Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The long story

Scroll down. I have many posts. I'm trying to make amends for my lame-ass blogging.


Though the trip was lovely, as documented in Erik's pictures, it was also traumatic. Most of the trauma can be ascribed to operator error. Italy is a foreign foreign country and it was more difficult than I thought it would be to get the nuance of things. It was hard just barely knowing the language but harder was not knowing the customs. The south of Italy partakes in the longest siesta I've ever heard of. From 1 or 2 until 7 or 8 at night, everything was shut. Grocery stores and museums, restaurants and shops. That's a long time not to be able to do much--thank god we had the villa and the ocean for swimming. But with the Z, we couldn't stay up too late and because we were at the villa, we mostly cooked dinner at home. But if we had plans for a short trip to a little town in the morning, we couldn't shop and go. We had to plan and shop for dinner, drop the food off at the villa, and then travel out. With 7 people (at the height of my mom's visit) that didn't happen much. So we ate a lot of salami and cheese, tomatoes and fruit for dinner, which was good but wasn't exactly the cooking adventure I'd hoped to embrace.
But the true trauma started early. First was the laptop. People. I'm addicted. It was so hard to reorganize how I'd planned to acquaint myself with Puglia. I figured I would do as I do at home--learn a little about something, go home and Google it, then go out and discover some more. But as it was, I was only able to see the surface of things--to imagine how baroque was baroque, how poisonous was oleander, if Gallipoli was more interesting than Santa Maria de Leuca (answer: yes). It was like flying blind. Plus I couldn't blog. Plus I couldn't write.
Also. Z had a pretty bad cough upon flying over. No problem. We brought the nebulizer and an outlet adapter. And yet. I did not bring a voltage adapter. And, apparently, the nebulizer needed one because as I was administering the albuterol to Z, the machine started to hiss. And then smoke. And then kaboom. The first night there. 3.5 more weeks to go without her breathing treatments. Should we go home or risk pneumonia? Every day, the cough would get better. And then worse. She still has a cough. (Now that we're home, we have a new nebulizer).
Then, there were the bugs. The first day, we left the doors open. Erik woke up with a mosquito bite on his eye that made him look like the pirate he always wanted to be. Z looked like she had measles. When we came back from Siena (she stayed with Erik's parents at the villa while we took the train), I had hoped she would be mosquito bite and cough free. Instead, she had even more bites all over her face and was coughing like crazy. Erik's parents had asked the villa's owners, who speak no English, where a doctor was. The hosts, having been more recently acquainted with measles, had Z stick out her tongue where no spots or whiteness or something could be found. Safely diagnosed it was hard to take the girl who looked like she had measles/leprosy out to lunches. I practiced saying morso di zanzarra over and over but as usual when I tried to tell jokes in Italian, the Italians looked at me like I was just covering for having the swine flu.
We also learned there were these contraptions in our stone houses (read: stone huts) that you could plug into the wall and insert a "Vape" which would "vaporize" the mosquitoes. When I die 4 years from now, you'll know it was from the fog of pesticide I inhaled while in the southern part of Italy.
Some of our meals were a consequence of our general stupidity. If there's no one eating there, should have been our motto, don't go. But we were often desperate for lunch or dinner and the Italians seemed to eat at times not in any way in alignment with ours. One day, we went for what turned out to be a feast. Antipasti, I ordered for us all--figuring cheese and salumi would be safe. He asked "Antipasti di terre or di mare?" I swear I said di terre but really, this guy with one squiwampous eye, he didn't want us to order di terre. No we were by the sea and he wanted to impress us with his 15 ways with squid. Squid with oil. Squid, di salento, squared and roasted, squid with tomatoes. Also, eggplant that looked squid innards. And calamari, fried on a stick. And roasted peppers roasted until they were slimy like squid. And Z's obligatory spaghetti with butter which was all overcooked tentacles. The only edible bit was the zucchini frittata. When he asked if we'd like more, I finally got to use the word Basta!
Also, on our trip back from Siena, I was in a grumpy mood and, when he asked which train we needed to change to at Empoli, I meanly said, the one to Pisa duh. Then I marched off to the bathroom. He went to the platform. When the train came to Livorna, I saw him over there but assumed he wouldn't get on. It didn't say Pisa. But then, when the train pulled away, I couldn't find him. He did get on! I couldn't decide what to do. I was sure he was destined for some weird town far off our path. Our flight back to Bari wasn't for 4 more hours. I decided to wait in Empoli. It took me two hours to figure out the train to Livorna also went to Pisa. I jumped on the train, assuming he would be waiting at the airport for me. I actually imagined the running into each other's arms reunion scenario that should mark all good Italian vacations. But this one? He was not at the airport. We were down to 1.5 hours until our flight. The trains came every half hour. He wasn't on the next or the next. We wouldn't make the flight. He had my passport, I had the tickets. We would be trapped, and mad, in Pisa. Finally, on the 4:30 train, he appeared. Our flight was at 5. The check-in desk was closed. We ran to security but they wouldn't let us on without having our visas stamped. We went to the ticket counter. She claimed to have no stamp. No one else from RyanAir was around. Finally, the security woman called someone, she came and escorted us to the ticket counter, where the woman did indeed have a stamp and stamped our passes without the slight look of chagrin. We made it to our flight, which ended up being 30 minutes late any way.
The 30 minutes ended up being its own problem because the train from Bari to Lecce left at 7. It was an hour flight to Bari. The cab ride? About 40 minutes. We showed up at the train station at 6:58. The train was there. We went to buy our tickets. There was a line. And then the train was gone. The next one came two hours later leaving us to have to take a 50 euro cab ride from Lecce to our villa to find our measle-ridden looking child. Who itched and coughed for 2 weeks straight (fortunately, my mom let Z sleep in her clean, bug free apartment for the week she was there with her cortaid cream and albuterol inhaler. My mom probably saved Z's life. Or at least made it possible for us to still have fun with the poor, tortured baby.
There is more but I don't want to sound too complain-y. Most of the trouble really was just me, not knowing. Next post: The best parts.


And then we spent 3 days in Rome. These were good days except maybe the last one when we were so exhausted and we went to the Vatican and so the entire populous of the earth on one piazza and had two horrible meals. We were pretty beat by then but Z is the biggest trooper in the world--walking all over the Palladium and the Vatican Museums and all around the town. I can't believe she did all she did.

P.S. Each of these pictures, but the one of himself, was taken by Erik.

The last week in Puglia

The last week was a little rough. I missed my mom and was getting a little tired of speaking Italian badly and eating pizza.
But we still managed to hit the beach again, as well as return to Otranto since the Cathedral had been closed on our first visit (note--siesta from 13:00 to 19:00 sometimes includes tourist sites). We drove to grottoes (sea caves) and decided Castro was the most beautiful town on the coast.

My mom arrives!

The second week was action packed because my mom was in Lecce for only a week. We had the white city of Ostuni to visit, the Ionian sea to swim in near Gallipoli, Otranto's castle and cathedral to see, plus much swimming to do at the villa. The high point of food might have been the fish I made on the grill at the villa although Erik and Bart (mom's boyfriend) both had good pasta with mussels (cozze).

The highpoint of this week, of which Erik took no pictures, was the fruit extravaganza at the La Fontanelle beach near S. Roca Beach. After swimming for awhile, Z was hungry. We asked the bar (having now figured out how to rent an umbrella and beach chairs (pay 20 euro)), if they had fruit cups. They kept saying 2 minutes, 2 minutes. Every 2 minutes, we'd go check. About 40 minutes later, we're standing at the bar and everyone starts to come in from the ocean. A man on a speaker phone is yelling about frutta. There's a line. We're confused. I mean, we like fruit but it doesn't usually achieve celebrity status. People had their cameras out for the huge tray--the size of a kitchen table, that was delivered to the people. And then champagne popped. All for free. Z ate more fruit than her share but there was plenty--watermelon, kiwi, cherries. Delicioso. From then on, we started ordering Z Frutta da stagione (seasonal fruit) almost as often as we ordered her spaghetti with butter.


That weekend was our crazy trip back across the country. Erik and I woke up at 4:30 on Saturday morning. Rick drove us to the Lecce train station (after much lost-getting). We caught the 5:07 train to Bari, took a crazy taxi cab (also 30 Euro) to the Bari airport, flew to Pisa and took the train to Siena.
Our hotel, the Pensione Piazza Ravizza, was lovely. Siena is gorgeous. Miriam, she who runs the school with which our school is affiliated, took us to lunch, told us about how Siena and Florence were each in the running for Italian cultural center. Siena lost but thanks to said loss, the city has retained a lot of its medieval character, with a few baroque touches, as seen in the Duomo.

The rest of the week 1

Our thought behind this trip was to go somewhere where we could experience the great food, the culture and still make sure Z would have some fun. Hence the villa with a pool and our close location to two coasts--the heel of the boot divides the Adriatic from the Ionian seas. We went to the Adriatic that first Thursday. We didn't quite get how the whole umbrella/lounge chair thing worked so we just went to lunch and ordered great mussels au gratin, proscuitto with melon, and Z's omnipresent spaghetti with butter. Erik's mom, the veg, ordered seafood pasta which might have been her undoing but she tried a shrimp and some scallops. At least she didn't order the spaghetti ai ricci which, we discovered later, was spag with sea urchins.

Back from Italy Lecce 1

It was lovely. In many ways.
This is the positive post. I'll have a "What I wanted from Italy, what I got," more grumpy post tomorrow. But today. Today I will try to detail all of the great adventure that was great.

One negative that will have to come first: My hard drive crashed on the first day. It worked in Rome. I turned on the laptop at the aeroporto and then turned it off when they wanted 9.99 E to access the internet. When we got to the "villa" (quotation marks explained soon), I turned it on and the black screen with white letters read: "No internal drive found. Please press F1. Try to re-seat drive." F1 pressed. Hard drive reseated (using kitchen knife to unscrew small screws). Nothing but black screen from now on.

So. Hard drive free I got to "enjoy" my vacation in the manner that one enjoys rehab.

We flew from Rome to Brindisi, Zoe, Erik and I. We actually met up with Erik's parents in Brindisi, then drove, thanks to in-laws renting a car, toward Lecce, the main city near our villa-compound. We arrived at the compound at 4:00, tired but determined to stay awake until at least 8. Our hosts left us with some snacks upon which we snacked and then we ventured into Merine (Ma--REEN--ay) to the Non Solo Cafe (meaning they never close--unlike everything else between the hours of 13:00 and 19:00). My Italian comes in a tiny bit handy so we can get a table but Erik's stepdad, Rick, does a better job actually ordering us whole pizzas rather than the pizza-sandwiches available at the counter. I order us some house wine (rosso) and we eat what we can and then drive back to finally sleep.
The next day, we go into Lecce. They call this the Florence of the South. Having never been to Florence, I'll have to take their word for it.
Here's a picture of Lecce. We spent much time here since this book shop was across the street from the Internet Point--which I visited once a week or so. The first food was among the best. We tended to eat big lunches out and dinners at home. At this somewhat British-themed restaurant, we ate Ravioli with walnut sauce, pizza, and antipasti with duck prosciutto, wild boar, and some kind of delicious goose lardo.