Friday, April 29, 2011

Ci Vediamo-Off to Egypt!

We have had quite a week of socializing and getting ready for our trip down the Nile River. Just wanted to let you all know that we won't have a computer while we are there and won't post next week. Have a great May Day and enjoy the spring weather. We will be sweltering--we hope! Supposed to be 40C/104F in Luxor next week this time.  Quite a change.
We promised that this blog would only be about Italy so I guess we'll have to report on our trip as a great place you can visit quickly and easily if you live in Italy!
Ciao, Ci vediamo! Guido

PHOTO CREDITS go to our friend and Photoshop expert, Ron Kikel in Oregon USA

Saturday, April 23, 2011


A small part of the older section of Verbicaro
If you read our post from a couple of weeks ago, you remember that Verbicaro is one of the hilltowns listed as part of the Riviera in the Park. Verbicaro is locally famous for its wine and getting known for that to wine experts around the world. There are wine festivals here in September and October. But right now, wine takes a back seat to festas and processions relating to Pasqua (Easter).
You may also remember that these towns are beginning the long road of self-promotion based on each of their unique histories, traditions, and architecture.*All we knew about this connection at the time (between our invitation and the promotion of the town) was that we were invited on a tour in Verbicaro by a friend of a friend. This is the story of that tour. 

On the old town tour (Photo by Mike Jones)
First let's talk about expectations. Wine and eating was mentioned along with some traditional Easter processions. We were told that we didn't have to stay late unless we wanted to.  A "bus" would be leaving early if need be. Since we left Vince at home, there was no way we could exceed 6 or 8 hours gone max.
We were to meet our friend at a bar in Scalea at 4 PM, from there transfer to the "buses" which turned out to be ancient vans (seat-belts removed). There was a group of about 15 of us, mostly from the UK as our friend is Irish. We thought we were going to a famous vineyard/winery and eating there. To be fair, there was no real reason to expect this other than the fact that others in the group also expected this.

Long story short (as they say), we were given a nice little tour of the Verbicaro old town followed by a meal.  The Verbicaro old town is interesting because it is more abandoned than others around here. It seems everyone who was still in town fled to the new part in the 1960's. We did see the beginnings of restoration, so I am hopeful that someday all will be restored.
We ate a traditional meal in a garage (Calabrians often use party houses for big groups--they are not necessarily posh). It was a really fine meal. Zucchini or fish fritters followed by traditional hand-made Calabrian pasta followed by some very delectable goat meat followed by dolce (sweets) and fruit. The wine was not unusual (local unfamous, not local famous) but not what we expected. It would be a very good experience for tourists who have never experienced these type of local get-togethers. I was cold but that's my fault as I often underestimate the temp change from afternoon to evening in the spring.

Salvatore on the left, our tour guide (photo by Mike Jones)

Next came the surprise that the processions would start at 11 PM (which means midnight in Italy) and keep on to well into the wee hours. There was no "bus" leaving early. Doug and I and some others had to beg for ride back after dinner.
Thankfully, due to the remarkable patience of Calabrians, the leader made a special trip with a van full of us light-weights.

Much, much later that evening (photo by Mike Jones)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Vagabond Cuccioli

Halcyon Days at Rainshadow Farm--Vince and his cat, Buzby
All of our pets used to be vagabonds. Vince and his cat "Buzby" started life homeless and ended up with us. Vince is still with us here in Italy at the ripe old age of 15. I wanted to start this post reminding you that the homeless are everywhere because I notice that Americans and Brits are very critical of the animal situation in Italy. I tend to think that the difference is only one of visibility. Americans round up the vagabonds and give them so many days to be saved or die. We still have problems with people neutering their pets, especially cats. What is so different here? I haven't run into anyone who could explain it to me exactly. I can only give you my impressions.
In Santa Domenica Talao, I have met a few vagabond dogs. I got attached to one or two of them, looked for them, fed them when they came by--then they were gone. It was a hard lesson. I have no pictures of them, nor do I know for sure what happened to them. There are periodic "sweeps" when these dogs are picked up. I assume by the city. I have heard too many stories of what happens next to be able to tell you. I have heard people pick them up to sell to research facilities, that they live out their lives in a terrible "shelter". I don't think I have the strength to know for sure. I do know that the difference here is that we get to know the souls of the creatures before they meet their fate. Animal lovers here don't have the cushion of a hidden reality. It's all out here to see. I'm not wise enough to tell who is being saved by "humane" shelters. I have to say that I suspect we are saving our sensibilities, not the animals themselves. They are killed so we don't have to worry about them.
An old survivor on the streets of Scalea

Here some dogs are saved from getting picked up but these are not necessarily taken in to homes as would happen in America. They simply have found a way to survive and some minimal level of human protection. I also hope that a few get taken in for real. 

A dog we knew well enough to photograph but never saw again
We haven't humanely solved the problem of human homelessness as yet, so I guess it's not a surprise that animal vagabonds are still out there breaking our hearts and also bringing us joy. You can read what some others think about this issue on the Scalea Forum.

This is Dino, he was rescued in Calabria and brought to California!
Vince contemplating his long and lucky life

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Calabrian Habitations--Open Space Conservation

A Villa in Santa Domenica Talao
Yes, it’s Guido and I do like to talk about buildings. I want to share a couple of things with you--especially those of you that have never visited Europe. I was surprised by things when I came, so you might be too. I heard in school 40 years ago how Europeans had run out of space, so they built up and not out like Americans did then, and continue now. It is true. Italy is a fine example of good land-use. Yes, there are open spaces left around here. They are protected agricultural or park-like lands. Europeans understand they are dealing with a finite resource (land). America is so big, it’s hard for them to imagine running out of space. The great American dream is to own a stand-alone house with yard, picket fence, and 2.2 kids. Italians are happy with the high-rise life (the larger the city, the taller the apartment buildings). You do see small green lawns now and then, but it’s not a great place to be a Snapper lawn mower sales rep. 

Scalea has many high-rise apartment buildings that provide housing to permanent residents, and to the numerous holiday home owners – mostly from Naples.  In the winter most units are empty. You can tell where permanent residents live by their balcony plants and laundry. 

Down the hill from us, Scalea has a population of about 10,000. As we have learned, the population in Scalea grows to about 30,000 in August when Italy goes on holiday and families go either to the mountains or the sea. Holiday apartments are the main housing type along the coastline from Praia a Mare south to Lamezia Terme. Like anywhere else, prices vary depending on views and proximity to the sea. We have seen a range of €35,000 to €700,000. There is one American couple there, a Brit couple and quite a few British holiday owners. There is also a growing Russian presence in the town – again, for holiday flats.

Even in our village of 1,330 people, there are newer tall apartment buildings below the old historic part of town.

Last summer a neighbor commented to me that all the “inglese” buying property here are driving up prices of construction and prices to buy. I was not inclined to believe that and still do not. I would guess that the same builders that work for us, probably quote lower prices to the resident Italians. There was one case of a building owner posting a ridiculously high price (with hopes of wealthy foreign buyers), but the estate agents refused to list at the silly price and it sits empty across from us.

Regardless, it’s nice to see the historic segments of towns being stabilized and “recycled”. There are more Italian-owned restoration projects going on here in Santa Domenica than a couple of years ago. We are watching the progress made by our neighbors. The family owned a portion of the building next to their home where their 26-year old son still lives.  Then, they bought the remainder of the building and are converting the whole place into a home for the son. They are doing all the work themselves with some hired friends helping. They are making pretty good progress. In one Saturday they demolished an old floor, formed up the new floor with block and steel, then finished it with concrete Sunday.
Of course villas as in the first photo do exist too, but I get the impression that the majority of Italy either lives in old towns like ours or in high rise apartments. In Santa Domenica Talao, the big single homes tend to be owned by large extended families living together, or by wealthier folks. Variety is a spice of life and there is plenty to look at in Calabria. We appreciate how the Italians handle land development and historic buildings. There's space between towns and clusters of buildings.
Auguri, Guido

Friday, April 1, 2011

La Riviera nel Parco

Doug and I attended what could only have been called (in any country) a poor presentation (powerpoint with no pictures--just words) featuring memorized bureaucratic speeches. Somehow, as new experiences tend to do, it led to a some wonderful revelations for me. You never know where anything will lead, so we will keep on going to these sorts of things. The little booklet pictured above was part of the handouts for this presentation on "Youth Working in Agriculture" (or--apparently-- the lack thereof). The idea was a good one in the tradition of helpful government. Towns should get together and make agriculture fun and profitable for the kids and thus for everyone else. Sounds good--and I'm sure a great deal was lost in our translation--including the relationship of the booklet to the idea of Youth in Agriculture. I'm gathering it has to do with that nice old phrase in Landscape Architecture--genius loci. They want us to promote our local indigenous products with a modern slant on innovation and tourism.

The booklet contains a short description of fourteen towns--our Hill Towns: Aieta, Buonvicino, Grisolia, Maiera, Orsomarso, Papasidero, Santa Maria del Cedro, Santa Domenica Talao, Tortora, and Verbicaro--and the Beach Towns: Diamante, Praia a Mare, San Nicola Arcella, and Scalea. These towns are either within or benefit from the ambiance of the Pollino National Park. So the long name of the booklet would be The Cedro Riviera within the Pollino National Park--but I think the creators meant it to be more whimsical than that. It's nice to know that after a year these towns are more to us than just names on a map.
Lonely Planet notwithstanding, these are each well worth a trip for any tourist. 
An Italian book Calabria Positiva also seems to stress this idea of innovation within traditional outlines (so far as I can tell--I'm not done with it yet). The revelation here is that I'm very happy a lot of good thought and creative ideas are out there for real people to snare and get going on--and in fact I agree that Calabria should take advantage of its relative unspoiledness to create a tourism that goes with rather than against nature and the landscape. Maybe someday soon I could help in some small way (like adding some pictures to the presentation??)

My next revelation--a more personal one--happened while I was doing my usual minimal research for my blog topic. For a whole year, I was not sure what exactly Italians called my profession (Landscape Architecture). It's a rare enough profession that you can't just ask anybody. I found it today.
Architettura del PaesaggioPaesaggio means scenery or landscape. Great! Italians don't have to choose. So I'm an architetto di paesaggi (Landscape Architect). Wikipedia (I know) also referred to paesaggista--but this is defined in dictionaries as a landscape painter and that could get confusing. I'll stick to architetto di paesaggi.
We have always used guardia forestale (forest ranger) to translate our former professions but now I have a more exact choice. Small pleasures.


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