Sunday, September 30, 2012


This weekend I went to meet one of my other Italian penpals, Antonio and his donna, Antoinetta.  

Antonio lives in a small town near Cassino, and some of you history buffs might think of the battle of Montecassino in WWII, when the Allied Forces destroyed a monastery that was founded by St. Benedict, as well as the town of Cassino. 

I took the local train to Naples and then a regional train to Cassino.  When I debarked the local train, there was a checkpoint where you had to show your ticket from the local train in order to enter the central train station.   The station employee who looked at my ticket wanted to fine me 41 euro because my ticket wasn’t date stamped.  I had put my ticket through a machine at the Sorrento station, and I hadn’t seen any other ticket validation equipment on the train, so I assumed I had done what I was supposed to do.....maybe the equipment had malfunctioned.  This station employee was pretty nasty and just kept asking me for my passport and 41 euro.  (I had only paid 4 euro for this disputed ticket.)  So, I just said, NO, I’m not paying the fine.  We went back and forth for a few minutes, and finally, he took my ticket, wrote the date on it, and let me pass through.  I must admit I was pretty nervous because I didn’t have my passport with me.  Everyone had warned me about thefts of handbags, jewelry and baggage in Naples, especially around the train station, so I consciously decided I wouldn’t take my passport.  But all ended well.

Cassino is still a fairly small city, but the towns where I spent my weekend were even smaller.  Antonio is retired from his job as a teacher of languages—French and English were his specialities, so I was able to have “real conversation” in English, as well as practice my Italian and learn even more from him.  Antoinetta lived in the States for a few months because her family emigrated to Cleveland, so she spoke excellent English as well.  Antonio is the “host extraordinare”.  He is an extremely intelligent, creative, and generous person who is living a very active retirement.  He and Antoinetta are both crazy about dancing—they met at a dancing school and partnered up about a year ago.  They dance three or four times a week, and Antonio also swims, paints, does pottery, and is starting an archery class next month.  He lives in a lovely house that started as two rooms, and over the years, expanded to 12 rooms on three levels.  The original house (two rooms) was where his deceased wife’s grandfather lived.  In Italy it is very common for families to pass on property to their offspring and for generations after to continue living in the same home.  The family home is very important to Italians.

Both Friday and Saturday night, I accompanied Antonio and Antoinetta to town squares where there was line dancing.  Saturday night, we had dinner at a place where there was live entertainment and people were doing line dancing and ballroom dancing.  Antonio would rather dance than eat!  I danced one dance with him—a simple cha cha—partly because of my sore knee and partly because you must know the steps!  I was amazed at how many people were dancing, from young teens to old folks (like in their eighties old), and what obvious enjoyment was evident in the faces of the participants.  In the town squares, there were from 20 to 40 people dancing at any given time, and it was clearly the center of entertainment for the locals.  It was dark, so my pictures aren’t great, but they’ll give you an idea of the setting.

On Friday night, we went to a small town where there was some kind of religious celebration connected to the dancing event, and the streets were decorated with these beautiful lighted arches. 

On Saturday evening, we went to a different small town, where there were similar decorations.......

as well as a number of street vendors selling peanuts….

kitschy stuff….and fast food.....

Translation:  The best of the best of fast food restaurants

Another highlight of the weekend was a trip to see the rebuilt monastery, and, unfortunately there is no a photograph can convey the beauty and serenity of this place.  

In some ways it is a replica of the one that was bombed, but there are some modern aspects also.  We went through the museum quickly, but there are many artifacts going as far back as the second and third century, and their art gallery boasts one Botecelli. 

I was absolutely delighted to spend this time in a “normal” Italian town, away from the tourist culture of Sorrento.  I could not have had more gracious hosts than Antonio and Antoinetta, who both went out of their way to make my stay comfortable and enjoyable.  (Note to my niece Shelley—I now have four Italian angels.)

Side notes:  Prices in restaurants were about half compared to Sorrento for the same dishes. And…I had an opportunity to eat Chinese food, Italian style.  So far, I've seen only two ethnic restaurants.

Monday, September 24, 2012


Did I mention that I haven’t watched TV in three weeks?  I thought I would miss it more than I do.  Of course, I would be lucky to find a program in English.  When I first arrived and was staying at a hotel, I was able to get one English program on their TV.

There are 2 TV’s in my apartment, but I can’t get either of them to work.  I’m not sure why, and I haven’t asked.  I’ve been reading a lot, and I usually have some homework to do at night, plus I’m living in a place where life on the streets is quite entertaining.

First, there are the musicians that entertain the diners in the many restaurants in the marina.  The fellow sings at one of the nicer restaurants is really quite good.  The water acts as the speaker system, magnifying every word of the songs he croons.  Some are ala Andrea Bocelli, some are ala Dean Martin.  Then there is a father/son act (I think).  The father plays the accordion, and the son accompanies him on a big hand drum.  They wander from restaurant to restaurant, and after they play two or three songs, the son circulates around the tables to take up a grateful collection.  This is a picture of them I took from my balcony. 

The father becomes quite animated—really gets into la musica.  Last Sunday, they had a third in their combo.  Maybe it was the grandfather—he played a very sour sounding sax, and I think people must have paid them to go away.  I was about to go down to the street and offer them 20 euro just to stop, but I didn’t want to hurt the old guy’s feelings.

And then there are the fireworks.  I’m never sure whether they’re connected to some sort of celebration, or if people here just like them.  But there are fireworks displays here two or three times a week. 

This last Sunday, I was resting my injured knee (a story for another blog entry) and reading, when the church bells next door went crazy ringing, ringing, ringing.  Mind you, I’m used to hearing them ring every half hour to announce the hour and hour and a half (e.g. for 8:30 p.m., 8 long loud rings, and a couple of short dings to signify the passing of 2 quarter hours).  Then at quarter after, one short ding, and at quarter to the hour, 3 short dings.  But this was like the bells went ringing mad.  Then I thought I heard a choir singing.  A bit later, I was sure I heard a band playing, so I limped out to the balcony to see what all the fuss was about.  There was a long procession making its way along the marina road, led by a group of priests carrying a large banner, followed by a bunch of regular folk.  Then came a priest, maybe a bishop , wearing gold embroidered vestments and swinging that incense burning thingie, and he was followed by some men who were carrying a large statue of some female saint on a platform which was decorated with lots of beautiful flowers.  Behind them was another group of priests carrying a red canopy, and then another gaggle of regular folk.  

They passed from one end of the marina to the other and then disappeared.  I thought they were going up the steps, but I didn’t see them ascending.  Then the fireworks started, and it was quite a grand display.  When the smoke cleared, I saw the procession coming down the steps (and have no idea how they got in that position) and they proceeded into the church, with the band playing, and then the bells went crazy again.  And after lots more clanging came lots more fireworks.  It was a cacophony.

It was dark, so my pictures didn’t turn out so well, but here's one where you can see the saint who was being honored.

And any old day, there are a myriad of tourists wandering about the marina.  They mostly come to eat, but some come to lay in the sun and swim.  I hear conversations in a multitude of languages.  A lot of Germans and Austrian vacation here, and there are always some Asians around, too. 
The noise doesn’t stop until around midnight here, and I’ve conditioned myself to sleep through it when I need to, but mostly I’m up late and usually hear the last bell ringing at midnight.  Unfortunately, I also usually hear the 5 a.m. bells.  But seriously, who would give up my view and all this entertainment just to get a little sleep?

Sunday, September 23, 2012


I'm being a bit redundant here (see Living with Less), but......If you haven’t traveled outside the U.S., you have no concept of the abundance of choices we have available to us every day, as well as the luxurious life we lead compared most other countries.  I’ve only been here three weeks, and I’m missing simple things that I can’t seem to find here in Sorrento, as well as ordinary things (in the U.S.) that are luxuries here.  Maybe it’s because it’s mostly a town for tourists who don’t usually cook for themselves, or do laundry, or clean their own apartment.  Here are some things I really miss:

1.  Screens.   I live in an old apartment building in an “average” apartment.  My classmates from New Zealand lived in a renovated apartment up the steps from me…very modern and lovely.  Neither of us had screens on our windows.  So I live with a few flying insects if I want fresh air (and I do).  There is one little pesky fly that has taken a liking to me, I think.  I’m going to start charging him rent.

2.   A clothes dryer.  While I like the smell of clothes that have been dried outside, I really miss the convenience of a clothes dryer.  And, even if you use fabric softener in the wash, the clothes never get as soft as they do in a dryer.  I feel very exposed hanging my undies out for everyone to see.

3.  American coffee and a regular coffeemaker.  They have what they call “caffe lungo” here, which is the Italian interpretation of American coffee.  Let me tell you, they got it wrong.   I would give a lot for a large McDonald’s coffee right now.   I used to drink three cups of coffee in the morning.  But, now I drink only one, latte style, because this is my coffee maker (and yes, that's a regular sized fork I'm holding). 

4.  A burger.  While Sorrento is a tourist town, and you'd think there would be a bit of catering to the tastes of people from other countries, you have to search long and hard to find a burger.  Mind you, I love Italian food, but I also like variety.  I’ve seen only a couple of restaurants that have anything on the menu besides Italian food—one place was an English pub, and a couple of days ago, I saw a place that had burgers and fries—and for breakfast, you could get Special K with banana.  You can’t buy ground beef in the supermarket.  I’m sure I could find more variety in a large city, like Rome or Florence, but for six weeks here, I’m pretty much on an Italian diet.  I’m going to get a burger fix sometime this week though.  But as for Chinese, Thai, Mexican or any other ethnic food, forget it.  Oh, I did see a sushi place, but since I'm not fond of it, for me, it doesn't count.

5.  A regular oven.  My oven has only a top heating element, which makes baking anything impossible.  I don’t know if this is the norm or not....I can't believe it is.  But I can’t make some of my favorite dishes because there’s no broiled version.  It’s good I don’t have a sweet tooth….can you imagine broiled cupcakes?

6.  A peppercorn grinder.  You know, the one you can find in the spice section in just about any U.S. grocery store.  Can’t find one here, even in the supermarket.  They have peppercorns, but my apartment isn’t equipped with a grinder.  They do exist here, and I have looked in the kitchen store for one, but it’s an upscale store, and I’m not putting out 30 euro for a grinder to leave here.  I miss my cracked pepper, but I think this one will be resolved when I go to Apulia.

7.  Berries.  I haven’t even laid eyes on a strawberry or raspberry.  I did see one very small package, maybe a half cup, of blueberries in the supermarket the other day.  They wanted 4 euro (about $5 USD) for them, and they looked old.  Come to think of it, I haven’t seen an apple either, but I don’t eat them often.  There are delicious peaches, bananas, grapes, and pears, which are abundant here.   But no seedless grapes.

8.   A reliable Internet connection.  To get Internet in my apartment, I purchased a “carta per Internet”.  It looks like a fat memory stick.  It works fine, but I lose my connection frequently, because of the low signal strength.  I’m hoping this is a location issue, because it’s very frustrating when you’re in the middle of something and ZAP, the connection drops.  That’s why I’m not posting on my blog more often.  It takes a long time to finish just one entry with all the interruptions.

9.       Chicken broth.  Just not available, and I don’t like the taste of broth made with bouillon cubes.  This is serious, folks.  I ate a lot of soups and made risotto often at home.

10.   This should be number one.   I miss talking to and doing things with my friends and family.  I know this won’t get better. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012


This is my itty bitty washing machine.  It might be about 15 inches wide.

You put your clothes in this metal cylinder, which holds about 1/3 of a U.S. washing machine, and then you have to close the cylinder and put down the top lid. 

When I wear pants with two buttons, sometimes I forget to zip them up.  If I’m distracted or thinking about something else (most of the time, this is the case), my auto pilot just tells me to button and zip—two motions.  Well, that’s what happened when I did my laundry last Thursday.  I put the clothes in, and then put down the lid—two motions, just like at home. 

Result….I jammed up the washing machine because I didn’t close the metal cylinder.  The machine had to be removed from the apartment and taken apart to put everything right again….all of which cost me 70 euro—about $95--and  a great deal of embarrassment.

I won’t be doing that again.

P.S.  No dryer.....I hang my clothes on lines outside my apartment....a bit of a pain, especially when you forget to bring them in when it rains, but they sure do smell good.

Sunday, September 16, 2012


I'm in love with an island.  Mind you--I've been in love with islands before.  I'm a bit fickle about islands.  But I think Ischia is the most beautiful island I've seen (that I can remember, anyway).  

It lies at the north end of the Gulf of Naples and it's a volcanic island that was originally settled by the Greeks sometime in the 8th century BC.  In its early days, it was a trade center.  Over the centuries, various warring Italian states claimed ownership, and it was common for pirates to hole up in the mountain caves of the island throughout the 15th century.  

Ischia's population is around 60,000, and these days, it primary industry is tourism.  It's knows for its thermal spas, which are frequented most by Germans and Asians.  Cleopatra with Elizabeth Taylor was filmed on this island.

I went to the island with classmates Isabelle (from Switzerland), and Kathy and Michelle (from New Zealand).  It took an hour by ferry to get there from Sorrento.  We were approached immediately by Philipo, otherwise known as Pippo, a native of Ischia who spoke English quite well.  He made us an offer that was too good to refuse--a tour of the island in his white Mercedes for only 120 euro.  We decided fairly quickly that this was preferable to jamming ourselves into a bus with other tourists and fumbling our way around this fairly large island (17 square miles).

The charming Philipo and his very clean Mercedes:

Isabelle is a very good photographer and her pictures might better capture the incredible beauty of this lush, tropical island.  Sometimes you just have to be there!  I'll post some of her photos when I receive them.  Our first stop was the famous Castello Argonese, which was built on a rock near the island in 474 BC by Hiero I of Syracuse.

We proceeded on a tour around the islands, with stops at various scenic points that offered great Kodak moments:

This last photo gives you some idea of the lushness of the island.  It was once called "The Green Island", and, wherever you go, there is a luxury of trees and flowering bushes.  

Even the signage on the island is more beautiful than elsewhere.  There are painted ceramics signs like this one that designate shops and shows maps of various destinations.  This one is a map of the island.  

Here's an odd formation we saw along the way called Il Fungo (the mushroom):

After a 4 hour tour of the island with Philipo entertaining us with his great humor, teaching us new Italian words, and touting the many positive attributes of the island (he should work for the Tourist Bureau), he dropped us off at a restaurant with a beautiful sea view, where we had a lunch.  The parting photo beside the restaurant (Kathy and I bought floppy hats along the way):

Then we browsed the shops on our meander back to the harbor to catch the ferry back to Sorrento.  What was most wonderful about Ischia was that there were hardly any tourists there!  We were most surprised, especially Michelle and Kathy, who had also been to Capri where the streets are as jammed with tourists as Sorrento is.  And, in their opinion, Ischia is more beautiful than Capri.  (Yes, I know we're tourists, too, but we do get sick of the crowds of ourselves here.)

I fell in love with Ischia, and I plan to return to tour the castle, as well as some beautiful gardens there.....maybe when my friend, Grace, comes to visit me in October after her Mediterranean cruise.  


This won't mean much to anyone reading this post.  I just want to remember my classmates from week 2 at Sant' Anna Institute:

The bloke at the back left is James from Londre, England.  James is an electrical engineer, and this was his fourth time at the school.  The tall fellow next to him is Bill from Denver.  He's here just one week also.  His wife speaks fluent Italian, so he's trying to catch up with her.  Next to him is Ulrica from Germany.  In front of them are Michelle and Kathy from Aukland, New Zeeland.  

The row to the right:  Fermina (on my right) is a student teacher who was observing our class.  On my left is Isabelle, who is from Switzerland, and then there is Lesley, from Cornwall, England.  She is the only one who advanced with me from our little class last week.

Our grammar teacher this week was Bianca, who ran out before I could get a picture of her.  For conversation, we had Domenico, who is an absolute riot.  He had us playing silly games all week.  And you can see his silliness in these pictures:

It was a good week of learning--I'm more able to put sentences together and understanding more and more of what the instructors are saying.  Va bene!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


The apartment next door to mine is a vacation rental like mine, and an Aussie couple, Diana and Paul, moved in last Thursday.  I find the Aussies to be a very friendly people—quite outgoing and fun-loving.  I’ve been chatting with this couple for the last few days, and they graciously invited me to join them for boat ride along the Amalf Coast. 

Paul and Diana had rented a boat.  They picked me up at the loading dock in the marina after school, and off we went.  They had motored around Capri in the morning with a young Aussie couple they met at a restaurant a couple of days before.  Here are my boat mates:

Captain Paul and first mate Diana

Jessica and Alex

Just south of Sorrento, we saw lots of shoals like this where people were sunbathing and fishing.

All along the Coast, you see many of these small stone towers.  Centuries ago, they were used by warring Italian states to watch for enemies attempting to attack by sea. 

My niece Shelley might recognize this lovely town perched on the cliffs.  It’s Positano, where we spent our last two days of vacation several years ago when we traveled together here.  It’s also the place where in the movie, Under the Tuscan Sun, where Diane Lane went to track down the hot Italian guy she had met.

Some miscellaneous shots along the way.


We went as far as the coastal town of Amalfi and then headed back at breakneck speed to get the boat back on time.  I have bruises on my tush from that return trip!  Back at Marina Grande:

All in all, an absolutely delightful afternoon along the Amalfi Coast, courtesy of a very gracious couple from Down Under.

Sunday, September 9, 2012


A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou…..a fitting phrase in Italia.  Since I don’t have a “thou”, friends fill this need to be with others some of the time.  I left behind some very good friends, and here I begin again to find people with whom I can share life experiences.

Many of you know that I had been writing to some people in Italy for the last few months.  Perhaps the person I came to know best is Tina.  We have shared many thoughts and feelings with each other over the last few months via email, and I have been looking forward to meeting her for a long time.  I wrote also to her husband Donato for a while; but he was in the process of preparing for retirement, and training someone to take his job kept him very busy.  So we hadn’t written for a while.

My greatest pleasure so far has been spending the last two days with Tina and Donato.  They drove here from their home in Puglia, on the opposite coast from me and a bit south, to meet me.  I was so delighted that they extended themselves to me in this way and brought the hospitality of Italy with them.  May I introduce you to my first friends in Italy…………..

We shared bread and wine……………..

Tina had not been in Sorrento before and Donato was here only once on business, so we roamed the streets together for a bit of shopping.  There are many, many narrow streets like this in Old Sorrento, lined with shop after shop………….

We discovered some ancient Roman remains…………

and roamed around the Marina Grande where I live.  As we sat enjoying the fresh sea breezes, we watched some young people and their families exiting the church.  Tina told me the youngsters had just taken their first communion.  Some parents had hired this decorated horse and carriage for the very special occasion that this represents…………

That pink building the the background is where I live, and one of the balconies you see in front on the second floor is mine.  From there, I watch the comings and goings of tourists from many countries, as well as the daily life of the locals.  

Tina and Donato couldn’t find a hotel in Sorrento with an available room, so they stayed in a town nearby.  I rode with them to their guest house, and by accident, Donato chose a road that turned out to be the scenic route, up into the higher hills along the coast.  The views were breathtaking, but, alas, I didn’t have my camera, and there was really no place to stop for panoramic shots anyway.  I will have to hold it in memory for a long as I can. 

This week, Tina and Donato will go north to the home of their son Nicola in Modena.  He and his wife Daniella, are expecting their first child, a girl, very soon.  It will be Tina and Donato’s first grandchild.  The word for grandchild in Italian is "nipote", which is also the word for niece and nephew.  I don’t know quite how they know the difference when speaking. 

Donato speaks some English, which helped our communication, but I had a great opportunity to practice speaking Italian and learn some new words.  It was amazing to me that, most of the time, we were able to communicate pretty effectively.  We shared many laughs over my mistakes and life in general, and I had just a marvelous weekend with my first Italian friends.  They are very, very simpatico.