch a bus directly to the Porta Portese flea market. It. Was. Huge. The best things? Tables filled with used handbags for three euros each and tables of cashmere sweaters for 30 euros each, but really, there was something fairly fabulous at every turn. I left with one used handbag and Tom left with a new backpack, so we let our eyes do the shopping instead of our cash. After the market we wandered through Trastevere and visited one of the coolest churches of the trip, Santa Maria in Trastevere. We lunched al fresco where I discovered that rucola, fresh pear slices, Parmesan and lemon juice is a delicious salad to accompany a nice white wine. And on the pear theme, after lunch I had the most amazing pear gelato -- it had the grit that fresh pears have and all the sweetness too. For an ice cream fanatic, I was in heaven, especially because I had a scoop of pistachio as well. To work off dessert, we walked up the Janiculum hill for the view of Rome below. 

Nuns making me smile on Janiculum hill

Three nuns from my favorite order (I like their habits the most) were up there too, which made me a little giddy. We continued the walk up more hills into a large park, where we wandered amidst the roman statuary and assorted grottoes -- in a way it reminded me of the backyard pool area of our next door neighbor during the 70s, all random stone figures and a strange sense of nothingness (though none of the statues we saw in the park were of a boy peeing, so that was different). There was a cricket match going on at the top of the park, so that was cool too. Back in Travestare, we had pizza (are you getting the theme?) and suppli' (fried rice balls -- the Roman bitterballen but better) before heading back to the neighborhood for more pizza at the place downstairs from the apartment. Fabulous day.

Day 3 - MONDAY

Pompeii head, columns and mini coliseum 

Pompeii mosaic room and storage room

We got up early and caught the train to Naples, en route to Pompeii. I won't bore you with the travel particulars, but know that we were right on form, catching the wrong commuter trains and having to backtrack, getting lost and running late (only after taking advantage of the Sephora in the Rome station). But we got there with time to wander. It was beautiful and strange, but I wish I had gone to Herculeam instead, as I hear it is better preserved and a
bit less crowded. That said, it was very, very cool and a place I had imagined seeing since I was a little girl. After a semi-stressful trip back to Rome, I found us a restaurant serving Neapolitan food in dining room decorated in quintessential seafood restaurant grotto style and a singer. Fabulous. The food - great. The atmosphere - great. The song "Volare" - beyond great. On the way back to the train station we passed a hotel that looked cool so we went in and got a room for Tuesday through Friday nights just to be a little closer in. 

Evil smile in the Coliseum, Forum column and headless vestal virgin

Roman Ruin Day!!! We hadn't seen the Coliseum at all yet, so there were proper awe-faces made when we exited the metro station and saw it straight ahead of us. We were so struck by awe, in fact, that we had to get coffee and pastry before taking it on. Very cool, but the Forum was cooler. It is so vast and so evocative that you can easily imagine what it must have been like 2,000 + years ago. Yes, that's a two with three zeros after it. And tour groups still flock there. What have we done today that will be worthy of touring in 2,000 years? Hmmm? Dinner that night was seafood risotto followed by pork roasted with pistachios and figs. 

Forum beauty


I will work on the text and images for part 2, but here is a preview: the Pope, scolding old people for breaking rules, wandering, food, wine, sun, coffee, beauty, fabulousness. Where to next???


Baa haa haa! Funny

Funniest thing I have seen in a very long time. Off to Rome for a week -- expect photos when I get back!