Thursday, August 07, 2008

Last Day in Rome 2008

I can't believe how quickly the time has gone. Today is my last day in Rome and although I'm ready to go home, I'm sad to leave. I decided to explore my neighborhood, Trastevere, today. I wandered through its narrow, winding streets, looking in the shops, watching people at work, daydreaming about all the time I've spent here. I found a restaurant whose chalkboard beckoned me with, "We are against war and the tourist menu." A Vespa was parked in front of the counter and every word spoken around me was in Italian. I had bruschetta topped with vine-ripened tomatoes that were bursting with a sweetness that was balanced with fresh oregano. I had my last excellent cacio e pepe because I haven't quite mastered that one at home. I had the vino rosso della casa, something I would never order at home, but that beat most bottles I would order at home. Afterwards, I led Tatyana's group past the Trevi Fountain to Il Vineria di Chianti because she was craving rabbit. We had a great time telling stories of how we met our spouses and savoring our Tuscan food and wine. We made it to San Crispino just before midnight. They were about to close but welcomed us in to taste the best gelato in Rome. It was such a fun night and I'm glad Tatyana et al. live close by - South Hadley, Mass! A taxi-driver I met a few nights ago is picking me up at 8:30 to take me to the airport tomorrow and that will be that. Let me wrap it up with this quotation I read once - If Rome were a meal, or a book, or a woman, or a wrinkled, wise and ancient face, it would be the only face worth studying, the only woman worth loving, the only book worth reading, the only meal worth eating. You must go and go and go again.

Is it Tuesday?

Since I went to Florence on Monday, I must be on Tuesday's blog. Tuesday was fantastic. I slept in and around noon decided what I wanted to do: the Trevi Fountain neighborhood. So I took the tram to the bus to hoof it down the Corso (main street). Whenever I got hot, I stepped into the nearest shop that had air conditioning and pretended to browse. I did find a great jewelry shop, right before the street vendors that sell all the postcards, calendars, and other tchotzkes. I even went into the "mall" and had the best caffe freddo I've ever had, single ice cube and all. After that, I found my way to the nearest Frette shop and splurged on 70% off sheets. I heart Frette sheets. I lugged all my goods along to the Trevi area where I set my sights on finding sandals for Mamma Mia as well as other shopping errands. Along the way, I had lunch at Il Vineria al Chianti, a great Tuscan-style restaurant. I must have been craving good Tuscan food after being in Florence on Monday. I had a tasty Tuscan white bean starter followed by spaghetti alla ragu di cinghiale (in a meat sauce made of wild boar). I sat and read and people-watched for close to 3 hours before I decided to call it a day. Before doing so, however, I found the BEST gelato in all of the world. I must now apologize to everyone I've ever told that Giolitti's is the best because, darlings, I have been corrected. San Crispino's makes gelato from only the freshest, seasonal ingredients and won't even serve their gelato in a cone because cones have artificial ingredients. I had their signature honey gelato and thought I was eating the nectar of the gods. Amazing stuff, people. Anyways, after coming home to drop off my packages and freshen up, I met Tatyana and her peeps for dinner. Her husband and a couple they know have taken advantage of her situation in Rome to make it a vacation. They live in South Hadley, so we've become fast friends and have made all kinds of future plans. We enjoyed some tasty tidbits (meats, cheeses, bread) in their apt (which is under mine), then made our way to Il Buco for what should have been an amazing Tuscan-style eating experience. I had eaten at Il Buco my last night in Rome 2004 and had fond memories of it, so when Tatyana mentioned last week that she wanted "some bunny" I informed her about the place. She ate there shortly afterward and couldn't wait to share it with her husband and friends. We got there, and it was...closed for renovations. We walked around the block and found a great fresh-seafood place that was a little more refined but quite good. After that, we strolled to the Pantheon for a good look at it in the night light and since we were right there, I brought them to Giolitti's as a tease, telling them it was the second-best gelato in all of Italy. It was a long day for all of us and thus, we made our way home and retired to our respective apartments with satisfied stomachs and dreams of the next day's adventures.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Salve Firenze!

So Karl, a guy in the program who stayed a couple of extra days, asked if I wanted to go to Florence on Monday. Knowing that most museums and cultural crap (which I'm over right now) are closed on Monday, naturally, I said yes. Turns out he had never been to Florence before. So we made a deal on Sunday night - he figures out the travel plans and maps, and I figure out what to do when we get there. Cool with me. We get there smoothly, bus to train station to Eurostar train to train station. Nice. We spot our favorite Italian ad at the train station - it's for one of teh million brands of bottled water and it shows a gorgeous young thing drinking the water with the caption that says she's really 82 years old. Hilarious. At first, when we arrive, nothing is recognizable to me b/c I have not gotten there by train before, but once I hit the Duomo, it's all good. We find the Central Market, a huge food market not unlike the one Chris and I went to in Budapest. We had a blast tasting different meats, cheeses, balsamic vinegars, wines, and limoncellos. After the time we spent there, we were almost ready to go back to Rome! But we did the responsible thing and visited a couple of strange museums that were open. Nothing to "write home about" as they say, although I saw a few nice Michelangelos. We enjoyed a decent enough lunch and did some more shopping in the afternoon while hitting the major Florence sights. The last stop was Santa Maria Novella (Joanne, don't worry...I gotcha covered) and a close-by wine bar. We had a glass of red and some snacks and hopped the next train back to Rome. We found ourselves in the American section of the train, across from a couple who had been on a Mediterannean cruise, and then near a teacher who was going to Rome. We had great conversation and shared travel tips, wine and snacks. We got "home" around 10 and found ourselves awake and hungry since lunch had been around 2. We broke off from each other for 1/2 hour to drop off our packages and freshen up, then went into Trastevere for a late dinner of fried vegetables and pasta. It was Karl's last night, so he needed to call it an early one, but I was glad because "my dogs were barking" and I couldn't wait to go home and review my spoils. Florence is awesome. I'm pretty sure Karl enjoyed his first visit, and I was pretty proud of myself for remembering some Florentine details. Go me. I should get a job as an Italian tour guide! Ciao peeps!

Day of Rest

I gave myself the day off on Sunday. I did some laundry, watched TV (horror!), read a little and napped a lot. Went out to The Morgue pizza place (see earlier post) and had some fritte fiori di zucci, arancini, and pizza quattro formaggio. Had a gelato on the way home and stopped to visit Mike the florist to say goodbye. Not much else to say about that so here are some random musings I've had lately:

Americans who walk into a Tuscan restaurant asking for pepperoni pizza should stay home and order Domino's.

Americans who expect lunch to take 15 minutes should go to McDonald's. They have those here.

Seeing the same cute old man on the tram everyday makes me feel like I belong here. I love how his pants are up to his chin.
The best thing about being in Rome in late July/early August is the SALDI! (sales)

Eating all this good food is not conducive to buying clothes meant to fit Italian women.

The dollar-to-euro ratio totally sucks right now.

Italian deodorant does not work.

Italians stink but they don't really sweat.

I could never walk down cobblestone streets or drive a Vespa in stilettos.

The shoes make the tourist.

My feet hurt.

I heart gelato.

Last Day of the Program

Saturday was the last day of the program. We met in the lab in the morning and we were put into random groups. The assignment was a scavenger hunt for certain pictures and then we had to take those pictures and use all the different technologies we learned to do certain things with them, like Photoshop them, put them in a website, animate them, etc. The trick was we only had an hour and a half. My job in my group was to make a photo collage in Photoshop, so I poked fun a Julian Caesar in it. I called the page "All I want is a beer and a rest" and you can see it above. He was known for shouting "FBD" at like 11 a.m. (First Beer of the Day). I got all "10s" and our group came in second place and won Rome key chains/beer openers. Suitable prize, I think, although we should have come in first ha ha. They gave us the afternoon off then we met at the Colosseum at 6:15 to do our last site visit which was the remains of Roman villas that can be found under the church of Saints Giovanni and Paulo. There's an area that would have been a wine shop, the remains of the dining room with frescoes, a fountain area, and more. There is also a very nice museum there but unfortunately, no photos allowed at the site or in the museum. We knew we were having our last dinner back in Trastevere after the visit, so many of us were dressed up. Unfortunately, bad planning made it that we had to walk to the restaurant, which was unsuitably far and ticked most of us off. By the time we crossed over the Circus Maximus, then the river, then through the Trastevere neighborhood, we were sweaty, sticky, angry, hungry, thirsty and had blisters on our feet. Fortunately, these things all abated when the courses began. Each course had two courses within it - antipasto was a plate of meats and cheeses, and a seafood salad; pasta was a shrimp pasta, and a cacio e pepe spaghetti; main course was steak and potatoes, and various grilled fish; dessert was a millefoglie cake (see photo) and of course, the wine, water, and limoncello flowed freely. We had the whole room to ourselves except for this poor old couple who was stuck in the middle of it all. We toasted them and thanked them for their patience with our cheering and gift-giving and speech-making. Who knows if they understood us! Afterwards, the AUR student who had been our assistant all week had some friends who were opening a bar in Trastevere that very night so a bunch of us went to check it out, then off to bed because mostly everyone was leaving early the next morning. It was a bittersweet night, for sure.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Top 10 Reasons Why Ostia Antica is Better Than Pompeii

10. It's flat.

9. There are second, and sometimes even third floors to walk up to.

8. It's only 1/2 hour from Rome.

7. The merchants' guilds' mosaics are awesome.

6. There are fewer tourists.

5. You can crawl around the ruins.

4. None of the buildings are closed or locked.

3. They have a restaurant that's open and good bathrooms.

2. Playing "What god am I?" on a column base is fun.

1. It wasn't ruined; it was only abandoned so it's in better shape.

Yes, Friday was Ostia Antica day and it was fabulous. I always forget how much I like going to Ostia Antica. It's a great archaeological site, and I enjoy it more than Pompeii for several reasons (see above). There was nobody there, so I got a lot of great pictures of the site without people in my shot (I hate people in my shots!). There's plenty of info about the site on my 7/16/04 blog called "Ostia Antica is Really Cool" and at this website if you're interested. We spent a half-day at the site and then had a group lunch at a restaurant closeby. They served us family style and it was very good, especially since we were all very hot and tired after the site. I rested in the afternoon and then got ready for our gang's last night dinner. Tatyana, Chris, Ramona and Kathy trusted me to take them to a special place I found in my 2004 explorations (see . It's called Antico Arco and is up near the top of the Janiculum Hill. You can read my detailed experience on June 30, 2004 and suffice it to say that it has changed, as things often do. The place no longer looks Italian, but like something you'd find in Manhattan, including the techno background music. The prices were much higher as well, so I felt bad suggesting the place, but I had had such an awesome experience last time I couldn't help it. Luckily, the food was still excellent and everyone enjoyed a memorable meal. I had mozzarella di bufala and tomatoes wrapped in phyllo dough and baked for a starter. For my main course, I had anatra, or duck, cooked medium rare in a honey glaze with roasted potatoes. For dessert, a trio of different profiteroles served over hot fudge with a burnt sugar topping. Everything was amazing. Other highlights of the meal included Kathy's beef tartare tasting appetizer, Chris's sesame-seared tuna, Ramona's chocolate lava cake, and Tatyana's hilarious sense of humor. Even the cab ride home was fun since the driver was playing Totally 80s music and I asked him to turn it up so we could dance a bit. That got him going, and eventually, he gave me his card and said he'd take me to the airport Thursday morning for a discounted fare of 35 euro. He even penned me into his appointment book! So it was another successful evening and all is well in the land of the Ancients. More later...

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Thursday: Lab day, si?? No!!!!

I had a great day on Thursday. First, Kathy and I decided that learning yet another computer program was not in our cards, especially not one that was described as being "very difficult." Julian told us we should eat fish the night before and get a good night's sleep. Quidquid (that's Latin for "whatever"). So we skipped. Our first stop was the Campo di Fiore, which I described in a previous post. We wandered around the square allowing all of our senses to feast on the gorgeous bounty found there. As we wandered, we ate fresh raspberries and fragolini (mini wild strawberries), and made a few foodie purchases. We found a great costume-jewelry shop and made a few girlie purchases. Then we decided it was time for lunch, of course. We found a hosteria that smelled wonderful, but they were having their staff lunch so the owner asked if we could wait 15 minutes. We were grateful for the seat and the shade since it's getting very hot here and our feet always seem to be hurting. When the waiter finally came, we ordered proscuitto and melon to start with. The melon was sweet and juicy and perfectly ripe. Since it was Thursday, I decided to be traditonal and have gnocchi tossed in a simple marinara sauce. Bad gnocchi can be very heavy, since it's made from potatoes, but these were light and fluffy, and the tomato sauce was bursting with flavor. Kathy had a carbonara that was the best we've tried yet. We skipped dessert because we were in the Giolitti's neighborhood and that was going to be our afternoon reward. After a bit more shopping in the Piazza Navona and Pantheon area, we happened across a hole-in-the-wall supermercado. We had no idea how big the place truly was, and we were delighted to find a room labelled "gastronomie," containing all sorts of epicurean delights. I bought some wild-boar sausages and guanciale to take home. I can't wait!!! Finally we had our gelato (coffee, cream and chocolate chip topped with fresh whipped cream) and managed to get home with all of our packages. After cooling our feet in the bidet (I've found it to be great for this purpose), we had a little nap time, then met Chris and Ramona for dinner. Chris wanted to visit his old "hood" where he spent some time in the 90's. It's a part of Rome that I don't really know and it was fun roaming new streets. The restaurant he had in mind had closed, which was a big bummer, but a place with street tables under umbrellas lured us in. I had grilled scamorza cheese and spaghetti all' aragosta (with lobster)., both of which were good. Chris claims he can't taste anything because he's a smoker, so he always asks for pepperoncini oil for his pasta. This oil had so many pepper flakes it looked like mud! He was happy. Ramona, who isn't very adventurous with her tastebuds, got cacio e pepe (again). Kathy had something with fish because I think she's getting homesick (she's co-manager in a seasonal seafood restaurant in Maine in the summer). For dessert, we shared a lemony cakey thing with limoncello custard that was way strong, and a creme brulee that had a burnt sugar top that was 1/2 inch thick (too much of a good thing can happen). I now have a theory that gelato really is the best bet for dessert here. Anyway, we topped off the night at an Irish pub (I know...French dessert and Irish beer - quidquid). Overall, it was a nice day spent with good friends, new and old. Here's to that.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Rome versus Home or Why I'd Move Here If I Won the Powerball

Home: Starbucks on every corner. Anything you order costs at least $3.50.
Rome: Locally owned cafes with any kind of coffee you would ever want for less than $1 on every corner.

Home: The poop-streak(s) left by the last person in the lav.
Rome: Plastic toilet brushes left next to EVERY toilet so you can clean up your own mess and spare your neighbor.

Home: Feminine deodorant spray.
Rome: Bidets.

Home: Low-carb diets.
Rome: Eating bread, pasta and wine yet still being in shape.

Home: Mini-vans and SUVs.
Rome: Vast and easy to use public transportation system,s Vespa and SmartCars.

Home: Thinking Boston is old.
Rome: Walking in the footsteps of Caesar.

Home: Buying bottled water.
Rome: Carrying a bottle and refilling it from fountains flowing with fresh spring water.

Home: Botox.
Rome: Daily walks.

Home: Lipitor.
Rome: Red wine.

Home: Hating people who don't speak "the" language.
Rome: Helping people practice when they try to learn your language.

Home: Stiff handshakes or uncomfortable hugs.
Rome: A hug AND a kiss on both cheeks.

Home: Ginormous portions and doggie-bags full of leftovers that more often than not get thrown away.
Rome: Portions that are the exact size you can eat. The translation for "doggie-bag" is "sacco di cane," or "sack of dog." You can only imagine what the Italian waiter thinks you are ordering.

Home: The workday's 20-minute lunch which includes getting and eating your food as well as doing any personal hygiene.
Rome: The workday's 3-hour lunch including two courses with wine and a siesta.

Bless Me Father, for I Have Sinned

Well, I guess God, the Pope, and Julian Caesar are going to have to forgive me for Wednesday's sins. I did the unthinkable and skipped the Vatican. Now, before you get all judgemental on me, just remember that I've been there before...on at least five separate occasions. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. Basically, I needed a break. And as much as she is my passion, Ancient Rome is also my work, so I decided to take the day to be in modern Rome and do as the Romans do. So I slept until 10, lazed about until 11, finally got myself together and left by noon. I made my way downtown and left it to my memory to find my favorite wine shop/trattoria. Success! It was right where I left it in 2004, and, they were having a 20% off sale! I feebly asked for "suggestione, e something speziale, a State Uniti" or something to that effect. A nice gentleman assisted me, asking only "rosso?" to which I replied "si." Four nicely bubble-wrapped bottles later, I turned the corner to the attached cafe. The winelist by the glass was in four sections, labelled cult, classic, chic and casual, and there were different symbols to denote rosso, biancho, or rosata. I asked the waitress to choose a nice red and she brought me a taste of Brecciarolo, which apparently is a Sangiovese and Montepulciano blend. Very nice. With that, in air-conditioned comfort, surrounded by beautiful and smartly dressed Italians (interestingly mostly male), I enjoyed a leisurely lunch. I started with an appetizer of warmed fresh bufala mozzarella over arugula. For my main course I had thinly sliced beef rolled around marinated zucchini flowers and topped with shaved parmesan and toasted almonds (practically licked the plate on that one). Then, a dessert of dark chocolate cake layered with ricotta mixed with candied lemon. And there was an Uncle Gene look-alike sitting right behind me. I had to do a triple-take ha ha. It was a fabulous lunch, after which I went back to the apartment for a siesta. We had tickets for the opera for the evening - Madame Butterfly at the Baths of Caracalla. It was an amazing outdoor setting and wonderful experience, but a little confusing to watch an opera set in Japan being sung in Italian at an Ancient Roman site. Nevertheless, we had a great time and all in all, I had a fabulous Wednesday.

Lab Day Five and a Soiree

I realize I'm behind and I do apologize. I have not, in fact, dropped off the face of the earth. Let me get ya'll up to speed.

We had an additional lab day on Tuesday to make up for not being in the lab over the weekend. In the morning we learned a lot of Mac stuff which, being a PC owner, didn't mean that much to me other than it was cool and made me wish I had a Mac. For example, creating MP3 files and making 'songs' on GarageBand. Then Rob Latousek, one of the course organizers, talked about different software that is available for classicists. I knew about a lot of it, but some of it was new so that was interesting. After a lunch of ziti carbonara made with guiancale (pig's cheek) instead of pancetta, we learned an animation creation tool called SwishMax. I really had fun with that and see how it could be a great attention-grabber in the classroom. And it's actually pretty easy! Tuesday evening the six ladies in the apartment below us hosted an Italian soiree. They had gone to the famous Roman outdoor market the Campo di Fiori to buy supplies earlier that morning and bought cheeses, fruits, meats, breads and wines. We had a beautiful feast and enjoyed being able to mingle on their large balcony. Afterwards, Kathy, Karl and I went to a local ristorante for a little pasta and dessert. We were missing Chris and Ramona because they had gone to see a concert in the ancient amphitheater at Ostia. Some crazy rock/alternative band called The Mars Volta. Anyway, the ristorante was air-conditioned which was a huge plus until, just as they delivered our steaming plates of pasta, the power went out. Luckily, it came on again a few minutes later. I had pasta bolognese and shared a fruit platter with Karl who had veggie risotto. Kathy won, though. She had a cheese/honey/pear purse of phyllo dough that was amazing, and followed that with a chocolate lava cake. Holy yumminess! And that was Tuesday!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Lab Day Four and the Best Dinner Yet

We spent today (almost nine hours of it) learning Adobe Dreamweaver which is a website creation tool. It is quite complicated and I was tired from the weekend. Plus it was hot in the lab, so a lot of it just shot over my head, which is fine, because at the end of the day Kathy and a French guy named Cedric explained that there is a much easier way. I figured there had to be. So the day was kind of a loss. I thought it was going to be just Kathy and I for dinner but suddenly our doorbell/intercom thingie rang, which was fun in its own right, because we didn't know how to answer it. While Kathy went downstairs, I ran around the apartment trying to figure it out. She beat me to it, but I did eventually find the phone hanging on the wall in the kitchen which, voila, is not a phone. It was Chris and Ramona coming by to see what we were doing. I had read about this place in a guidebook and was intrigued by the fact that the theme of the restaurant is the seven deadly sins so I threw it out as a strong suggestion. We were so successful! We managed to find the restaurant online, call them to make sure they were open, and then find it easily on the edge of the Trastevere neighborhood. We almost didn't get in - we went around 9 and the restaurant was empty but they asked if we had a reservation, which we did not. They let us have a table, and within an hour, the place was packed. It was very cute, and you can see the seven sins paintings on the website. We were seated at "lust." OMG what a dinner we had. It was truly magnificent and the only reason it's not making my top 10 dinners of all time list is because Chris wasn't there. The waitress began by bringing us each a glass of prosecco to start. There was an a la carte menu and two tastings. Ramona and I ordered the "gluttony" tasting menu which featured meat: first, a platter of three different types of ham and bruschetta; second, fresh mozzarella wrapped in Italian bacon and fried; third, pasta tossed with cherry tomatoes, mozzarella and basil; fourth, two brochettes (kabobs) of perfectly seasoned, perfectly cooked black-and-blue steak and roasted potatoes with rosemary; and finally, the dolce - a mini dark chocolate mousse paired with a dish of vanilla gelato with warm coffee over it. It was an amazing feast and to top it off, I splurged on a bottle of 2004 Tignanello which was an ideal pairing. Kathy and Chris both ordered the "pride" tasting menu which featured fish: first, a platter of octopus and tuna carpaccio and bruchetta; second, tiny little shrimp in a lemony cream sauce; third, penne tossed in pesto with grilled prawns; fourth "gilthead" (some sort of fish) with orange sauce and the same potatoes we had; and they got the same dessert. They went for a white wine which they really loved. It was unbelievable and I believe I have now officially become the restaurant guide for the group. People here are so envious of our gastronomic adventures, and I bet you are too, as you should be --- wink kiss. Ciao!

Monday, July 28, 2008

History of Rome Part One

Forgot to update re: Friday night. The play was hilarious. Five people (Americans), dancing around in tunics and using a variety of props, skits and songs (think SPQR instead of YMCA) to reenact the history of Rome in 40 minutes with the Forum as the backdrop. It was awesome and we all had so much fun. And it was free! By some odd chance, Chris ran into a professor from Syracuse he knew, and about 15 or so of us followed him to his friend's ristorante, Ragno d'Oro (The Golden Spider). We drank vino and tried a variety of pizzas and pastas and had a great time. Afterwards 'Julian Caesar' aka Da Fuhrer, gave us a stern warning that we needed to get back to the apartments right away because of the early meeting time, but Kathy, Ramona, a Russian woman named Tatyana, and I decided that, of course, gelato was necessary. Joe (the guy from Syracuse) pointed us to a great gelato place in the neighborhood (on Via di Serpente) and I had a scoop of rhum and a scoop of caffe. Very fun night!!!

Weekend at Vesuvius

We left Rome via air-conditioned coach early Saturday morning. Three hours later we arrived at Pompeii and began our march through the ruins. The first stop was the Villa of the Mysteries which is decorated with gorgeous frescoes depicting a young girl being initiated into a mystery cult. It's called a mystery cult because we don't know much about it, but the leading theory is that it is the night before her wedding and she's basically getting the "sex talk." We then walked up the road of tombs known as the necropolis and headed toward the forum and the forum baths. We visited some of the well-known houses, such as the House of Menander and the House of the Gilded Cupids, as well as the theater district, where we sat in the Odeon and listened as one of the group recited a poem in Latin. We were allowed into a live dig in a section cut off to the public and one of the graduate students told us about some of the things they were finding, including grape seeds in a drainage ditch. It looked like a bunch of rocks, lolol. Finally we ended the long and tiring day at the Amphitheater. The bus met us and brought us to the Hotel Vittorio. What a great spot! It's right at the entrance to the excavations. I had my very own room and bathroom with a double bed all to myself, air-conditioning and access to the roof. Dinner was included and was the typical student fare - pasta, mystery meat, potatoes and fruit. A bunch of us headed "into town" to sit at an outdoor cafe and get some gelato (I had lemon this time). I got so many great pictures and am very excited to fix them up and start posting them.

Sunday we began the day by climbing Mount Vesuvius, which is not an easy undertaking, but I survived. At one point, rocks started falling from above me like an avalanche and for a second I thought we were all going to die. But we didn't. We took the requisite shots of the crater, us in front of the crater, the Bay of Naples from the volcano, etc. I have to say that I'm always amazed that people live there (right there, and lots of people!!) beneath one of the most volatile volcanoes in the world. I guess that's why they are so passionate about everything in a "carpe diem" sort of way. When we had finished, we enjoyed some lemon granita (aka slushy) and had an hour and a half bus ride down the mountain and to Oplontis. While riding through the city, I noticed that many of the shops and restaurants were closed because it was Sunday, but there were men selling mussels and clams from coolers on the sidewalk. I wished I could have had some! The site we were visiting (Oplontis) is a large villa that was likely the summer getaway for a rich Roman family. It has been fully excavated and is most known for its beautiful frescoes. We spent an hour there and headed to Herculaneum. Kathy, Ramona, Chris and I decided that we were sick of pizza and panini, and we really wanted to SIT, so we walked to a Neapolitan trattoria called Tubba Catubba (haven't found out what that means yet) for a great lunch. We weren't given menus, just a choice of pasta or meat. We chose pasta and hoped for the best, which is what we got - freshly made pasta tossed with cherry tomatoes, basil and fresh mozzarella cheese. Delicious! But about Herculaneum...Herculaneum is smaller but more fully excavated than Pompeii. Also, many people were able to escape from Herculaneum because of how the volcano lava, ash and mud flowed. However, recently they are finding bodies in caverns on the edge of town. The caverns would have been close to the bay back then and it was believed that these people died while waiting for boats to take them to safety. One of bodies they found was a woman who was protecting her two small childen with her bent knees. It gives a real human face to the whole thing that is very moving. Three hours back to Rome and we all got a good nap in on the bus. Finally, our dinner gang went to Station again since it was close and we were completely exhausted. I had my fried zucchini flowers, shared some crawfish tossed in lemon juice with Kathy, shared some wine with Karl, and had spaghetti cacio e pepe for dinner (again). We then went for gelato and I had stracciatella (chocolate chip) and fiori di latte (not sure what that flavor would be at home, but it's basically just ice milk). Got home and basically passed out from complete exhaustion, but since I had started the day by climbing up a volcano, I think I'm allowed. Ciao!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Midnight Notes

Hi everyone.
Leaving for Pompeii area for the wknd and still have to pack. Will write about the skit and dinner when I return. Appreciate the comments and emails very much. Will fix the links and post pictures on Monday/Tuesday when we have two lab days. Hope all is well with everyone...all is perfetto with me (the wanna-be Roman).
Love and miss you! Ciao! A

Lab Day Three

Today's lab day was pretty uneventful. For some reason, Julian decided he should take an hour and a half to show us stuff like how he takes attendance at his school in France. I think his point was to talk about data management but it was boring as all get out so it wasn't a great start to the day. After the coffee break at 11, we learned how to use a computer-quiz-making site sort of like Quia, which could have some use for me in the future...maybe. Lunch was risotto-stuffed tomatoes with green salad and roast potatoes. They are really laying on the carbs at lunch! Plus the woman who makes most of the food also owns a bakery down the street so her dolce (sweets or desserts) are very good and you can't not eat them lolol. After lunch we FINALLY got around to being able to work on our own pictures for a bit. I figured out how to get them from the camera onto the lab computer and then onto my flash drive, then played around with some editing tools we learned on Wednesday. By the time the workshop day was over, I felt like I had actually accomplished something, but after taking the bus home, I really made some strides in the area of Italian living. I had bought a product called "Santa Lucia Croccarelle Extra Croccante Mozzarella e Proscuitto Cotto." Now, I think you can figure most of that out, especially if you pronounce the 'cc' in 'croccante' as CH. How good does that sound?!?!? It's basically fresh mozzarella cheese with bits of prosciutto in it, breaded with crispy rice, then you cook it "4 minuti in padella." Luckily there was a picture of a frying pan since I wasn't sure on padella. I decided that was going to be today's afternoon snack, but first I had to figure out how to turn on the gas, then how to turn on the right burner, then how to light the gas stove without blowing myself and/or my roommates up. And I was successful!!! Yay! Unfortunately, I should have put some oil in the pan but we didn't have any, so the outer parts got a little burnt, but hey, what can you do? Since I was on a roll, I decided to try to do a load of laundry. The washing machine is a tiny little front loader. There are two settings: one is a picture of what looks like a cloud, and the other has two pictures - a chemistry beaker and a leaf. I went with the cloud, thinking maybe it means cotton. The dial had a 'rapid' setting so I went with that, and then I pushed at the three buttons in the middle until a light came on. A mere 20 minutes later, and I had clean clothes that are now drying on a rack in the cool Roman breeze. Tonight a bunch of us are going to see an outdoor play called "The History of Rome Part One." It's in English, and from what I understand, it's pretty Monty Python-ish so that should be fun. We'll grab some dinner after that and have an early night since tomorrow we have to be at the bus station at 7:15 as we are off to Pompeii for an overnight. I'm not bringing the laptop along, so I'll be out of touch until Sunday night. Hope everyone has a great weekend!!! Ciao! Oh, PS to those who are interested, I've had a little time today so I added some links to the blog if you want to go back and check them out!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Roman Fora

I think it's Thursday and today we went to visit Rome's various Fora. We started on the Palatine Hill, one of Rome's 7 hills, and probably the most important because it is where Romulus became Rome's founder and where, much later, Rome's emperors lived. The word palace/palatial comes from Palatine. We explored the area under Paul's guidance. On one side, we had a great view of the Circus Maximus (the first chariot racetrack) and on the other, the Roman Forum. On the hill itself are the remains of the emperors' palaces, as I said earlier, the best being that of Domitian. We stood in what would have been the triclinium (dining room) and read from texts about what it would have looked like back in the day. It was much fun. We processed down the hill into the Forum and got good looks at the remains of early Roman temples, law courts, the Senate house, and the speaker's platforms. One fun thing is that the Romans actually had a law that a lawyer could "only" speak for six hours (straight). Which meant that if you had to go to court, you were probably in for a long wait. So etched into the steps of the court we can still find remains of board games that people would use to keep themselves occupied, and probably also to make some money via gambling. They likely used stones or coins as markers, so we all had a little play time as well and got excellent photos. Next we went through Julius Caesar's forum, stopping at a statue of him where we all sang a little song in Latin and were stared at by all the other tourists. Next we viewed Trajan's column, forum and markets as well as Augustus' forum. We were near the Colosseum when it was lunchtime, so Kathy, Chris, Ramona, Karl, Greg and I (the usual gang) headed to a restaurant I visited with Chris and my mom, aunt and uncle on the EHS trip last year. We enjoyed some wonderful pastas, trying each other's, as well as a nice rest from the tiring morning. After lunch we had a tour of the church of San Clemente and the medieval, then Roman ruins beneath it. That's the great thing about this place - it's just layers upon layers of history! Plus, it has my favorite Madonna painting in it. Well, went home after that, took a cool shower and a nap, then the usual suspects met at Piazza Navona to head out to a nice dinner. I ordered a primi of mussels and clams steamed in a light butter, white wine, garlic, and parsley broth. I followed that with a plate of grilled shrimp - the huge ones, heads and all. It took a little work to peel them, but it was very much worth the effort. Others had gotten some tasty risottos and pastas that we all took bites of. Now full to the brim, we enjoyed a digestif (stomach-settler) of limoncello. We walked through the area, stopping to listen to a guitar player/singer who had attracted quite the crowd, and also at a bar for a nightcap. Then, since it was a long day and we were feeling full and lazy, we took a taxi back home. Overall, a wonderful day. The weather has been amazing - low 80s with bright sunny skies and nice breezes during the day, and mid 60s at night, which is perfect for sleeping with my balcony doors open. Off to bed! Buona notte!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Wednesday's Results

So here is the fruit of the last 1/2 hour of my labors here in the AUR lab.


Lab Day Two

Well today was a much better day. We learned how to do a bunch of different things with Photoshop and I am now convinced that I can not believe ANYTHING I see in any photograph ever. So far we are working with digital photos that the professor took and not our own. But it's amazing what you can do! There's the basics like cropping photos and zooming in and out. But then you can make pix look like mosaics or frescoes or even distort them like you're looking through water or plastic wrap. You can delete whole backgrounds, like taking away a cloudy sky from one photo and inserting blue sky from another photo into it. You can sharpen images, change colors, and enhance lighting levels. And of course, we all had fun taking Caesar's head off of a statue and putting on someone else's (see other post for mine, but others did animals, celebrities, etc.). I'm excited to learn more! For lunch they gave us breaded turkey cutlets (tacchino) with pasta and french fries, cookies and fruit. After class, a few of us walked down the Janiculum together and went to run errands like going to the "better" grocery store just to check it out, and I had to get a new adapter. That was a project - trying to explain in my pretty limited Italian that I need an adapter that will turn a 3-prong American plug into a 2- or 3- prong Italian plug. But I did find one hardware store and managed to get out of him that he didn't sell them but got directions on who did. And they were open! And in the meantime, from the first guy, I got these cute little bronze fleur di lys hooks that will look cute in the bathroom!!! For only 2 euro! Since coming home, I've checked some guides and maps and figured out where to eat tonight - it's a pizzaria described as "big, bright and often busy," and is known locally as "L'Obitorio" (the morgue) because it has cold marble-topped tables. It's on our street so it shouldn't be too hard to find and it's cheap! Well, it's 7:30 and we're off. I'll let you know how the pizza was when I get back. Planning an early night tonight lolol.

The pizza was a hit. Kathy and I had three other joiners and we walked down the street (in Italy that's about 1 1/2 miles) to the pizza place. Although we could see the marble tables and the pizza cooks flipping dough, we ate al fresco out on the sidewalk tables. I'll only speak for my own meal, which was fabulous: uno fiora di zucchini (a fried zucchini flower stuffed with mozzarella and anchovies, battered and fried) e una pizza margherita (with basil this time!), and of course, vino rosso della casa (the house red wine). All of which was very tasty and accompanied by a husband-and-wife accordionist and cello team. The check was hand-written, prices only without any description as to what was what) on a pocket-sized graph paper pad. Interesting...
But it was, in fact, pretty cheap, and when we asked where the best gelateria was, he informed a happy group that it was only 30 meters down the block. I had a small cone of, you know when you have Friendly's watermelon sherbet or a watermelon Jolly Rancher and it doesn't really taste anything like watermelon??? Well, this was like watermelon on a cone. It really is an amazing thing. Deliziosa. Next block I spotted an open flower stand and decided some Gerbera daisies would spruce up our dining room table (yes, we have a dining room seats 6!). The "vendi di fiore" was a man who, although he understood English, was happy to assist me in practicing my Italian. I have this thing about trying to talk to them in their own language, even though most of them speak English, and I even ask them to help me practice, which, happily, they are most eager to do. While the two Kathies waited outside, I had light conversation in Italiano for about 20 minutes, then, with a kiss-kiss and promise to return in a few days, we strolled off to the tram back to our apartment. Not sure if I've mentioned the weather, but let's just say we have gorgeous blue skies, white puffy clouds (not even Photoshopped in!), an amazingly cool breeze and I've never experienced Rome with weather quite as perfetto! A productive, successful and happy day was had by all and I'm now off to dreamland. Ciao!

Fun things about living in Italy

Chris is staying in Rhode Island and emailed me that he has rabbits in the yard there.
Here's what they do with rabbits here...Kathy took this photo which is a diagram found in our freezer. Apparently chicken legs, fish, and crabs should go into the first drawer; rabbits, whole chickens, bread, and sandwiches should go into the second drawer; cows, sheep, cheese, and pigeons into the third drawer; and pears, artichokes, eggplants, and deer should go into the fourth. Just a little something to ponder. Have a great day!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

In the Footsteps of Aeneas

Today we had our first on site day. The leader of our visits is a fantastic, charismatic guy named Paul Gwynne. We met up at our breakfast cafe and got the tram to the Tiber River. The theme was the foundations of Rome, or the footsteps of Aeneas, the Trojan son of Venus and ancestor of Romulus, who escaped the war and arrived in Italy. We crossed over the Ponte (bridge) Fabricio to the Isola Tiberina, or Tiber Island. Tiber Island is shaped like a boat. It was originally the place where people could ford the river, but quickly became associated with healing because it was believed the god Asclepius, son of Apollo, wanted it so. It's actually quite a good idea, because it meant that the sick were pretty much quarantined to that place, and even today, it is where the largest hospital in Rome is. We read some passages from the Aeneid while on the bank of the river (in English ha ha), then continued our walk. We went to the Forum Boarium, which was the Roman cattle market, to see the remains of two temples there then made our way over the Tarpeian Rock and up to the Capitoline Hill. That's where we get "Capitol Hill" and was in Roman times and still is the "center" of the city. We entered the museum there which is the oldest museum in the world. The lower part of the museum has the remains of the Tabellarium which was, basically, Ancient Rome's public records building, and were given a few hours to explore the museum on our own. I took Kathy and another woman named Rowena up to the fourth floor to use the "good" bathrooms, get a snack at the Museum cafe, and have our panoramic view of Rome. My idea was to head to the top while it's still relatively cool, get refreshed, and then work our way down so the museum doesn't feel quite as overwhelming. Some of the more famous works in the museum are the bronze She-wolf with Romulus and Remus and Bernini's bust of Medusa, among many many other things. Another woman named Peg joined our little group at the museum shop and we decided a nice Roman leisurely lunch was in order (this shocks you, I'm sure). We found an outdoor cafe called Il Roma, that had lots of shade and a nice breeze. Our primi piatti (first course) consisted of: a variety of brushetta (some with chopped tomato, some with olive paste, some with anchovies), sliced braesole (dried beef) rolled around arugula and sprinkled with parmigiano cheese, and a small platter of grilled scamorza (like a smoky mozzarella) with sundried tomatoes. We followed that with a pasta course. I had cacio e pepe, which is a typical Roman pasta tossed in pecorino cheese and black pepper, and the others had spinach ravioli or grilled vegetables. We had to be back at the Bucco della Verita (Mouth of Truth) to resume our tour of Roman temples. We went into Santa Maria of Cosmedin for a quick talk about the mosaic floor and how it was made and utilized, and then to St. Nicola in Carcere. That was a really great one because it's basically a medieval church built over the foundations of three Roman temples. Of course we had special permission to go underneath and see the foundations which is a pretty cool thing. The day ended at 5 and we met our usual night revelers to walk through the Jewish Ghetto to get some gelato. We took a slow walk, stopping at some churches along the way, up to the Pantheon area where we sat in the piazza and had a few drinks and some pizza stuffed with ham and cheese. Our waiter, Leandro, was hysterical...when we asked for the check he said, " have to hang out here with me!" When we threatened to steal the 1-liter beer mugs (yes, you're reading that correctly), he gave us the evil eye and said he was watching us and he was from Sicily...Palermo...if you know what I mean. Very fun time. We took a perilous cab ride with a crazy man named Paulo who was driving either on the tram tracks or on the wrong side of the road up to our street where we had a nightcap at a bar/snack shop that seemed very "local," then up to bed. Our nighttime gang is having a great time and as soon as we get to the picture part of the lab days, I'll post some of my photos. Hope all is well at home! Ciao, and happy birthday Kate!!!

Lab Day One

First off, now that I'm in control of my senses after the travel nightmare that was the weekend, I need to thank my mother-in-law for sending me off with a proper Italian lunch. She made a nice lettuce-tomato-mozzarella salad with olive oil and balsamic, along with a perfectly marinated grilled porchetta, smashed potatoes, and squash/zucchini side, followed by sweetened-strawberry shortcake with whipped cream. WAY better than whatever they were trying to give me on the plane. So thanks, Mary! You got me in the Italian frame of mind and I appreciate it.
Lab Day One started with free breakfast at the local Cafe Peppe - either a cornetto (Italian croissant) or yogurt AND either cappuccino or juice. They have a list of our names and we sign it. If we want extra, we pay. At least it's not a softball roll (see 2004). Tram...bus...EUR. We started at 9:30 for our first "lab day." The morning (9:30-12:30) consisted lie..."learning" how to cut and paste, and how to re-size pictures you "borrow" from the internet. I almost poked my eye out with my new EUR pen. 12:30 brought a decent (read: free) lunch with wine and dessert. They gave us an hour for lunch (way too long) and an additional 1/2 hour to "check email," which is totally stupid since everyone has a computer in their apartment and most of us brought laptops. But we also got our 200-euro meal refund that we are supposed to spend on lunches and dinners that are not included in the "tour." That was a good bribe, since the next TWO hours were spent with the assignment of making a 500-word (minimum) searchable database of Latin words on Excel so that we could use those same words to create crossword puzzles that were, in the instructor's words, "rotationally symmetrical." At one point, someone asked what the heck that meant. Me, being a big fan of symmetry as many of you know, knew what it meant but not necessarily what it might entail in creating a Latin-word-based crossword puzzle. At the end of the day, I had a 1/2 finished crossword puzzle and a huge headache, and I didn't really see A) the point of it all OR 2) the educational value it would have in my classroom teaching. To sum up...I didn't learn very much even though the entire day, from 9:30 to 5:30 was spent in a computer lab. In Rome. Can ANYONE feel my frustration?!?!? I think I may feel a stomach bug coming up on a lab day...soon. Enough complaining since I'm sure you all are like, "You're in Rome...stop your b**ching..." Okay then. Next: Went to the discount-beyond-convenience-store-but-not-quite-supermarket that is under our apartment building. For 11.55 euro I got: a nice size melon, a packet of prosciutto, a box of tea, 1/2 pound of sugar, 10 rolls of TP, a pack of dinner napkins, two boxes of tissues, a bottle of red wine (and that was 1.59 euro, btw), a 6-pack of 1-liter bottles of water, and a dozen cornetto (that's croissants in case you weren't paying attention yesterday...). Oh, and one plastic bag to carry it in (they charge for that here, and I really believe that's coming to the US). I was worried about the dollar/euro thing until that outing. Now I know I can survive, lolol. A little rest from 6:30 to 7:30 and eight of us met for a dinner outing. Somehow I've become a bit of a leader/expert on the area although I'm trying very hard to downplay my experiences. Either way, seven other people were relying on me for their evening plans and I had in mind to go to the Piazza at Santa Maria in Trastevere because it's relatively close (one tram ride, no transfers) and it has character. Some of you reading were on the EHS Rome/Paris trip and perhaps remember the piazza with the fountain and the guys throwing torches and most of the adults had a fabulous dinner mostly involving seafood??? Well, that's the piazza. We had a pretty good dinner at Sabatini (although the dinner on the EHS trip was WAY better...). The waiter offered us a "special" typical Roman antipasto which five of us ordered. It was a few slices of prosciutto, a Jewish-style artichoke, a fried stuffed zucchini flower, and a slice of grilled bruschetta with tomatoes. I was thinking 10 euro tops. No one bothered to ask...well, we got taken for 21 euro each, and that was just the app! Luckily for entrees we all went modest with just pasta. Mine was spaghetti con vongole (with clams) for 17 euro.. Others ordered fisherman's risotto, amatriciana, roasted chicken, carbonara, and linguine with pesto. Add in the bread, wine, water and service charge and the seven of us who ate (one was just there for company) spent 327 plus tip. So it's looking like I may plan a dinner party and shop at that discount market one night, which I think may be much appreciated, lol. But it was fun, and we had a great time people-watching in our new neighborhood. We were home by midnight (we all agreed we needed an early night after last night's outing) and that's that. Love the fact that I am writing this on my bed with my shiny new laptop and don't have to deal with the Italian keyboard. Hope all is well in the US and ciao for now. Love, A

Sunday, July 20, 2008


Ciao! I had a decent flight from JFK directly to Rome, although I have to say I wasn't expecting a dinner of BBQ chicken and grits. Three other women in the program were on the same flight so we were able to bond early on. Funny thing is that I was incognito but noticed one woman's "I love Latin" button on her bag and introduced myself. I mean, what were the odds she wasn't in the program, right? Arrived in Fiumicino at 9:30 and (yay!) we all got our bags. Unfortunately, due to some sort of timing snafu, we were forced to wait until 2:30 for the bus to take us to our apartments. If they had told us we'd be waiting that long, I obviously would have gotten a taxi, but no, we just kept waiting, thinking any minute now. It was annoying to have missed out on half a day in Rome, but oh well, I guess that's travel. I'm sharing an apartment with two other women and we sure got lucky. The apt is huge - we have four bedrooms (one is a double and I snagged it) each with a little balcony, two bathrooms (one with a tub!!!), a computer, tv, free wireless, a washing machine, full kitchen, and funky 70's era furniture. We're on the 4th floor, but thankfully there's an, albeit tiny, elevator. One of my roommates (Kathy), if you can believe this one, was my roommate at Tulane back in the day so it's kind of like good old times for us, but in Rome instead of New Orleans. What a small world, but I guess that's what happens when you teach Latin! We are on the main street on the side of Rome I lived in last time, Trastevere, which has a tram and is (thank you, God) at the BOTTOM of the Janiculum Hill. The American University of Rome (AUR) is at the top of the hill, in my "old neighborhood." All of which is to say, I know my way around, both by foot and by public transportation. They held a welcome reception for us in the evening at AUR with Prosecco (that's Italian champagne) and tapas and dolce (that's dessert). I tried this amazing thing that was like an orangy mousse with mini-chocolate chips formed into a sort-of Jello mold. It wasn't like anything I had ever seen or tasted before, but it was awesome! Our party favors were fans, about the size of the ones we have at school (fans on stands). They came in big boxes and they had made handles for us out of tape. We looked so ridiculous on the tram - about a dozen of us had left together and when we got on the tram, a British woman was laughing at us and she said (insert British accent here), "When we go to a party, we usually bring a bottle!" To which someone (I swear it wasn't me) replied, "We're a fan club." Aren't we Latin teachers a hilarious bunch lolol. The best part is that we had to put them together ourselves. I gave it 20 minutes...Let's just say I didn't really read the directions or use all my parts, so my fan has no front cage and it kind of just slightly rests on its stand, but it's working. After the fan debacle, Kathy and I met a few others at a place across the street called Stazione. It's Italian for train station, and the inside is decorated like one, with a big train mural and everything. Very cozy and relatively cheap. We had some vino and a pizza (those tapas weren't quite enough after the long day). The pizza wasn't terrible, but how can you call it Pizza Margarita without basil? The whole point of that pizza is that it was invented for a queen and was supposed to represent the colors of the Italian flag, so missing the green just doesn't cut it for me. We took some wine to go, went for a walk down to the river, and got back around 2 a.m. Apparently I don't get jet lag!