Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The newest flower in the prairie

One of my greatest joys is taking children into my prairie. The prairie when you're a pint-sized three feet tall is a totally different experience than when you're an adult - with adult eyes and adult height.

This past weekend, our granddaughters came to visit. We carried Hannah in last year when she was only a year and a half. This year at 2 1/2, she's making her own tracks.  We discovered flowers and picked them. She ran each bloom back out to her mama and Grandma Linda waiting outside the prairie tangle. And then she waded back in to discover another treasure.

Our youngest granddaughter visited the prairie in her father's arms. At three months, she was oblivious, but I hope some of the experience soaked in through prairie magic and she'll be ready to take her first prairie steps next year.

When it was time to go, Hannah wasn't ready to leave. She could have played in the prairie for a long time discovering something new - just as I do - at every step. Children bloom in the prairie and that's as much fun to see than any other flowers.

Friday, June 17, 2011

All in how you look at it

'What's going on in the prairie?' I asked my husband when he picked me up at the airport. I'd been gone a month. I figured the prairie would be flourishing. Imagine my surprise when he said, 'Nothing. It looks just like it did when you left.'

Since it was dark when we drove past, I couldn't dispute his assessment. But the next morning, I walked out to take a look for myself.

At first glance, I had to say he was right. The dried residue from last year's plants still poked high above the spring's new growth. But on second look, I saw that plants were in bloom, and not just a few. Many. How could he have missed them?

My husband drew his conclusion from the seat of his tractor mower. As always, the prairie rewards anyone who slows down to take a closer look. Even in early June, flowers were there, waiting to surprise and delight.

In the center of the prairie, bright blue spiderwart blossoms crowded the ends of slender stalks. A small clump of sweet black-eyed Susans foretold the blast of yellow that is on its way. A single purple coneflower added deep pink to the color mix. All these flowers were easy to overlook if you passed by too quickly.

It's always interesting to me how different people can look at the same set of facts and arrive at entirely different conclusions. It's true of politics. It's true of the memories family members share - or don't share - of living in the same household. It's true of the prairie.

Each perception can be right. It all depends on how you look at it.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Aqueducts - Not really Roman!

You know what the say about assumptions? Well, I made a big one when I saw the aqueducts running through Guamo, and assumed they were Roman era construction. Turns out, they're much more recent.

In the early 18th century, the city of Lucca needed a reliable source of clean, quality water. Mathematicians and hydraulic engineers debated approaches for a long time and construction didn't begin until the 19th century. Under the direction of royal architect Lorenzo Nottolini, construction on the 3,250 meter aqueduct began in 1823 and was completed in 1851.

It's surprising to realize the aqueduct we stumbled upon is only 160 years old. I compliment them - they did a great job creating a system that fits Italian history. Apologies, though, to all of you for providing inaccurate info.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The sun sets on Italy

I could go on writing about Italy for a long, long time. A writing adventure like the one Mary and I experienced this month cannot be captured in 350 words a day.

Blogs that didn’t get written could cover topics like ‘Lost in translation – the misadventures of two women who have an almost grasp of Italian’ or ‘The good, the bad and the ugly – how the iPhone saved us and the Internet nearly destroyed us,’ or ‘The writing on the wall – a new look at how graffiti decorates Italian cities.’

But, I’ve ripped off enough movie titles for one month. We arrived back in Iowa last night. Now I’m reading the mail, pulling weeds in the garden, and getting used to the extreme heat and humidity Iowa dishes out so well.

These last three images close out the month in style – Lights reflected in the Arno River in Pisa, a beautiful concerto performed in a church on our last night in Italy, and a sunset over the Tuscan hills after a storm.

Thank you to all of you who read along with me this month. I hope you enjoyed the trip abroad and that you’ll stop back in to Just Walking This Earth from time to time.


Monday, June 6, 2011

Pisa - More than a cliche

“Be sure you get a cheesy photo with the leaning tower,” my friend told me when she heard we were headed to Pisa. I was all over it.  In my mind, Pisa is a cliché because of the Leaning Tower and I was ready to play along.

When we arrived at the Piazza di Miracoli, it was the very first thing we did. We posed for the cheesy photos of us – and thousands of our closest friends – either pretending to hold the tower up or attempting to kick it down. It was actually quite funny. It appeared that everyone who came to the tower had the same idea. Take a silly picture.

But there’s much more to see than the Leaning Tower, and even though we’re mildly ‘churched out,’ we're glad we bought the tickets and toured the Duomo, the Baptistry, and the Camposanto (cemetery).

The Tower is actually the campanile for the church, something neither of us realized. Efforts to keep it from tipping over are an architectural marvel. We learned this in a museum video. The Baptistry is an acoustic masterpiece, a point demonstrated by one of the staff who went to the center of the building and sang clear notes that resonated through this huge building, echoing back in harmonizing tones. In our opinion, the art work in the Duomo and the Camposanto put the famed Ufizzi Museum in Florence to shame.

The Camposanto is an indoor cemetery. It was amazing to walk on graves from the 1300’s. This building was fire bombed in during WWII and restoration continues on the murals that once covered the walls. We were drawn to a statue of Fibonacci – of Fibonacci Numbers fame. We noticed all his fingers were missing. Then we noticed that his cloak had small marble patches throughout. No doubt a victim of the bombing, the restoration allowed us to see the beauty of the statue and reflect on the effort to preserve and remember the man and the art.

Based on the fact that we never had to wait in line or fight our way to the front to see any of this led us to believe the vast majority of visitors to the tower never make it beyond the cliché. They don't know what they're missing.


Sunday, June 5, 2011

Going out with a bang!

This is our last night at Le Macine and what a night it is. Thunder. Lightening. Wind. Electricity out … on … out. Torrential rain. Hail. As I write, it’s been going on for an hour and a half. We thought we’d walk up the hill for one last bite of gourmet pizza before we left. Maybe not.

The stream that has burbled so pleasantly by our kitchen window has turned into a raging river. We’ve taken pictures to mark spots on the wall of the foundation opposite us. Each time we look, the stream is inches higher. It’s whitewater. Literally!

As a writer of memoir, I know that we are more likely to remember the unusual or the painful than what happens as a mundane part of every day. This storm will ensure we remember our last night in Massa Macinaia.  If it had just been another beautiful day in paradise, what’s to remember about that?

We won’t forget this night. Mary had left her bedroom window open – she had hailstones on her bed and a river on the floor.  Water is coming in under the kitchen door and the doors where I’ve sat all these days so blissfully writing have streams of water running down the grout lines.

We took glasses of wine out to the covered front porch on the east side of the house to watch the storm. Wind and rain drove us inside. We saw water pooling under the kitchen door – wind was driving it in from the west side. It’s coming at us from all directions!

It may or may not clear in time for us to walk up the hill for pizza. History says yes; storms pass quickly here. But as they say in the financial world, the past is no predictor of the future. We hope we get supper.

Meanwhile, we pour another glass of wine, eat the last cheese in the house, and spend a memorable last night in our beautiful home in Italy.


Saturday, June 4, 2011

It's the "Country" side

This morning I awoke to the sound of a rooster crowing. Actually, every morning this month, that rooster has been my wake up call. I do believe he gets up earlier every day, and usually before the first hint of daylight.

We live in a rural area of Italy. Growing up on a farm, as I did, and spending most of my career working on behalf of agribusiness organizations, as I have, seeing how another area farms is always interesting to me. Italy has given me no end of farming practices to observe and wonder about.

Vineyards are everywhere. Grapevines run along property lines, they border gardens, They cover patios. We have a grapevine in Iowa. I know how many grapes our one vine produces. It makes me wonder what everyone does with all the grapes. Do they all make wine or juice? Do they contract their vines to someone else who picks and processes? Are what appear to be 'garden' grapes really small farms?

Olive trees are also everywhere, in the valleys and climbing terraces to the top of the surrounding hills, interspersed with gardens. We’ve seen large bundles of netting and expect they must cover the trees to ward off birds. But what are the plastic bottles that hang from some trees for?

Four-foot by four-foot plastic cubes store irrigation water for gardens, but how do they irrigate farm fields? And are the fields of sunflowers grown for flowers or seeds or oil?

As a farm girl, I could spend another month here finding answers to all my questions.

One answer I already know is how to stop that rooster from crowing so early in the morning. But my neighbors may not agree.


Friday, June 3, 2011

Living with history

If you lived with a Roman aqueduct running through your yard, would you think about history differently?  I asked myself that today when we biked for a mile or so along the base of an aqueduct built in the 17th Century that still stands between Guamo and Lucca, Italy.

The aqueducts run, literally, through peoples’ yards, they frame the entrances to restaurants, they span roads, villages, cities.

On the east coast, my niece and her family live in Pennsylvania, home to Gettysburg and the Liberty Bell. My feeling when visiting them is that history comes alive when you can walk in the field where President Lincoln gave his famous Gettysburg Address or see the chairs in Freedom Hall where Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Jefferson or James Adams debated the tenants of democracy.

How much more would that connection to those who came before be true if you lived in an area where history went back 500, 700, 1,000 years? What would that mean to the way you thought about your life and actions. What would that mean to the way you thought about preserving the environment or being involved in the issues of the day?

We in Iowa have a very short history. We have yet to celebrate our state’s bicentennial. We have the Effigy Mounds near Guttenburg, created by ancient peoples more than a thousand years ago. But these mounds are enclosed in a park and blend with the nature that surrounds them and covered them up until recent years. They do not have the same aura as a church built in 800 AD or the Roman aqueducts that might stand right outside your door.

History in Italy is literally at every turn in the road. I don’t have an answer. I’m just curious.

How do you think about the history of where you live? Would seeing an aqueduct outside your door ever become so common you forgot about it?


Thursday, June 2, 2011

Celebrating a national Italian holiday

We hit the roads on our bikes this morning eager to burn off the energy we'd built up when an all-day rain kept us inside. At first we didn’t notice it, but by the time we reached our planned turn around point, we both remarked on how light the traffic was. What we noticed most was more bikers.

We didn’t think about why it was light. We were just grateful.  It made a Thursday ride feel more like Sunday.

Because we hadn’t been to the grocery on Wednesday, we elected to pick up a few things at the conclusion of our ride. I was apprehensive when we coasted to a stop in the completely empty supermarket parking lot. Not a car in sight. The store lights were dark.

We studied the signs on the doors. One sign explained that on Wednesday, they would be open the longer Thursday hours. Nothing said, and ‘Oh, by the way, we’ll be closed on Thursday.’

Is June 2 a holiday? Somehow we missed the memo. That would explain why the traffic was so light and why the supermarket – and every other story in the area (now that we paid attention) was closed. We fired up our Internet connection when we got back home.

Indeed, June 2 is an Italian national holiday celebrating the Festa della Repubblica. In 1946 Italians voted in favor of the republican form of government.

We remarked that very few holidays cause Dahl’s and Hy-Vee to close their doors. In fact, U.S. stores do land office business on most holidays.  So far, we haven’t seen fireworks. No parades. But people are taking a day off. We celebrated, too, by writing – again.

Since our refrigerator was all but empty, we were grateful the local deli was open. We picked up some pasta, an apple, and a bottle of wine.

We toast the Italian Festa della Repubblica. Salut!


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

In search of the perfect gelato

If you look up the definition of Italy in the dictionary, at least one of the entries must be ‘gelato.’ Gelato is ubiquitous.  Even bars sell gelato.

On our orientation tour of the neighborhood, our landlady pointed out two gelato places within walking distance of our house. One a local deli. One an artisanal company that specializes in only gelato. We have made it a nightly ritual to close out the day with a gelato cone from one of these places.

If you have not had gelato, it’s in the ice cream category - more creamy, with a more intense flavor, but with less butterfat. The flavors are wide ranging, including the common – strawberry and chocolate, to the more unusual – lemon, hazelnut, and coconut.

Gelato is so rich, the servings are small – often the size of a plum. And that’s just fine. A scoop or two of good gelato leaves you feeling decadent and pampered. Walking to get it makes it even more okay.

We debate which gelato is the best. Mary favors the lemon of Pappa Grappa – the artisanal gelato store. I am most fond of a coffee and chocolate combination at the local deli. We agree the gelato in Florence fell far short. Though we only tried one of hundreds of gelato stores.

The only bad gelato is one we can’t get. The artisanal place is only open Thursday – Tuesday. The deli is open every day, but we have walked there twice to find the gelato counter empty. Like tonight.

What is a day without gelato? Incomplete.