Thursday, June 20, 2013

A good guide make a big difference

Or a post wherein I state and illustrate the obvious.

I love to travel, and the longer I do the more important context becomes. For instance, as I was growing up there were monuments and landmarks that seemed important to visit just because everyone knew of them--the Eiffel Tower, the Great Pyramids, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Great Wall of China. As a child, and even as a teen, I didn't get wrapped up in the context of the tourist sites. For instance, I didn't realize, for years, that most Parisians consider le tour Eiffel a blight on their fair city; yet, millions of tourists flock to that destination year after year. Most of the flock are unaware when or why the tower was built.

Basilica di Santa Chiara (where she's buried--more on her later)

As I grew up, context of sites became more important to me, in part because I started visiting sites that weren't household names (in the US, at least). Without context, all I knew was that I was visiting something old and, likely, something mostly empty. Knowing the history and impact of these places makes each visit more powerful to me.

And that's where a good guide comes in.

A bad guide can pretty much ruin a trip. The strongest example I have of a bad guide comes from my one and only experience in Thailand. I had great expectations for Thailand. They were largely unmet. I was left feeling disappointed and frustrated. While there were other reasons than our guide that could explain my reaction*, she deserves a fair share of the blame. The places she took us served horrible food. (And this isn't a case of me preferring Americanized Thai food to the real thing. These restaurants served California rolls, Pete's sake.) She rarely took us to a place that wasn't a well choreographed "tour" of a "handcraft workshop" that eventually dumped us into a gift shop. Basically, she took us places where she got a cut of the amount we spent. I wanted to hear about people and history and culture, and she wanted me to spend more money. What she didn't understand that I would have spent much more had I enjoyed myself, had I felt a connection. I felt isolated from the real (current and past) lives of the Thai, separated by cheesy souvenirs and plates of french fries.

Wat Maha That in Ayuthaya, I wanted to enjoy Thailand but left less than enlightened.

Happily, in Italy I've had more good guides than bad. In particular, my favorite guide isn't really a guide, per se. My favorite person to show me a new city or sight and to provide the full and proper context is Anna Pasotta from Centro Studi Italiani.

Anna is on the left, translating at our cooking class

Anna is one of the co-founders of Centro Studi and four of her six children now run the business. So far this summer, Anna has taken us to Florence, Gubbio, Assisi, and Gabicce. (She's also acted as a translator for many of our business visits within Urbania.) In Assissi, especially, she provided a great amount of information that highlighted the religious and historical significance of sites the city so closely associated with St. Francis.

Every once in a while my lack of Catholic upbringing (which I typically consider a blessing--I'm a very happy Methodist) rears its ugly head. I don't know anything about the Catholic saints. I'll be happily looking at Renaissance art, engrossed and impressed, and I'll suddenly get thrown for a major loop. Why in the world is that woman holding her eyeballs? (That's Saint Lucia; they tell me.) I can't identify the the players by the major symbols of their lives and deaths. (Who's the guy full of arrows? I can't remember if it's Stephen or Ambrose. Oh, well. SEE, lacking context is not cool.) But when we went to Assisi, Anna provided all the context I needed to understand why we needed to see five different churches in one day.

Statue of Francesco's parents outside Chiesa di Nuova

There's a lot to see in Assissi. It's good to start with a plan.

Before the trip, I had a vague notion that St. Francis was a devout man with an affinity for animals and a connection to the Franciscan order of monks. Thanks to Anna, I now know a lot more. (Just ask BJ; I recited, practically, Anna's entire lesson back to him. Sorry, BJ. I was very impressed with Assisi.)

For the rest of you who haven't spent hours studying St. Francis, here are some highlights.

  • He name was really Giovanni. His mother called him Francesco, which meant little French boy in that regional dialect.
  • He was the son of a wealthy merchant who first learned his father's trade and made a name for himself as a party boy before he became a soldier.
  • After two years of captivity at the hands of the enemy (the nearby city of Perguia), Francesco returned home, ill and introspective. His health recovered but he didn't want to reclaim his life as a merchant and wild child. He wanted to spend his time in reflection and in prayer with God.
  • He renounced his father's wealth publicly and obviously. (There are a couple of great stories about throwing money to the poor and even giving away the clothes on his back.)
  • A vision encouraged him to repair the church which he first took literally and structurally until he realized his work should be on the spirituality of the church leaders and congregations.
  • He was reported to levitate while in prayer.
  • He once, again reported, gave a sermon to birds.
  • He founded his own order. He inspired a female friend to start her own order. She is now knows as Santa Chiara, and her order is the Poor Clares.
  • The Basilica where he is buried is full of beautiful, moving frescoes by Giotta. (Ask me about them later. Naturally, I bought a book. :D)
Assissi is pretty even without the context

Now THAT is context--all thanks to Anna. That gave me motivation to explore five churches in one day because I understood the significance of each. Francesco and Chiara are inspiring religious figures because their work was so pure and so devout, and I can't imagine viewing the sites of Assisi without that inspiration.

Seriously, a good guide makes a big difference.

*Thailand was the first stop of a three-week trip, so jet lag can probably be blamed a bit. Also, acculturation to the weather likely factored in. It was SO darn hot and humid. I thought I knew humidity from living in the Midwest and vacationing in the South. I had no idea that in the humidity of Southeast Asia that my hair got big like Monica's from Friends.

Basilica di San Francesco--where he's burried


Santa Maria degli Angeli--where Franceso died


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Is this love that I'm feeling?

Let's step away from opera and Roman antiquity for a moment and reflect on big hair bands of the 1980s. I even have a video for you.

Alas, this is what I was exposed to in my formative years. (And, yes, just in case you're wondering, that is Tawny Kitaen pre-prescription drug crazy.)

Why, you may wonder, am I singing Whitesnake songs in my head when I've been exposed to the cultural magnificence of Nabucco and "Va Pensiore"?

Look. A 20th century balcony. Bah humbug.

Well, I've got these lyrics stuck going 'round and 'round because one of Verona's main tourist attractions left me feeling cynical and completely unromantic. Verona is quite beautiful and, among many other things (like being a UNESCO World Heritage Site), the setting of three of Shakespeare's play. One, Romeo and Juliet, has some historical basis. "Some" being the operative word.

First, there is evidence that a family name dell Capella lived in Verona in the 13th century, and this family owned the house that is currently touted as Casa di Giulietta.* There is also evidence that this family once named a daughter Giulietta. However, we don't know that any Giulietta dell Cappella lived in this particular house, and we know definitely that no Giulietta of the 13th century ever set foot on the featured balcony. (It was added in the 20th century.)

A pretty view in Verona.

To get to this pretty but pointless balcony, one only need to walk into a courtyard, past years of romantic, scribbled graffiti, past the gift shop, and past layers chewed gum left behind in the spirit of who-knows-what-they-were-thinking-when-they-started-this-tradition.

It's cute. I guess.

It's silly. I'm sure.

And over half the female students immediately when "Ahhhh" when the guide explained the quasi-significance and the associated traditions.

My response was more "bah humbug."**

There's a statue in the courtyard, circa 1960-ish, that supposedly can make one lucky in love. If you touch the right breast and arm, it's reported that you'll be married in a year. Please notice the wear pattern on the statue. Apparently a LOT of people want to get married within the next year.

Mark me down for "I don't get it".

At this point, I was just incredulous. How, pray tell, could a star-crossed lover grant any luck in love? I would think that keeping Giulietta 20 paces away from your relationship would be a better bit of advice.

So I started thinking . . . am I just anti-romance? I don't date much, after all. Or do I just disagree about what romance means? Thus, the Whitesnake lyrics.

"Is this love that I'm feeling

Is this the love that I've been searching for

Is this love or am I dreaming

This must be love

'Cause it's really got a hold on me

A hold on me"

Arche Scaligere, tombs of Veronese rulers from the family Scala

Me, I say Romeo and Juliet is not a romance. (I'm doubly sure about David Coverdale and Tawny Kitaen's relationship.) It's dramatic, and it's passionate, but so is a fist fight. I've never understood people who thought that screaming matches and tortuous reconciliations were signs of a strong relationship. Shouldn't it be consideration and intimacy? Shouldn't you try to avoid the big fights? Aren't there enough stupid, little things that trip us up with our friends, and family and lovers so that we don't need BIG melodrama?

Maybe I'm wrong, but the next time I'm in Verona, I'd like to spend time with the pretty, historically accurate sights and take a pass on Miss Juliet.

A close up of the pretty fence at Arche Scaligere

*All factual information courtesy of our city guide, Anatasia.

**The first person who says "it's just marketing" gets 50 lashes with a wet tagliatelle noodle. That is NOT what I teach.


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

It's still standing (yeah, yeah, yeah)

When the idea was first mentioned, I thought "Cool, never done that before."

But it didn't really sink it.

I don't think it can until you're THERE, sitting in on stone that's outlasted the Rolling Stones, outlasted centuries. Climbing steps that have seen the feet of one millennium, and almost a second.

The Arena di Verona was built in 30 AD. 30 AD. 30 AD.

Arena di Verona, 2013

And I was there on Saturday.

And I didn't just go in and wander around; I've done that with the Roman Colosseum. I've seen Roman ruins in Rome (naturally) and France and Great Britain, but more often than not these are pieces and parts of structures that had much grander pasts. When you visit those sites, you get a hint of Roman ingenuity, but I don't think our minds extrapolate from those pieces and parts and do the proper math to calculate how big and how impressive these sites were in their former glory. Viewing a wall that's been partially obscured by centuries of dirt and urban planning makes it difficult to appreciate the scale of Roman construction. However, the Arena di Verona isn't a piece or a part. It isn't a shell of its former self or a ruin. This is a functioning amphitheater that seats 15,000 people.*

I saw my first opera in a building that is one thousand eighty three years old. 1983.

That's just . . . just . . .

I actually don't know. I can't find a word that describes how deeply that struck me.

We started in Verona by doing a city tour. (I think I'll save my thoughts on the rest of Verona for another post.) I then had a lovely dinner with friends in order to celebrate Giovanni's** birthday. Dinner was the typical lovely, unrushed Italian affair which meant we had to hustle, post-dinner, to get to our seats on time.

A close up, Arena di Verona

Up to this point, I was still thinking "Cool, I've never done this before."

We scrambled up the mostly really tall stairs, and I started thinking about the rise and run of the steps***. (If we're a bigger people than we were in ancient times, I'm not sure how the ancient Veronese made it up those stairs with any sense of dignity. But I digress.) We rented seat cushions, because our seats weren't chairs, but were the original stone structure of the arena. Our seats were doing to be, um, firm, so the pillows would help. We climbed up into one of the higher sections and finally settled down.

It took me a few minutes to find an ideal comfortable sitting position. The stone was REALLY warm from absorbing the heat of the day, so the pillows not only provided comfort, they provided protection. As I was wriggling around to get situated and feeling the heat of the stone on my legs, I started to process the fact that that hard, hot, uneven seat had first been used by citizens of the Roman Empire.

These are not Roman citizens. They didn't need handrails.



Dang. That's old. (And puts the upcoming 41st birthday into context. I may not be aging nearly as well as the Arena. I don't see myself being useful past my first century.)

Huh. That's also just astounding.

And also, surely, 15 other things I'm not accurately expressing.

We saw Nabucco which, they tell me, is a libretto based on the biblical tale of the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, and his family's conquest of the Hebrew nation. (Italians translated his name into Nabucodonosor and wisely shortened THAT mouthful to Nabucco.) It's four hours long, so I had plenty of time to contemplate and absorb and marvel.

You know what else is astounding? The opera cast isn't mic'ed. THEY DON'T WEAR MICROPHONES.

In an arena that holds 15,000 people separated from the singers by a full orchestra, the acoustics are so good that the opera singers are "unplugged".

These people aren't using microphones.



The company that staged Nabucco has been performing operas in the Arena since 1913. Prior to that, the Veronese revived the Arena for performances during the Renaissance and, later, in the 1800s because of the fabulous acoustics.

I'm so thankful that I had a chance to take it all in.

Grazie mille to Centro Studi Italiano and Millikin University's Center for Entrepreneurship for making the current arrangements, grazie mille to the Veronese for pouring their hearts and money and efforts into keeping the Arena a valid, living part of Verona's story, and grazie mille for the Romans who built big and build to last. It's still standing.


*Most of the factual information I've included came from our guide and was later confirmed via Google and Wikipedia. The information about Nabucco was provided by Centro Studi Italiani.

**Giovanni is a Millikin University alum and the managing director of Centro Studi. He is, in effect, our host when we're in Italy. A most excellent host.

***Thank you, Rex, for getting that phrase stuck in my head, and, yes, I was thinking of you, too.


Monday, June 17, 2013

There's no hiding

They've come for me while I was at dinner, but I guess I was almost finished with that salad.

They've come for me while I was riding the bus. Most recently when I was listening to Sara Bareilles (as prescribed by my Sarah, my sister), ear buds in, oblivious to my surroundings.

They've come for me while I was out walking and minding my own business.

Millikin University students in Verona.

They've come for me while I was reading, which, of course, is more often than not.

They tweet at me; they e-mail me.

It's like they're everywhere.

They, naturally, are my students, and I thought I'd spend a few minutes talking about what it's like to travel with students and to teach while away from campus.

Luckily (for them, but more so for me), I actually like most of them. That makes all of this easier, but when you travel with students, there's really no hiding.

I can't hide from them. We're in a town of 8,000 with about 10 restaurants or bars within walking distance of our apartments. While I'm not technically living with them, I am definitely living among them.

Some of last year's travelers, sitting near me at dinner.
  • That means that sometimes when they come for me at dinner, it's just a matter of coincidentally choosing the same location. (Yesterday, though, they were asking about today's exam. That's right. Exam. This is a real class with real assignments that get graded and everything. Being in Italy may be the best part of my job, but it is still my job to help them learn about marketing.)
  • That means that sometimes I've gone out with friends to relax and realized I couldn't completely cut loose because my students were literally watching.
  • That means they learn a lot more about me in four weeks than their friends did during a 16-week semester. We meet two hours a day for four days a week just for class sessions. Then we have anywhere from 7 to 36 hours of travel for side trips during the week. (Most of those come with assignments attached. EVERYTHING here is a teaching moment.)
Class field trip from last year. Most oof them are exactly as happy as they look.
  1. They see how I respond the unknown.
  2. They see how I deal with fatigue.
  3. They see how I handle stress.
  4. They see if my personality and my expectations for them are consistent when dealing with items 1, 2, & 3.
  5. They see how I love to explore and learn. I never try to hide my geeky core, but the proximity reinforces it for them.
  6. They see me as a real person who walks with them to find a public toilet, who sweats under the Italian sun, and misses Mexican food.
  7. They see how I treat people outside of the classroom--students, supermercato clerks, camerieri*, bus drivers, and colleagues.
  • That means I learn a lot more about them in four weeks than I did about their friends during a 16-week semester.
  1. I notice who's eating the local food, and who's getting by on patate fritte.**
  2. I notice who's taking the short nights (theirs are decidedly shorter than mine) on the chin and forcing themselves to attend AND stay (mostly) awake during class.
  3. I notice when the short time frame to explore Italy and complete class assignments has a negative impact on classroom performance. (And it is a crazy time frame. We traveled to Verona and Venezia this weekend, returning around 11pm last night. Today, my students took a test and turned in two majors assignments and two minor ones.)
  4. I notice their consistency, too. Some can rebound from that negative impact; others never do. I try to treat each assignment as a blank slate so that past performance doesn't color my judgment of the assignment in front of me. I'm probably not completely successful, but that likely hurts the students who start out strong and slip more than the ones who made major corrections.
  5. I notice when the situational learning just starts burbling out out them. It's obvious because they voluntarily start talking to me about what they just did or who they spoke with. This year, one of the local business owners has started deep and intense conversations with our students, and they've loved discussing the differences between Americans and Italians on topics like the death penalty and gun control.
  6. I'm constantly surprised by their addiction to ranch dressing. (Blech. I have no words.)
  7. I notice how they treat people outside the classroom--me, each other, our local partners at Centro Studi Italiani, the townspeople and local business owners. That means I know who's hooking up, which friends are fighting, and who has the roommate from hell.

Hmm. Perhaps we should be warning them that there's not hiding in travel courses, because I'm with them everywhere. I come away with a much stronger feel for who's a good person and colleague than I do in a traditional semester setting. That assessment stays with me, and I use it when it's time to write recommendations or pick leaders for students organizations.

This year's travelers in Gubbio

What happens in Italy definitely comes back to campus with us.

There really is no hiding.

*Camerieri are waiters or servers.

**This one (you probably figured out without me) is french fries.


Thursday, June 13, 2013

Another way to travel

Long before I knew that Lay's potato chips had a slogan about not eating just one, I knew from addiction. I'm addicted to reading and to books. This is a well documented problem over at The Family Addiction blog*.

From & found on Pinterest

I learned how to read at my maternal grandmother's table over the summer between kindergarten and first grade. My elementary teacher aunt thought I ought to, and I did. And I haven't stopped since.

So you can imagine how delighted I was to find the St. Augustine quote that I used to name this blog. Books as a metaphor for travel? But, of course!

I've long felt that books allowed me to experience, vicariously, people and places and situations that I otherwise wouldn't know. So as I sit here in a small Italian town outside a cafe with my San Pellegrino, let me tell you about the other places I've visited while I was technically traveling to or traveling in Italy.

It's possible I've been reading ABOUT Italy as well.
  • I've been in London, Southern Florida, the Caribbean isles and the spirit world with Fat Charlie Nancy in Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys.
  • I've driven the back roads of much of the Midwest including Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Missouri with a few otherworldly side trips thrown in as I followed Shadow from Neil Gaiman's American Gods.
  • I investigated a big, mostly empty country house in Britain with a young, sick boy and The Borrowers in the book of the same name by Mary Norton.
  • I stayed in isolated home in futuristic Russia with a man who could teleport us all to the forests of California near a futuristic San Francisco in Nalini Singh's Heart of Obsidian.
  • I'm still fighting for my own survival with a small group of teens in a small Canadian island off of Vancouver Island in Kelley Armstrong's Darkness Rising trilogy. (I'll finish up the third book on the bus ride to Verona on Saturday.)
  • I careened through the traffic gridlock of a futuristic New York with Eve Dallas in JD Robb's Calculated in Death
  • I trooped through the woods of a tiny Québécois hamlet just north of the US border with Chief Inspector Armand Gamache in Louise Penny's Still Life.

In reality, I started in Decatur, Illinois and flew from Chicago to New York and Milan, Italy. From there I traveled by bus to Urbania, Urbino, Modena, Florence, Gubbio, Assisi, and Gabicce. This weekend we're off to Verona and Venice before we wrap up the program and head back to Milan. From there it's a flight to Atlanta, another to Chicago and a shuttle ride to Decatur.

It's no wonder I often need to nap; I just can't sit still, :-P
Oh, books. I love you.

*I've been remiss in my book blogging lately and writing about these books has reminded of how much I enjoy it. I'm going to throw together reviews for The Family Addiction for the Neil Gaiman books and Still Life by Louis Penny. (I've already reviewed the Eve Dallas series and the Nalini Singh series. You can find those here and here.) I'll also review The Borrowers for BTweenBooks as well as the Darkness Rising series.)


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Here, you push

Here, you push. Spingere is written on most of the doors. It means push, because, here, you push a door to enter and pull a door to exit. (Somewhere in America a fire Marshall just whimpered when you read that.)

Must push, sir, push. (Get it?)

Here, you look like an idiot half of the time trying to push a door open for the inside. (The rest of the time you look like an idiot for a whole slew of other reasons.)

Here, you don't know how to find the thrice-cursed shut-off valve to the cold water line in the downstairs bathroom.

Here, you know how to order wine, but not how to talk to your landlord about your broken faucet. (Here, you die a little inside while water is wasted as you wait for a plumber to show up.*)

That's shut off. I promise.

Here, your dad is too far away to fix it for you.

Here, you're expected to wear a plastic glove while selecting produce at the supermercato.

Here, the produce is fresh and ripe and expected to be eaten immediately.

I HAD to buy them. The chips were okay and the salsa was good.

Here, no server ever rushes you through a meal. The meals can be LONG. In fact, one of my colleagues calls it being held food hostage.

Here, Uncle Ben's sells tortilla chips and salsa. Both items take up about as much shelf space as a sardines display in the U.S.

Here, you can get baby food made of sardines. And horse.

Here, the vino is often cheaper than the Coca light.

Here, the vino is quite superior to the Coca light.

Here, the stores close down from 12:30pm to 3:30pm (or 4:00 pm), because lunch is serious, family-oriented business. (Remember, there's no rushing through meals.)

Here, the metric system is the second foreign language you must learn.

Here, gas is priced at 1.60€ per liter which translates into over $8 per gallon. (Yes, you read that right.)

Here, air conditioning and window screens are uncommon.

Here, 1.5L (almost 51 ounces) of bottled water usually only costs 0.35€ ($0.46).

Here, the tap water is totally safe, but I like to buy the acqua frizzante.

This is the fizzy stuff.

Here, you really need to know if you can shut off autocorrect when using Google Translate.

Here, you miss unlimited data even if only for unlimited access to Google Translate.

*Wholly ironic considering my charity:water campaign. I'd better double my donation.


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

This ain't no Friday night lights

There are moments, hours, even, when I shake my head at American customs that are the bases for municipal pride. Reading Friday Night Lights made my heart hurt. And I LIKE sports, but when you consider the resources we pour into games AND how we shape young attention spans to fixate on games . . .

Ugh. (Actually, I just read a great essay that points out the problem isn't 12-year-olds who want to be LeBron James; it's 12-year-olds who ONLY want to be LeBron James. 12-year-olds should have endless dreams. You can read it here, but I digress.)

But for all our sprawling majesty, American customs that lead to school-wide or city-wide bragging rights have a certain symmetry to them. Regardless of your town's preferences (team spots, rodeo, show choir), the competitions that crown the "best" have striking similarities--scoring, officiating, seasons. Even when I wish I didn't, I GET IT.

And then I came to Italy.

Italy seems to be full of small cities with their own unique bragging rights customs. Urbania has La Befana, and Siena has its Palio. (I may write about La Befana later, but just Google the Palio.) When Francis of Assisi died, everyone assumed he would be granted sainthood. Playing host to a saint's remains was associated with great fortune for medieval cities, so his body was hidden within the walls of a basilicia so the neighboring city of Perugia wouldn't steal the body*. All for bragging rights.

Gubbio, not the home of modesty

Gubbio, however, may be the champion of off-beat bragging rights competitions. Gubbio is a medieval walled town in Umbria. It's a striking city even before you learn about the Festa dei Ceri. You can find full details on this festival here and here, but the short version is this: three teams each carry an enormous, heavy wooden THING (a cero) up a mountain road to see who can do it best. (Not fastest, the ceri are always carried in the same order, and they are not allowed to pass each other.)

Palazzo dei Consoli

The ceri are shaped like giant, wooden hour-glasses and, according to the plaque in the Basilica of St. Ubaldo, stand over 15 feet tall and weigh over 600 pounds.


That's what they run up a mountain.

Picture of the city taken from the blackly of the Palazzo dei Consoli

Each is topped with a wooden carving of a saint. St. Ubaldo, the patron saint of Gubbio, is the symbol of the masons. St. George represents the merchants while St. Anthony represents the farmers.

The Festa dei Ceri is held each year on May 15. The following Sunday the Festa dei Ceri Mezzani is held for 15-20 year old participants. Then on June 2, the Festa dei Ceri Piccoli is run with younger boys. (Yes, boys. Women and girls are only cheerleaders in this competition.)

The two later races are seemingly** run with smaller ceri, but still the mind boggles.

Now, if you were to visit Gubbio, I would recommend skipping recreating the run. Instead, after huffing and puffing up a steep incline and a big flight of stairs, stroll on over to the funivia to take a leisurely ride up the mountain. Then it's just a short walk to to the basilica where you can goggle at the ceri and watch a video of last year's race.

Me, on the funivia. I love this ride.

*There is an awesome irony here. A two-year captivity in Perugia is credited with triggering St. Francis' religious conversion. And still they wanted to capture him again.

**Google Translate failed me here. It suggested that mezzani translates to pimps. Um, no. I can't see St. Ubaldo appreciating a pimped out version of his race. Mezzo is half, so I'm going to assume that mezzani is like half-pint or half-ish. Piccoli means small.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

This year, the rice cakes started early

One of the challenges of travel for me is that I eat gluten free. I'm not a celiac, but my body does not process gluten* well. I'm a much happier camper when I avoid gluten.

And here I am in Italy--home of pizza and pasta. And I don't eat either in their traditional forms.

If your only experience with restaurants trying to accommodate a gluten-free diet is with American restaurants, you might expect that I have problems in Italy. But, really, I don't. Urbania, Italy is blessed with two or three cooks trained to accommodate celiacs (which is astounding in a city of 8,000).

I <3 those restaurants.

The rest of the time, I just eat a lot more rice cakes than most.

And this year, the rice cakes started early. On the flight, in fact. Delta Airlines merely replaced any bread item in my meals with rice cakes. That was fine for my dinner that also included chicken and a salad, but breakfast was a rice cake, a banana, and water.

Um, thanks, Delta, for those 75 calories.

The "regular" eaters were served a pastry, a banana, and juice. By the time we landed I would've sporked someone for the juice.

But here's a picture of my gluten-free haul from Conad, the local supermercato.

Yes, there are rice cakes, but look at the cookies!

And that was before I found the stash of Schar-brand GF food at one of the pharmacies! (I love most things Schar and wish it were easier to find at home. You can learn about Schar here:

So I clearly don't starve. Most of the supermarket food is clearly labeled as senza glutine when it's safe for me to eat, and the supermarkets have multiple kinds of gluten-free pasta. Schar even sells a gluten-free ciabatta bread that is half-baked, so you can have fresh baked GF bread at home.

Tonight, we ate at Donatella's. She's one of the cooks specially trained to prepare food for celiacs. Because my sensitivity is not that great, I don't require special food prep, but Donatella can do it if I needed it. For this meal, while the vegetarians ordered primi (the pasta or soup course), a friend and I ordered secondi (the meat course). Check out our plates. Now, do you think I'm suffering?

This is pork in a cherry reduction. Or heaven. Either way

Here we are post meal--just in case you weren't sure.



I don't THINK I have something in my teeth. I think it's a reflection.





I was a little sad the day we walked past this

I do miss good bread.


and this in Modena.






But I can always have this, so life is good.

Mmmmmm. Cheese.

*Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, rye and barley. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder where exposure to gluten causes inflammation in the small intestine and, consequently, other less savory sounding, but serious symptoms.


Saturday, June 8, 2013

Faith packs lightly

"The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page."
--Saint Augustine

I love to travel.

I love to visit and explore new places.

And at a quick glance, you might not expect that of me. I'm a small town girl whose top three priorities are faith, family and friends. So you're forgiven if you'd expect me to be a bit of a homebody.

Except that I'm not. My fourth priority is education, and one of my favorite ways to learn--about people; about culture; about language and architecture and food--is through travel. For as long as I can remember, my parents and grandparents would load us all up (in a car, on a train, or on a plane) to take us to SEE--to see family or friends, or the locks and dams along the MIGHTY MISSISSIPPI, or the vastness of the ocean, or the myriad of animals at the zoo, or educational sights like the Cahokia Mounds and the Museum of Science and Industry. So for as long as I can remember, travel WAS family and friends and education.

Happily, my faith packs lightly; it's the one priority that never skips a trip due to financial constraint or scheduling conflict. One of the delights of travel is the possibility of finding new holy places. These are not necessarily obviously defined holy places like the Vatican. Instead these are places, some religious and some secular, that leave me feeling at peace, at one with this amazing world that God has shared with us. I've found such places doing mission work, at an amusement park or in a small Italian village.

So that's me. I love to travel.

And because I do, I take pictures, and I talk about all the amazing places I've been. For the past several years, I've shared those pictures and tidbits about my trips on Facebook. Facebook, however, isn't a great place to tell a story (at least not in the wordy, nerdy way of my stories), so I've decided to start this blog. Here I can share the stories behind the pictures--the how and the why and the preferences. Here I can take you along with me as I explore God's green earth (and his desert sand and his red clay and his ocean blue.) Here we can read more than one page of the world book.