Thursday, March 31, 2011


Those of you un fortunate enough to be my facebook friends already know about the big blue bag that I bought for the trip to Italy. It is enormously massive, and contains the most unexpected backpack straps  that a soul could imagine.

See for yourself:

It was a long trip, I needed a lot of stuff. The bag had rugged wheels so that I would be able to roll it wherever I needed to go, despite its weight. My travel plans were easy: the shared ride from airport to hotel, a train from Reggio to Rome, a cab from train to hotel, and a car from hotel to airport. I  was all set.  

As I mentioned on Monday, the shared ride fell through and I learned a few things over the course of our navigation to the hotel via bus, train, and cab.

Fortunately, I could lift the big blue bag. Unfortunately, I needed two hands to do so.

Fortunately, I have two hands. Unfortunately, my carryon rollerbag took up one of them.

Fortunately, there were elevators in the train station to get us from one track to another. Unfortunately, four people with 8 bags take up those elevators completely, and when those people keep missing trains and hogging the elevators, the locals - and the weary travelers - begin to get annoyed.    

Fortunately, we eventually found the right track at the right time. Unfortunately, unlike most trains I've ever been on, there are narrow, steep steps to conquer on Italian trains.

Fortunately, I have two strong legs. Unfortunately, I had two cumbersome bags.

Etc, etc, etc, ad nauseum. You get the point. We relied on the kindness of strangers, and eventually made it to our hotel. 

So almost from the start, there was a part of me that began to fret about how I was going to get myself to Rome without travelmates. Turns out the itinerary I had planned included a change of trains in Bologna, which had struck me as no big whoop from my comfy desk in San Diego, but was now a wee bit troubling. The more stuff I accumulated,

the more that worry nagged, at least when I had the time to let it cross my mind.

Anyway, to make a short story excruciatingly long, I tried to hook up with a few folks who were also headed to Rome, hoping that the buddy system would save my sorry arse, but nothing was quite working out in a way that would be helpful. To me. And then on the very last day I ditched my rolly carryon, bought a backpack, took another look, and discovered that there was one train, leaving early in the morning, that would get me all the way to Rome without changes. It was a high speed number. And there were only first class tickets available.

And that is how I found myself lounging in first class on a high speed train, watching the Italian countryside fly by my window. A guy brought me cafe and chocolate at regular intervals. At one point he asked me: "snack?" I said si, por favore. He asked "sweet?" I said no, grazie. He gave me a bag of bugles. I swear to God. I miss that guy.

Ciao, Reggio!

And then just like that, I arrived in Roma! I got to the hotel (via taxi, no problem), and gracefully gratefully dumped Big Blue into a room with this view.

I resisted my natural inclination to move, trying to be more accepting and zen like the buddha and less - you know - American about everything. Plus, I knew mom would be there soon, and she'd do it.

A few short hours and one major rainstorm later, there she was!

I guess it stopped raining somewhere along the way, doesn't mom look great for having just flown all night and then lugging her bags through the rain for a mile? This, the Trevi Fountain, was close to home, and we made a quick stop to toss in coins, thus ensuring our return to Roma. Then we dropped off mom's stuff, made arrangements to have our room changed the next day (thanks, mom!), and we set out to get the lay of the land.

The rooftop terrace at our hotel, where we had breakfast every morning and drinks every night.

Our piazza, so festively adorned in honor of the reunification. We vaguely wondered what this building was for much of the visit, and finally ventured in one day to discover an olive oil tasting in progress. It was an event space. Fancy.

That first day, I was a total badass with the map, navigating the trek to and from Termini station with ease. Then we had a drink(s) before dinner, and a bottle of wine with dinner, and then we decided to check out the Trevi Fountain again since it was right there in the 'hood and we hadn't had a proper photo op. It soon became clear that my mad map skillz are null when faced with Italian wine, and we walked around and around and around, getting helpful advice and directions from friendly passers by. That's when we heard the directions that became our mantra for the weekend: "Cosi, Cosi, Cosi" (with a heavy Italian accent and aggressive hand gesturing)

But we found it!

The next morning, I lay in bed listening to the sounds of the street, cold and certain that we'd be facing more rain. It wasn't ideal, but it would be allright. Mom and I are both troopers, it would just require the proper attitude and fortitude.

Can you imagine our surprise and delight to emerge onto the terrace and find this?

Oh, the joy. Rapture! It was a stunningly beautiful day, and we were treated to similar weather for the duration of our Roman holiday, with the exception of one downpour, for which we had ample notice in the form of ominous and foreboding skies, and plenty of time to get ourselves back to the lovely piazza de pietra before it hit.

That was a great day. They were all great, we just kept doing all the right things and we were so happy to be together in that stunning city. We decided to get ourselves on one of those hop on/hop off, open air buses to get our bearings and have a look at the city. The desk manager at the hotel, Emmanuel, pointed us in the direction of his namesake's monument, where we'd find all manner of buses to choose from. 

Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele, or as we called it, Victor. It was an amazingly easy landmark to guide us home from all points in the city. We'd just look around and go: "Oh, there's Victor."
We selected our bus, and commenced with the grinning.

We loved that bus. Our tickets were good for 24 hours, but we used them for 48. It was a great way to get from place to place, and also a great resource for learning about the city. Every  time we looped around, we saw or heard something new. So there we'd sit, soaking up the rays and willing the teeny cars and pedestrians to move swiftly so we could avoid being open air witnesses to Italian carnage. But mostly we just feasted our eyes on the wonder and awe inspiring sights that met us around every corner.

Majestic, startling images so very familiar yet entirely new.

Some of that shit is really old. 
We disembarked a few times, certainly for lunch, also to cruise around the Colosseum area. I think we spotted Victor from the Colosseum and walked home from there.

Ominous and foreboding
That night, we treated ourselves to a concert of opera arias. It was lovely and moving, we both felt and missed Dad poignantly during the pieces from La Traviata.  We sprung for priority seating, and ended up in the first row. Naturally, I asked the guy next to us to take our photo. He was a sport, scrambling over pews of the ancient baroque church to get just the right angle. Then we got to talking, and he showed us his photos from the private tour he and his friend had enjoyed that day. At the Vatican. His friend, who we called Sir Phillip due to his having been knighted and all. We advised them on what gifts to bring home for their wives. I suggested boots.


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Wilton Winrow

I was waffling about what to blog about this morning. Then I checked my inbox and read this comment from good ol' Wilton Winrow in response to a post that discussed the fact that I needed a root canal.

Dental procedures can really be costly, but most of it turned out to be very satisfying! And it can be tiresome sometimes. Your body feels very heavy, and you can hardly walk through the clinic doors. But a short time of sacrifice will lead to a long time of pleasure! So don't be mad, and just think of the brighter side.

Okay, who the hell is Wilton Winrow, and what the fuck is he talking about? Very satisfying? A long time of pleasure? Wilton, I think you might be some kind of twisted pain junkie. Do you perhaps think being whipped is exciting? Or find the crucifixion alluring?

Either that, my friend, or you're a dentist, endodontist, orthodontist, or oral surgeon.

Either way, you've got me back to blogging about my teeth.

But what neither you or Wilton know is that when I walked through the clinic doors to get my root canal a week ago today, I got the tiresome news that I needn't worry about drilling trough that brand new partial crown and having it refilled, at least not yet, because the xrays and clinical tests showed that more pain was actually coming from the tooth next to it.

I'm telling you, at this point, I found it very, very hard to think of the brighter side. Yes, it's true I might not need to have my new partial crown blasted apart then re-patched, but now I would need a full crown on this other tooth!

I'm fairly certian a new full crown will cost more than a partial patch-up, don't you agree?

So as I'm sitting there, my tooth still aching from the "cold test" the guy did on both teeth (ever have one of these? Holy shit! Wilton, you would eat it up. The pain is exquisite. They put what feels like dry ice right on your poor tender tooth, the one with root problems, so that you feel the icy pain right down to those inflamed nerves. Then they see how long it takes to go away! It could seriously be a military torture tactic if not used already), adding up the expense in my head, when he tells me that there is a chance that he won't be able to finish the root canal in one visit.

Yes, you can probably see what's coming. I was one of the lucky ones who got to walk my very heavy body through the clinic doors a second time.

But, on the brighter side, there was no additional cost for the second visit.

That second visit was yesterday, so my short time of sacrifice is now over. At least until I go in to get the temporary crown, which will no doubt aslo really be costly.

But I'm not mad. Nope, I'm just eagerly awaiting my long time of pleasure.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Ride In The Bug

Mistah and I think we own the coolest Volkswagen on the face of the Earth.

The Westy! She is, simply, the biggest stud there is. A 1987 VW Vanagon -- her conversion from a van into a camper done by Westfalia, hence her nickname -- she has done us nothing but right. She's fun, she's cool, she's awesome, she's reliable, she is oh-so-very-close to her 200,000 mile birthday, and she is always, ever ready.

On Sunday, though, the day after UConn made it into, ahem, the Final Four, and during the very day that the UConn women made it into the Elite Eight -- during which Mom came to Milford for a champagne brunchie-poo, Mark-Dowd-Style, and a oh! what a Time was had by all -- well, we found ourselves on the shore of Gulf Beach in Milford, and really, there is only one thing to do at a time like this.

Call Bobby Larsson for a ride in the V-Dub Bug.

And just like that, he showed up.

Bobby Larsson has a sweet, sweet ride. An original 1970s Volkswagen Beetle convertible, all refab-ed and spit-shined and spectacular.

We all piled in like the fun-loving, V-Dub-lovers we are. . . .

Smile, peeps!

. . . and . . . we were off.

I sat behind Bobby, cheering him on the whole way.

Actually, the whole back seat was a mad cheering section. Check us out, back there:

They call that Back Seat Bug Love.

Bobby's an excellent driver and he had Big Fun with his Bug Full 'o Freaks.

Does he not look like a man having Big Fun? Yes he does. I mean yes he does not. Oh, you know what I mean.

Milford claims to have more coastline than any other town in Connecticut. And I believe them: whenever you're driving near the shore in that town, you're right by the coast.

See? There it is again, The Shore. Right by the Coast.

(Sigh. Well, at least I crack myself up.)

And there, up there on the left, our destination. The Beachcomber. The absolute biggest dive bar in the world. But did that stop us? No. No, it did not. Instead, it impelled us.

In fact, we used the opportunity for yet another photo op. Photo Ops is our collective middle name.

The bartender grabbed our camera and told us to strike a five-heads-in-a-row-pose . . .

. . . here she is now . . .

. . . isn't that a cute idea? I think the five-heads-in-a-row is an awfully cute idea. I think we're awfully cute.

But then, like many afternoons, our magical afternoon was over. I mean, how much Tom Petty and Squeeze can one play on a jukebox?

So we headed back out, and into the Bug, and into the world, with an afternoon of hilarious memories under our belt . . .

. . . but not before the cutest doorman in the world showed us out.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Italia, il primo

I’ve been staring at this blank page for ages, wondering how to begin with my story of Italy. There’s just so much! At first I thought I would just pull out mini-sagas, because to tell the whole thing from start to finish would probably bore you to tears. But then I remembered that it’s my mission and my duty to bore you to tears! I am, after all, your very own Uncle Merv.

The trip was separated into two separate yet equally important parts: Reggio Emilia and Rome. The first part was work, and although I have a very strict policy prohibiting the intermingling of blogging with work, the study tour simply can not be ignored. Nobody puts Reggio in a corner. Baby.

But before I bust up all my boundaries and such, I’ve got to spend a moment or two talking about a phenomenon to which I’d not been privy before this trip: international travel.

Being a beast as old as my bad self, one might find it surprising to note that this was my first overseas trip. Yet save one notable exception, the travels of my days thus far have been limited to the US and its landlocked neighbors, Mexico and Canada.  So the preparation for this trip included the procurement of a passport, adapters for electrical outlets, an Italian-English dictionary, and a suitcase that could easily have smuggled one if not both of my children had I found myself unable to leave them. 

The travel was looooong, but I was so giddily impressed with the nuances of the long hual that it passed in a snap. The freedom to check a huge bag was luxurious, leaving the carryon for items that were truly needed during the marathon flights. I didn't realize that it wouldn't be necessary to include snacks in the category of necessary, but as it turns out the energy bars and trail mix in my bag stayed put all the way back home to sunny California, because one thing I was not for the duration of this adventure was hungry.

It's brilliant, really. Take a plane full of suckers whose arrival time will be 19 hours later than their departure on a ten hour flight. Feed them dinner in the beginning; then turn off the lights and show a couple of movies, passing through at regular intervals with offers of wine, cocktails, snacks, cordials, coffee, water, etc. A couple of hours before you land, feed them eggs and tell them it's morning. I totally played along. Rally cap, Italian style.    

I was traveling with a colleague and we had made arrangements to join another group from our US delegation for the hourlong journey from the Bologna airport to Reggio Emilia. That was a great plan, it would have capped an arduous yet simple journey across the sea. But simple is for chumps! The group we had planned to join were delayed by about 5 hours, and since we were already sporting our jaunty Italian rally caps, we quickly made the decision to navigate bus and train move ourselves toward our ultimate destination.    

We got there. That's all that counts. And we made a pair of fast friends along the way, forming an unlikely posse, a fearsome foursome, of likeminded travelers on the road to Reggio. 

You know you’re in Reggio Emilia when the exit tunnel from the train station is adorned with images like these:

..inspired by images like these:

It's a beautiful city, old and regal and vibrant and proud.

Also? Wet.

It was mythical and exciting to be in that place that I've studied for so long, to walk the streets and squares that I've seen illustrated in so many projects and publications.

The lions in front of this building are familiar to any student of the Reggio approach

Our days were full to bursting, even the breaks were chock full with our individual quests for whatever it was that each of us wished to bring back from Italy.

Nirvana is an Italian boot shop

At night, I holed up in the world's smallest hotel room.


Ah, Reggio. Their world renowned system of municipal early childhood education aside, the region is also known for magnificent parmigiano, and for a uniquely lovely sparkling red wine, my beloved Lambrusco.   

We were welcomed into surprises around every corner, like this balsalmic production room with 100 year old barrels that eek out the revered condiment:

My new friends and I drank it all in. It was a bounty of richness to fill every sense. I was fulfilled in my brain, in my heart, in my stomach, and in my funny bone.

And to cap off the first part of my Italian love-fest, there was a national holiday in honor of the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy.

Our conference presenters treated us to a rousing rendition of the Italian national anthem

A soundtrack accompanied these dancing fountains

The streets came alive to bid us arrividerci on that last night in Reggio.

And once again, I'll close with: "and then I went to Rome..."