Sunday, August 12, 2018

Food and Wine Tour, Italy and Sicily

I spent two wonderful weeks at the end of July and early August exploring Southern Italy and Sicily with Go Ahead Tours. It was a great experience, and our tour director, Emilio, was the best. We landed at the airport in Catania, Sicily.

Highlights of the Catania portion of our tour were wine tastings of Zisola Wines called Negro d'Avila as well as a 2015 vintage Achilles. We also visited Casa Bianca, a farm-to -able restaurant where we met an Italian Contessa. We ate so much, I fell into a stupor that could accurately be decade as a "food coma." The Contessa's pasta in lemon sauce was unbeatable for flavor.

We visited an amphitheater in Catania where St. Agatha was martyred. There is a local tradition of eating cakes in the shape of breasts in her honor. They are super-sweet.

We also visited a World War II Museum. It's the second largest war museum in Europe. Catania was bombed 87 times in two weeks by the Allies. There is a simulated bunker where we got to experience what an Allied bombing was like. Harrowing doesn't have enough syllables in it. The Nazi occupation must have been worse, because the Italians saw Allied troops not as invaders but liberators. The Italians still call chewing gum "American gum" from the time when U.S. soldiers gave  out candy to hungry Sicilian children. I also  learned the Mafia cooperated with  the FBI in advance of the invasion.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Visit

Yesterday my friend Helena and I visited the Virginia Museum of Fine Art in Richmond. We purchased tickets to see a special exhibit, Terracotta Army: Legacy of the First Emperor of China. The exhibit was well-laid out and interesting, and the terracotta statues were lifelike and breathtakingly beautiful.

We also visited another special exhibit, The Horse in Ancient Greek Art. This exhibit was free and not nearly as crowded but just as enjoyable. The exhibits were mostly vase-paintings. I'll share photos of my two favorite pieces.

Pegasus at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Horse Groomer at the VMFA in Richmond, Virginia.

While at the museum we stopped to see a well-preserved statue of Caligula, a Roman emperor. I especially liked an accompanying educational explanation of what a toga praetexta and a toga picta would have looked like on Caligula. The latter would have been worn only in triumphal processions. I teach Latin, so it's nice to have a visual for the kinds of clothing we sometimes read about in our upper-level classes.

Caligula in a toga praetexta, left, and a toga picta, right.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Rusticatio 2017

I tried and failed at a Latin-immersion program called "Rusticatio" this week. Or maybe the program failed me. Or maybe it was mutual.

The program's website does not give the public much information about what to expect except total immersion. When I got there, the venue, the Claymont Mansion, felt like a fire trap. There was furniture blocking a door on the second floor which apparently led to open air. While there were fire extinguishers, when I checked out the fire exit indicated by the floor plan in my room, all I saw was a rusty-looking escape ladder haphazardly thrown in a box by a window at the end of the hall.

My room contained no privacy, but five of us were expected to sleep in twin beds all in one large room with little furniture and no closets. The bathroom (a sink, two stalls each containing a toilet and a shower) was shared by our room, a room adjoining the other side, and anyone (hopefully female) who walked in from the front hall. This seemed fine during the day, but mornings were unpleasant when everyone needed the limited facilities at once. There was no exercise to be had other than strolling around the grounds, which we were assured were tick-infested.

After arrival time on our first evening, a Friday, we were given the rules to start the next day. I expected no conversation in any other language except Latin. Considering how old and dry the building was and the poor quality of the fire exits, the no-smoking rule made sense, although it surprised me no one told potential in smokers advance.

Other rules disturbed me: no leaving the campus, no driving into town, no use of electronic devices, and if we needed to make a phone call due to a family emergency back home, we needed to leave the building (no matter the weather) and walk past the parking lot outside, at least 75 feet, in order to converse (perhaps with the smokers, who were also banished there). Even pictures and video were discouraged except by the group's official photographer-- we were all required to sign a release when we checked in. Selfies and pictures of the facilities were okay.

What was this I signed up for? Some kind of cult? For me, unplugging was the most uncomfortable part. I had even purchased and intended to use a terrific app, SPQR, specifically for this event.

Then there was the writing issue. I had brought my lap top. I am a writer, finishing my second novel. I'm also under pressure to finish at least a draft before an upcoming trip to a national conference. I will be pitching my work to agents and editors. I figured I could squeeze in an hour of work on my manuscript a day, working around my other obligations. I even received permission--albeit reluctant-- to do so after I checked in on Friday.

But I was wrong. When I brought out my laptop, working apart from other participants and more than an hour before breakfast was scheduled in the common area. I was told my writing in English was jeopardizing not only my own experience, but everyone's in the program. Perhaps the organizers were correct, but I was unwilling to cede them that deep a level of control.

I was unable to find a suitable compromise-- a more private space was suggested, but one roommate was still sleeping, and there was no furniture in the bedroom or any other room in the house suitable for writing.  After my wrists were painfully grabbed (twice!) by Nancy Llewellyn, the lead instructor, in an effort to prevent my departure, I broke away from her and left in tears. I even abandoned some of my belongings in my haste to escape. At least I was promised a refund.

Rusticatio is one Latin experience I will be in no hurry to repeat. I suppose the program's intentions are good, and I've heard great things about the teaching methods, which I'd looked forward to experiencing, but organizers are in the wrong not to make their expectations clear up front.

Cavete! Please consider yourselves forewarned.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Last Day in Savannah, Georgia

Don and my last day in Savannah was pretty laid-back. There is a free shuttle, called "The Dot," for visitors around the city, so we took the entire route. The second time we stopped in Forsyth Park and walked through it's scent garden and around the perimeter of the park. We found an interesting marker for Nina Anderson Pape (1869-1944), "a pioneer in women's education," according to the marker. A graduate of Columbia University, she worked for the education of poor and disadvantaged children in the Savannah area, started Georgia's first Kindergartens, and established a school called the Pape School which later became Savannah Country Day School. The first two Girl Scout Troops came from the Pape School.

As an educator, myself, I found the marker touching. While we stop to consider all the fallen soldiers and generals and railroad tycoons and wealthy cotton merchants of this illustrious town, let's not forget to consider our educators and their impact on our future generations and on society, as well. We teachers, and our contributions, are often too easily overlooked.

 In the evening we often strolled Savannah's River Street. The views of the river were always interesting, but often prettier at night, because Savannah is still a commercial port, so there are lots of cranes and tugboats and cargo ships, which aren't as pretty as the Riverboats plying the river day and night. The Waving Girl, a tribute to Florence Martus, still waves at all ships, day and night, along with her beloved Collie.

Savannah Riverboat Cruise at Dusk

Savannah's "Waving Girl," with her beloved dog

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

4th Day in Savannah, Georgia

Don and I spent the morning and early afternoon today at the Telfair Museums. We started at the Jepson Center, a museum devoted to contemporary art and rotating exhibitions. It is very child-friendly. We heard the sound of singing and laughter, and there are several hands-on activities for the kids. Telfair is a big name around Savannah-- there is even a Telfair Square-- and Mary Telfair was known for both her eccentricity and her philanthropy.

Jepson Center (Source)
The museum houses the "Bird Girl" statue from Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, both a best-selling book and movie. Originally, she stood in a cemetery, but she was removed to the museum because she was drawing hordes of tourists to the once-quiet spot. The more sterile-looking environment in the museum was deemed safer for the statue and for the cemetery. From her current position, her back is also clearly visible to the numerous tourists who pass by to see her from the street below.

A version of the Savannah Bird Girl (Source)

The Jepson Center also featured an interesting, temporary exhibit of artist Nick Cave, a performance artist best known for his "Sound Suits." He made his first one out of sticks, inspired by the beating of Rodney King. They are constructed of found materials around a theme, and meant to be worn and performed-in. The museum booklet calls them, "A second skin that conceals race, gender, and class, soundsuits camouflage the body, forcing viewers to look without bias or judgment." They can also be pretty noisy, as a video of the performers attested.

Our next stop was the Telfair Academy, the "oldest public art museum in the South and the first art museum in America founded by a  woman," and formerly Mary Telfair's family mansion. Pieces are mostly from the 1800's. There are also some plaster casts of famous works of art from the Vatican Museums. We found the museum well worth the visit.

Our last stop was the Owens-Thomas House, a National Historic Landmark, to visit the intact slave quarters and take a guided tour of "one of the finest examples of English Regency architecture in the country," according to a brochure. It is famous for its plumbing facilities, which were way ahead of their time. Also, the Marquis de Lafayette slept there and made a speech from one of its balconies. The house's walls are very thick and made mostly of tabby covered by stucco.

Owens-Thomas House (Source)

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

3rd Day in Savannah, Georgia

1902 Crestmobile

1902 CrestMobile

1902 Crestmobile

We started our morning at the Official Visit Savannah Information Center and Savannah History Museum. Don seemed to like the steam engine on display there and the early car (or maybe horseless carriage?). The sign said there are only sixteen like it in the world.

Reproduction of the Forrest Gump Bench

Forrest Gump Bench

I liked the reproduction of the bench used in the "Forrest Gump" movie in Savannah. I also enjoyed the special exhibit about Juliet Gordon Lowe, the founder of the Girl Scouts, and the fancy carriage her family owned that she had refurbished for the Girl Scouts' use. She was a strong-headed woman, very giving, who wanted the Scouts available for all despite the laws and strictures of the time. She made sure Scouting was available to girls of all social classes, for example, and opened up troops for girls of color because the laws in Georgia required separation of the races. She had a hearing problem, so she was forward-thinking about people with disabilities, too. She wanted her girls to have fun and to grow up into independent and self-sufficient women. She also loved nature, animals, and the outdoors.

The Gordon Family Carriage

The Gordon Family Carriage

After the museum we returned to the nearby Georgia State Railroad Museum to obtain our special tickets for a ride behind the Steam Locomotive. We got to see and feel the turntable in action. The ride was short but a highlight of our trip. The museum needs $10 million to extend the track to make longer rides available. Right now it has a matching donor program up to $15,000. Don and I both contributed and hope others will, too. This is a great program and highly educational plus fun.

The Silver Meteor is an example of advertising the line

Don and I in front of Steam Engine #30

Bill the Engineer from the passenger car
I have videos of the steam engine and turntable in action, and will include these if I can. Unfortunately, my Apple phone and Blogger and Windows Computer don't cooperate very well. I've actually had to upload them to Facebook, download them to my computer, and then upload them from there. They look and sound great on my phone, though. Just hard to share.

The other video, showing the actual use of the turntable, is available through a Facebook link here. Or you can watch it below.

The evening's entertainment was Savannah Smiles Dueling Pianos. Yes, a bar. There were two musicians (sometimes relieved) and a drummer onstage. Patrons wrote requests on bar napkins and "stamped" it with money. The musicians played pretty much any and all requests, although priority went to those stamped generously. They would also write a "phrase of the day" on the mirrors behind the stage for a donation. It sounds awful, but it was really fun. The musicians were great entertainers and could play almost anything. They encouraged the audience to sing along. They also encouraged the pretty girls in the audience to get onstage and dance, but they didn't get any takers.

Too bad they didn't ask me and Don to show off our Swing moves. Oh, well.

Monday, April 17, 2017

2nd Day in Savannah, Georgia

Today, Don and I spent most of the day on a Savannah Trolley Tour. We took the entire ride around Savannah to get the big picture, which took about 90 minutes. There is so much history here, it was hard to decide where to stop to follow up. The deal with the trolley company is we can get on and off as many times as we want all day until 6 PM. We also signed up for the "Ghosts and Gravestones Frightseeing Tour," which starts tonight. We were apparently lucky to purchase our tickets before they sold out today.

There are other tour companies in Savannah, including trolley tours, walking tours, horse-and-buggy tours, Segway tours, and pedicab service.

Forsyth Park, Savannah, Georgia

There are fifteen stops on the tour, with an optional guide ($5.00 extra) that tells more about the different sights and attractions at each stop. One of the things that makes Savannah such a beautiful and walkable city. We spent time in beautiful Forsyth Park, historic Lafayette Square, and the Catholic Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. We also saw Chippewa Square, a setting for a scene in "Forest Gump." We learned Savannah has been a popular setting for movies over the years. Besides all the military and commercial history, it was also the birthplace of Juliette Gordon Lowe and the Girl Scouts.

Cathedral of St. John the Baptist (Source)

While I took an afternoon nap back at our downtown motel, Don visited the Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum. He is a retired U.S. Navy sailor and enjoyed all the model ships on display there.

I'm glad I got a rest, though, so I could stay up late enough to enjoy the ghost tour tonight. After all, Savannah has been named "America's most haunted city." How that can be, compared to New Orleans, I don't know. But Don and I braved the ghosts to learn more about the deep history of this town. Honestly, the ghost tour was one of the most fun and entertaining tours we've had here and opens up a whole different side of the history of this town-- one with hangings and drownings and skeletons unearthed and with things that go bump in the night. Highly recommended.

So far we've found two good places serving vegetarian and vegan food in the city. One is Carlitos Mexican Bar and Grill, but you need to ask for a separate menu.