Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Giornata di Ecologia

Ecology Day in our village dawned warm and clear from the park
Diana and I wanted to be involved in the community and approached the tourism development group (Pro Loco) with a couple projects that we proposed and want to support. The project that Di suggested was graffiti removal along with education of the town’s youth about littering and graffiti. Italian kids are well noted by us to be polite and friendly. However, kids are kids and on their own can impact public facilities. At least in our town, the spray paint has not as yet been applied to historic structures, churches, etc, so they have had a little restraint!

The middle school was contacted and they chose to have an “ecology day” that focused on cleaning up a park, so they included the graffiti removal work into their plans. This past Saturday, we met the 38 kids and teachers at the new city park that has been hit so hard in its first year. The teachers and Walter from Pro Loco planned the whole thing and the kids really did all the work. We just showed up to record the event.

The bar across from the school was open so we had a morning espresso to fortify us for the day ahead.

Lead teacher, Elena, was kind to introduce us to the kids and announce the day as an international effort! A neighbor brought bags for rubbish, brooms and painting gear.  We chipped-in some drinking water, paint, loaned a ladder --- then managed to stay clean.

The girls did weeding and trash pickup, and the boys did a lot of tree pruning. Then there was the collective effort of boys and girls to paint-over the graffiti. The little paint rollers are common here. It took more than one coat to cover most of the writing.

We noticed one young man working mostly alone and doing a bang-up painting job.  By the end of the morning (kids being kids) there was a lot of paint being applied to one another. I noticed when they smacked a friend with a paint brush or a hand dipped in the paint, that they applied it to skin – not to clothing that might bring the wrath of  someone’s mamma! 

In the middle, as the temperature rose to nearly 28, the village priest, Don Luciano,  arrived with gelato for everyone!

The kids got a lot done that morning. I am not clear on what messages were given to them about littering and graffiti, but I think they must of thought about picking up soda cans, empty candy wrappers to the extent they may be more careful in the future. Whoever sprayed the paint all over probably never thought about the cost for the village to clean their vandalism – doing it themselves might have taught a few lessons!

I noticed that not a single kid pulled out a mobile phone in three hours!  Maybe they were warned to not bring them? Anyway, it was a good experience with the great raggazzi of our comune. They really worked hard and wanted to finish it all up. We admire them for their good nature and willingness to help their village.

This was a success for the community and Pro Loco. The group’s newest effort is to involve more of the older teens and twenty-somethings in the town’s activities. All small towns face the problem of key people getting tired after years of leading festivals and events. Pro Loco is asking the younger group to think of a new festa led by them – music and food are a given, so put it all into a new, hip format! We’ll see if they come up with something to share. 

Ci vediamo, Guido e Diana

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Giro d'Italia

In English, this is the Tour of Italy just like the Tour of France – a bicycle race that consists of multiple legs shifting all around Italy.
I promised a colleague, Pam in Oregon, that one day I would take pictures of the Giro when it was in our area. She made a special trip to France some years ago to watch the Tour which makes her an avid cyclist. I want to say that I am not a good sports photographer nor do I know much about professional bike racing. I went to learn more of both.

We heard just a few days ago the race was coming through here, so I made a recon of the route seeking a couple possible perches from which to take photos. I selected a scenic spot, got there a couple hours early, and the polizia allowed me to stay after they had closed the highway to traffic. Many officers on their BMW motorcycles waved. 

There may have been as many police as bike riders. The other people were riding 600cc Suzuki or Yamaha scooters to keep-up!

The morning started wet. The race was starting from the town of Policastro Bussentino at 11.15.  That was about the time the clouds parted and the racers had a sunny first hour. The temperature was about 20 when they reached my spot at about 32km. This was the fourth leg of the race and would end in southern Calabria in the town of Serra San Bruno. They would travel 246 km.

I didn’t know there was a small group of riders that ran together ahead of the big bunch. A photographer hopped off a scooter and joined me on my hillside. He was loaded down with about €12.000 of Canon equipment. He shot images of this first small group, then left telling me the rest were 10 minutes behind.  

There are scooters and cars in front of and behind the cyclists – many vehicles carry photographers and videographers, so that’s where you see the live video feeds on television. I have to admit that the moving video cameras capture more than an old guy standing still with a camera.

I loved all the colors and color coordination of team riders and their bikes and even their cars. I guess there was an American team as one car went by sporting sponsorship by Radio Shack. Our satellite TV company “SKY” had a team. I wonder if Rupert Murdock was cheering-on his team.

It took hours of waiting, then just a few quick moments of actual shooting when the riders went by at 40kph. I was impressed by the logistics of this race. A great deal of coordination with police in many communities across Italy, plus all the support people. Speaking of logistics, I wonder what it took to build that little castle 700 years ago on top of the island in the background?! 

I drove home for lunch and a nap. Schools were closed in Scalea for the race (including our Italian class), so we headed to Bar da Pietro on the beach where the end of the Giro was live on television. The newspaper opined that the Scalea kids were released from school to show crowd support for the racers as they came through. Friends today told us the Scalea crowd was diminished given the rain. The teenagers in the bar were ignoring the TV and enjoying coffee and Coke in the sunshine. Wednesday’s paper showed good crowds in Cetraro and at the finish.

I was impressed that after the racers passed me, they rode 214 km in rain and a climb into the hills at Vibo Valentia. I was rested when I saw the winner cross the line in Serra San Bruno. Then, they were to drive 1-1/2 hour to Cosenza where Wednesday they take off on another leg of the Giro from Cosenza to Matera.  Strong boys for sure.

Not sure where this support team is from, but they are wearing their seat belts, so surely are not local!!

Ciao a presto, Guido

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Crowds, Art, and Chinatown-our Roman Holiday

Priceless fresh air during our Vatican tour-- the Courtyard of the Pinecone
The pinecone was originally the fountainhead at the ancient Roman Baths of Agrippa
People are always asking us why we moved to Italy-- we always forget to mention that it was one way to avoid being tourists. We envisioned living here getting to know it bit by bit on our time. This was a brilliant plan for getting to know Calabria, but it seems the method will take more time than we have left when it comes to a Rome or Florence. We shouldn't be hard on ourselves, I suppose, we do come at this later in life. Perhaps it's a skill that can be learned, like Italian (which, by the way, was one way we shined compared to your run-of-the-mill turisti).

Perhaps, too, Americans underestimate the effect movies have had on their visions of travel. Rome? Aren't we gonna see it from the back of Vespa and meet all sorts of rich Italians and other Europeans wearing dinner jackets? And aren't we gonna be Audrey Hepburn? 

No, we are going to arrive schlepping our bags from Termini station and arrive at our hotel amid a teeming mob of French tourists. The most romantic sight of the day was an honest-to-Italian demonstration for animal rights. 

The centerpiece of our trip to Rome this time was a tour of the Vatican from Walks of Italy. The idea was to get to the Vatican early (meet at 7:30 at a bar across the street) to beat the crowds that would end up at the Sistine Chapel. 

We took a taxi and at that time of the morning it was an easy trip to the meeting place with a completely delightful Italian taxi driver who could have been in one of those Hollywood movies about Rome. He made it clear that he thought we were crazy for living in Calabria. No amount of denial could change his mind that there is "no life" there. "Italy stops at Roma". But he was simpatico anyway. We enjoyed the ride and all agreed about Berlusconi. We bought caffe, met our tour guide Laura and started on our day of being officially tourists--fortunately, Laura didn't use a flag to lead her flock of 12.

As promised, we were among the first in the long line of the day. We were led down art-filled halls to the Sistine Chapel. No photography is allowed in the Chapel so our photos show only what was on the way. Having heard a lot of talk about the opulence of the Vatican, I expected Versailles. To me, the museum was nothing like that. It seemed like an old fine building housing ancient artifacts well worth saving. The architecture was surely grand, but I didn't find it over the top considering history and the importance of the place. Of course, it's a museum.

The Sistine Chapel should really not be commented upon by us, relative know-nothings in the field of art history. One of the things Laura told us was that the ceiling was a learning experience for Michelangelo because he had never created frescos before. We preferred the lower panels painted by other famous artists such as Botticelli. I guess we feel guilty about that but, really, the ceiling was mostly naked men--didn't connect somehow. They leave the lights off so it was also pretty dark in there. We were very glad we experienced it all first hand and it was nice to be there without the crowds. More on that below.

A young Raphael (the painter) seems to be jumping into our time looking us over...
When I saw this painting, I identified with the guy
scaling the wall to get away
The tour promised to beat the crowds to the Chapel, and it did--but what they didn't tell us was that we were going to see the museum WITH the crowds. It was breath-taking. I mean, near the end I literally felt like I couldn't breathe. It was fine at first, then by the time we were in the last Raphael room, all we wanted was to get out of there. If you have any tendency toward claustrophobia, do not take these tours (this was a slow day according to Laura!) We have heard that once you get to St. Peter's Basilica, this feeling fades simply because it's so big and beautiful and breath-taking in the good way. We didn't make it there partly because our friends had to meet their tour boat and the Vatican tour was running late and partly because we were too tired from 3 hours of standing. Italy is a little weird about NOT having places for people to sit and rest. 
No, that's not a flag associated with St. Peter's's a tour group.  The square was prepared for May Day

Chinatown in Rome--this fine old building houses many shops
Chinatown Rome was not far away from our hotel so we had an interesting time exploring the shops and bought too many cans of coconut milk (that we aren't able to find here) for lugging back home. An interesting, multi-cultural neighborhood very close to Termini.

It looks like we will learn about Rome bit by bit after all (or trip by trip) and try the rest of it independent of the crowds that seem to stifle our interest. This must mean we are also learning about ourselves at this late date.


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