Call me crazy, but I am loving the first day back to work after the big vacation. Catching up on what’s been happening over the past two weeks has brought me nothing but joy today. First I see Naomi won the Edgar (YES!), then I see Rob got a new contract with St. M’s (YES!), Julia Spenser-Fleming won the Gumshoe (YES! — and thanks, Sarah Weinman, for all the fantastic coverage!), all the Killer Year folks have news and reviews galore, my email holds nothing but good news from my editor and publisher… damn, folks, I need to leave town more often!
And there’s that odd sense of dislocation that accompanies international travel — the time change screws my clock royally, so I woke up full of energy at seven this morning and now, at five o’clock, I’m ready for bed. Top it all off with a lovely rainy, thunder-stormy day, and I think I will heed my editor’s advice, who firmly instructed me to lie down. I call that a free pass, and am shutting the computer until tomorrow.
I tried so hard to be good while I was in Italy. I brought along a travel diary and planned to journal the trip, writing daily about what we’d seen, experienced, ate and drank. I’ve established once and for all that I am not a journaling kind of girl. I made it four days. How sad am I??? So instead I have this massive accumulation of business cards, hotel magazines, wine labels, scratched notes, napkins, and notepads to document the trip. There’s so much to talk about and so many pictures, I’m not sure what to include. People keep saying, "Tell me all about your trip! Was it just fantastic? Did you have just so much fun?" And of course I must answer yes, because what sort of ungrateful charlatan could go to Italy for two weeks and NOT have a fabulous time?
Of course we had a fabulous time. So do I admit that there were… issues? That I blew the charger on the camera and it pissed me off, ergo I was crappy to everyone for a day? That I was horribly upset when my favorite pair of glasses broke, literally in half, for no apparent reason? That we were really getting sick and tired of repacking every day and wished we’d gone with plan one, to stay in a bed and breakfast in Tuscany for four nights and day trip instead, knowing that if we HAD, we’d be miserable and bored being stuck in one spot??? Or do you just want the shiny happy version? Regardless, there’s a lot, so I think I may do a two-weeker, allow myself some time to catch up and not bore you too much while I recharge. It will all affect my writing in the long run anyway, so here goes…
My father’s Great-Uncle Nando, his lovely wife Alma, and my cousin Daniele were so welcoming. (Yes, there was a couple of generation skips in our family tree) My Italian has certainly improved since the last trip, and Daniele’s English is superb, so we had no trouble at all communicating.
We were staying in our favorite place in all of Italy, the
Tenute la Cassinetta. It’s beautful, we got the same room as last time, the aptly-named Ambrosia Suite. The wisteria was in bloom, Daniele has fabulous taste in wine, and dinner was incredible.
We left early the next day for a trip into the mountains. We checked into the hotel in St. Vincent, a very special place we loved. Then we drove up to see the Matterhorn, in a city called Brueil-Cervina.
It was a stunning day, and they were closing the mountain for skiing, having a laid back party day, which definitely fit our moods. I’ve rediscovered a childhood problem, carsickness at altitude. I hate riding in the backseat, and I did it through several rather large mountains. I don’t know if it’s acrophobia, claustrophobia, or if I’m just a massive control freak (gee, wonder which it is?) but I was happy to get out of the car and breathe the super fresh air.
After a phenomenal night in St. Vincent, we took to the road again and meandered toward Lago Como.
Clooney was MIA, so the next day we moved on to Stresa, on Lago Maggiore. A very cool town. We stayed in the Astoria, and the strip of old motels along the water are reminiscient of the 40’s when the movie starts used to come stay here. The flowers were incredible, the zoo and botanical gardens stunning, and the pizza excellent.
Though all in all, I think I prefer Como.
Despite the sea planes and helicopters buzzing about trying to make us feel like the area was "important," the lake seemed a little more unspoiled, and we stayed up on the mountain, where the views were absolutely fabulous.
It’s on the border of Italy and France, snow-capped mountains as far as the eye can see. The mountains were sharp, the air clear and softer than what we’re used to (growing up in Colorado, I’m used to the mind searing clearness of the air at altitude; the Alps are much smaller than the Rockies and the air has more humidity.) Daniele is a ski instructor in Sestriere so we got the special tour. I could write here.
Had a great dinner that night in a restaurant literally perched on a mountain side. While I’m not a fan of
grappa, the proprietress made her own liqueur which was astounding. Delicately flavored with a local flower, I could have drunk the whole bottle. Maybe that’s an exaggeration, the bottle was a little large.
Now in possession of several days of Italian and increasing fluency, we flew to Rome, which was just as easy as hopping a shuttle between New York and Washington. Security was straightforward, the flight was good, no issues at all.
They say all roads lead to Rome. Thankfully, all roads lead OUT of Rome too. It’s funny. Looking back, the place we liked the least was actually the best part of the trip. Rome is dirty, and smelly, covered in graffiti, trash, pickpockets and thieves shoving roses and whirly plastic fliers in our faces. Within ten minutes, we were groaning that we had to spend two nights.
We took a quick bus tour to get oriented, and the tour guide was very knowledgeable. Dinner the first night was great. Heartened, and despite our dismay at the state of things, we decided to walk the city the next day. The weather was postcard perfect, skies so blue it hurt to look at them for too long. We started in Trevi (wow, the fountain was incredible but the crowds were gross.) We did the Pantheon, the Piazza Navona,(though the fabulous Borromini fountain was under wraps for refurbishment) St. Agnes’s, walked and walked and walked until we hit the Area Sacre. It doesn’t even have a real name on the map, and it’s just been recently rediscovered– during a 1920’s excavation, I believe, in the Largo Argentina. Four divine temples used to sit on this spot. It was a tiny piece of sanity in the midst of the city. Until it started to move.
Cats are protected in Rome. And this sacred place was home to many of them. Sleek and sassy, what seemed to be stones in the grass became frisky kittens, stately mouse catchers, domineering bullies… a veritable commentary on life slipped into a grass-filled ruin. We must have stood there for half and hour watching them play. That was cool.
We then promptly got caught in a protest parade. Skinheads, communists, anarchists — all blaring American music as their protest songs and some Aretha Franklin (go figure). I was captivated by the riot polizia. If you’re going to go to Rome, choose April 25th, Festa Della Liberazione, marking the end of the Nazi occupation and the end of World War II. It was less crowded, and you might get to see irony in action. (pics of this after the second camera returns home…)
The Coliseum managed to exceed expectation. I always assumed it had simply crumbled over time — not so. The Romans cannibalized their treasures to build more buildings. Embarrassment over the excesses of the Roman Empire, what it stood for, what it meant, drove them to destroy what they built. And the conquering hordes contributed their own desecration. It’s astounding that any of the ancient city is still standing. I’d recommend Palatine Hill. There’s something very special about that view on what we used to be.
Next week, I’ll wrap things up with a tour through Umbria and Tuscany. In the meantime, a brilliant Piedmont wine for you.
Wine of the Week, thanks to my dear cousin Daniele… Langhe Nebbolio
A little taste of heaven on earth. Every bottle, from every vineyard, was excellent.