Saturday, December 21, 2013

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Homecoming

We left the USA four years ago. This was our first trip back to see our families.  We chose Thanksgiving because it's a special holiday to us and to most Americans.  After a lot of emails for planning, we decided to go to Cedarburg, Wisconsin for Thanksgiving with Di’s family followed by a trip to Florida where Doug’s brother and daughter agreed to meet at Doug's step-mother’s home. This saved a lot of travel and created a second Thanksgiving-like feeling. Since our return, many people asked us what our impressions were after being gone that long. How did life in the USA strike us after four years in Italy? We will include these thoughts in our story.

This was the first time either of us traveled on a B-747. In 9 days, we used 5 planes. Rome to Frankfurt; Frankfurt to Chicago; Chicago to Jacksonville; Jacksonville to Washington Dulles, then to Rome. Of course there were trains to and from Rome – both of which had 1-hour delays!

We arrived fairly fresh in Chicago at 1330. Then, after poor directions from a car hire shop and poor local signing, we managed to spend 2 hours in creeping traffic into downtown Chicago instead of heading north to Wisconsin.

We upgraded to better seats on the flight to Rome and actually slept over 3 hours. Di took advantage of good shopping at the Florida airport, then the Napoli train station where she found one of those puffy coats with fur on the hood. We continue to blend our wardrobes with a variety of styles.

This old house dates to 1850's like our home in Italy. Different look.

Cedarburg, Wisconsin is one of those “cutesy” towns that tourists frequent year-round. It was cool with a little snow during our stay(-10C for several days). These are some scenes. Something quite common in the US, but not Italy, are single family home developments and big old wooden barns. Barns like these are found across much of the US. This is one thing Di noted as something with a different feel than in either Oregon or Calabria--it's part of the Midwestern scene, hardwood trees and farms mixed with suburbia and shopping.

One of the biggest differences between the two countries is the USA’s huge amount of shopping facilities. There are malls and giant stores around every corner. Doug took an empty suitcase to the US and filled it with  “stuff” that cannot be found in Calabria – mostly clothing, spices and some medicines. There are 11 McDonald restaurants between Cedarburg and our gate at O’Hare airport – a two hour drive. Sure, those junk food stores are also in most large Italian cities. Oh, and Starbucks coffee shops – boy are they everywhere now. Funny how an Italian cafĂ© costs 70 cents, but an espresso at Starbucks is closer to $2 and not good!

Nephew Mike carves the turkey
The focus for our stay in Wisconsin was celebrating the Thanksgiving with Di’s family. Di's grand nephew and niece were full of the pilgrim spirit while we were full of the great food served. So far, it's the only holiday other than the 4th of July that we feel isn't represented in some form in Calabria. We don't miss fireworks, though, there are so many fireworks shows in Italia that we don't always bother to watch when we hear them outside. 

Italians are adopting more American things like Valentines Day and Halloween – Thanksgiving would be a perfect Italian festa because it involves eating huge amounts of food, like this turkey (pies in the background).

Kids as pilgrims--they made the outfits

We stayed at the Washington House Inn in Cedarburg, Wisconsin. 

We became used to the Jacuzzi spa/shower next to the bed. The bed, BTW may have been the most comfortable in the world...down mattress cover, microfiber sheets. Marvelous, darling.

The gift shops there would appeal to Italian tastes with very sweet candied apples. “What do you miss about the United States?” is a common question to us. Doug’s response is American trousers and food diversity in restaurants. In the US there are restaurants from most cultures in the world. Italians don’t even share food between regions much less other countries. Di misses those things too but not as much. Seeing familiar landscapes was bittersweet as they are distinctive in each country. She loved the clean beaches and and lack of litter in the USA. We weren't there long enough to re-appreciate the efficiency of getting things done quickly, but those things are all trade-offs where you get one thing (speed, efficiency) and miss the other (enjoying the moment, taking things a step at a time). We came to see our families that we missed and we enjoyed the rest with no regrets.

Low tide on Amelia Island, Florida
Yes there are palm trees, but this is not Calabria.  A 'quaint' vacation home in Barbara's neighborhood

Florida had nicer weather for us and we were able hike the beach two times. Below is our family after erecting the Christmas tree. It took awhile for three grown men to put a 3-piece tree together! Barbara turns 90 this month and rode a bicycle 10 miles. Amazing woman.

D&D,  Sean, daughter Nicole, step mom Barbara, brother Jeff

It was a fairly short and tiring trip given all the travel, but it was good to see family. It was also comforting to return home to Italy. So we had a homecoming going both ways.

Diana e Guido

Monday, November 18, 2013

Frutta e Verdura

Before we leave for Thanksgiving in the USA, we wanted to share a post about the Mercato in Scalea that is held rain or shine every Monday morning, all year. This market features the produce, fruit, cheese, salame and flowers of local growers. It is much larger than the markets where we sold our organic plants and veggies in Oregon.  It’s become part of our lives, as a market should.

There are about 3-4 dozen vendors depending on the weather. They range from the little Mom and Pop working a table with umbrella, to the professional growers with their custom trucks that have fold-out displays and shade. These latter farmers move from town to town over a week, re-stocking each night.

Di stopped to buy dried figs from our neighbor Domenica who tends a garden just down from us and sells in Scalea.

The produce is mostly local, but occasionally things come from Sicilia or other regions and they are usually marked as such. Apples, being colder climate fruit, come from the northern area. In the supermarkets, we buy things like leeks and avocados (porri e avocadi) and limes. I have learned that the avocados from Peru are in better shape with fewer bruises than those from Israel which is so much closer! Yes, bananas still come from Central America.

The smaller vendors along Via Fiume Lao

Cheeses mostly from sheep or goat milk

Plump grapes still available this late!

Even if you don’t need anything, it’s a beautiful place to spend a morning watching and listening to Italians bargaining to get a better price while chatting with neighbors.  If I knew how to transfer the video from my two cameras, I would post video with the sounds of this vibrant place. After I master the Italian language, I’ll try to learn the technical stuff.  Of course by then, video will be obsolete.

Just a couple kilometers away, there are some very serious, tidy family farms. Like farms all over Italy, these folks use season-extending hoop houses to grow all types of fruits and vegetables.

We'll be back in December after we return from our trip to the States, I'm sure we'll have some reverse culture shock as we haven't been back for almost four years!


Sunday, October 27, 2013

Colors of Light

It's been a great fall for il tempo ed il tramonto (weather and sunsets). Today I remembered that Michelle commented that she wants "to have my room in these colours. But sadly when you paint a room in orange it looks hideous. You can't live in a sunset." I answered that I tried it once and thought I succeeded. We had a nice sunset photo of Mt. Hood in Oregon and I decided to recreate it in our bathroom there:

Of course, there is every chance that you and Michelle will find this hideous, but I loved it at the time.  Our sunset was more pink than orange, but orange and yellow were in the tile colors.

This was our first custom bathroom. In those days we did all the work ourselves but we didn't feel comfortable building a tile shower bottom on the second floor so we called in a tile setter for creating the pan for the shower...a pan that wouldn't leak...and then laying tile over it.  It had a slight bowl shape for drainage which also made it a dubious do it yourself project. He did a great job with the glass blocks too. Nothing leaked while we lived there anyway.

We put in the window and trimmed it out and finished it, installed the sink, painted...etc.  I remember getting up for a drink of water in the middle of the night and looking at the the stars out that window. Central Oregon has stars (including  a great display of the Milky Way) like no other place I've lived.  

We didn't try to tackle the Italian sunsets in our house decor here, but we keep taking pictures of them. It's an embarrassment of riches and we are lucky to have them so we feel we need to show appreciation by keeping up the record.
Guido is thinking about one at the beach but the clouds haven't come in just right again...he missed a really good one the other day...

This one is still my Favorite

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Spedizione di Golf

I realized last week that I have not played golf for about 26 months. A game I used to love playing with friends in Oregon – it is almost forgotten because I have no one to play with - Italian or other. Golf is not popular in Calabria. I believe there are but 3 courses in the Region.

Anyway I decided to get back into the saddle and off we went on a Thursday to Grand Hotel San Michele in Cetraro – about 1 hour south. Di went along thinking she could wander the grounds of this lovely hotel while I did golf. Well, the winds were blowing 25mph with higher gusts, so we didn’t stay. 

We have stayed at the hotel and highly recommend it. You’ll see the prices are very reasonable for such a fine spot. 

Instead we drove 5 minutes to the town of Cittadella where, out of the wind, we enjoyed a quiet bar and caffé along with the market that was on in the village. Di bought jeans and I bought broccoli. What shoppers. Just 200 meters from the market is the Palazzo del Capo a 5 star hotel that we were not aware of. The grounds are nice. The website does not seem to have prices which always makes me nervous so I see no point in including the link.

The next day was sunny and calm and Di suggested I go play golf.  I did, and I paid for it.  Not just the €20 green fees, but physically. Good grief, how could those golf clubs gain so much weight? How could I hit and lose so many balls out into canyons and gardens? Also when I got back home Di explained that she meant together with lunch at the hotel. Oh, well.

First Tee
The hotel’s working farm forms the edges of the golf course. Here are nets placed under the olive trees to harvest the olives in the near future. Just a walk along the golf course would be worth it to visitors. The course is green and well-kept, and the surrounding farm too is easy on the eye.
There are vineyards ready to hide balls hit there. The hole that gets me everytime is #7 where I always over-compensate for my slice and drive the ball into the garden beds. This time I lost a brand new Nike ball in a large patch of melanzane (egg plant).

Second Tee

The lesson I learned here is that selling the farm made me really out-of-shape! No more muscle fitness promoted by hay bales to stack in summer, or snow to shovel in winter--now I need to use the practice range more and I definitely need to hire a pull cart for the bag of clubs. No more carrying. My old buddy Dave in Government Camp turned to "cart golf" years ago.  There are no electric carts here Dave, so I cheat on #3 and skip the 150 mt, very uphill walk to the tee. Sigh...Guido.

Monday, September 30, 2013


We brought some visitors to see Papasidero's Grotta del Romito and noticed a town above the road that we decided to come back to visit. The name of the town is Avena and it's about 3 kilometers north of Papasidero. According to what we have learned about it (which isn't so much), the population is now at 5 inhabitants. We can believe that because as we walked around, there was only one home that showed signs of current life--plants on the balcone, etc. No one stirred, no dogs barked. There are plenty of abandoned homes in this part of Italy, but this is the first town we've experienced that was just about totally deserted. It was haunting enough to share with you--and it was a nice excuse to see some more rugged country in our neighborhood:

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Burning Issues

Summer usually means wildfires. We did notice a decrease in the large fires this summer. It has been warm and dry since 1 July, but not much fire activity until now. Is it because they arrested two guys last year in Verbicaro for arson? Could be. Maybe also that this summer, we didn’t have the typical midday breezes that push fires, so the arsonists didn’t bother?

The first photo (with the helicopter) was a week ago when someone started a fire below the local forest near the Esso fueling station. I drove past the start point of the fire, but didn’t snoop around. I’d guess it was either a cigarette or intentional. The fire ran fast up the mountain and we had the helo working below with one of the Canadair tanker planes hitting the top of the mountain. Sadly, about 5 of the attractive Calabrian pine (pinus brutia) trees on the ridge were probably mortally torched.

This fire we watched while eating lunch on the terrace. It started as a small farmer fire and quickly went out of control. I lay down for a nap and was awakened less than ½ hour later by a helicopter working the fire. We don’t know if the farmers that lose control must pay for fighting their fires, or if the government just does it. The helos cost about €2,000 per hour and the planes, allegedly, are €10,000 per hour.  That seems high to me for a fixed wing, but it’s what I heard. Regardless, it is expensive and this shaky government cannot afford unnecessary costs.

I have to confess that I once was burning weeds on our farm and the fire got out of my control and I had to call for help. Very embarrassing since I was a Forest Service employee, a volunteer fire fighter, AND I was also on the board of directors of the fire department.  We stopped the fire in minutes, but my guilt guided me to make a healthy donation to the volunteer RFD.

We returned from the beach yesterday to see this string of three fires probably started by a guy driving along a road and starting a fire about every kilometer. Sure enough, two helicopters arrived together and spent a short time knocking the flames down with water they had dipped from the River Lao. I don’t know these European helos that are the size of a Bell 206L, so can carry about 1890 liters of water in their buckets.

We are getting a few more clouds each day as September changes the weather and light rain is in the forecast to put an end to the fires. Still nicely warm and the clouds made for un bel tramonto ieri sera:   Doug

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Agosto--Blue Nights--Hazy Days

For a small village, Santa Domenica Talao does better than most keeping things lively during August. Almost every night there is something to see or and/or do. We now know more about how things are organized and how things get done. Lots of community involvement and donation.

It's a good thing and of course nobody is better than Southern Italians at staying up and enjoying it! We have heard that there haven't been as many tourists this year coming through town stopping at the bars but there are enough friends and family coming for Ferragosto to keep things interesting. 

We’ve seen, and heard, an increase in the local quad tours coming thru the village. We see them approach from the valley below. One day while using the WiFi at the bar up the stairs, a group came into town. I approached the tour leader and asked the cost of a tour and if he had room Saturday….. just on a whim. I thought I would try-out this local tourism business and see where they went on the tours.In the USA we called these machines Off-Highway Vehicles. Here, they are allowed on secondary highways and elsewhere.  At this point I have to tell you that Di says there are some key things in the world she never wants to experience: rock climbing, a cockfight and/or dogfight, and a ride in the woods on a quad!! Suffice to say, she did not ride with me.

I arrived for a 1500 ride and went with six couples – six 20-somethings from Sicilia and six 30-somethings from (I think) Roma. Two guides plus me made for 9 machines. I was the only single rider. The fee of €65 for 2 hours is for 1 or 2 people on a machine. Once again, I am the oldest guy. Oh, the Sicilian kids were speaking a dialect different from Calabrese, but I could not follow it too much better than Calabrese.

The tour runs on many roads we have driven in the car or hiked, but it allows you to reach places faster and without damage to your car. I saw an interesting old picnic site high above the village that we definitely will need to walk to if we return since it’s too steep without 4x4 or a quad. 

Heading back down, we stopped at a local water spring for refreshment. It was here that the guide behind me complimented me. (The lead guide was always worried about the old guy!) I told him I used quads, motorcycles and horses on my job as a forest ranger, so it was not too difficult for me. This fellow also spoke nice slow Italian and surprised me with a little English. There is a woman in the office who speaks English too for those that need it. Their hand signals and your common sense can guide you to ride safely. It’s a professional business.

We rode downhill on a variety of farmer roads and tracks only for quads. We dropped down to the Lao River (Fiume Lao) that comes out of the mountains and empties in the sea nearby. 

I would never condone riding like we did in a side channel of the river back in the States, and in fact I issued violation notices to people there for this type of behavior! Here though, the channel is cris-crossed by farmer roads and other roads indicating a lot more in-water traffic than just the quads. 

The river and channel is hit by huge amounts of sediment each winter from poor erosion control measures by farmers and others. And for my biologist friends, the river has dozens of concrete flood control dams and developments. No anadromous fish can swim upstream to spawn. I don’t even know if there are such species in the Med. I saw more seagulls on the river than I ever have in the nearby sea, so there are fish for

The downside of my trip was the dust. I recommend anyone wanting to try it to do it in the spring or fall after some rain. I also think with smaller groups in the shoulder seasons, there would be more time for photos! They do introduce you to a great variety of scenery in our area that would otherwise take you much more time driving around and/or hiking. I don’t know where the full day trips go, but further in to the mountains possibly. I saw motorcycles in snow on the website. This is a local business that does tours all around the area including  van tours, horseback rides, motorcycles and the quads. 
I don’t recommend either of the two horseback services around here unless you are pure city slicker. They ride on dirt roads and asphalt just like the quads. Nothing in the high mountains.

Back to the sea at Il Mirto sometime this week...


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