Pareja: Enamorado con Amor (Couple: In Love With Love) II

I continue the exploration of couples expressing affection.  Here the image is the same as the first, but the treatment varies, and it is on paper versus wood, so the interaction between paint, medium a base offers additional variations.


Pareja: Enamorado con Amor (Couple: In Love With Love) 35 cm x 29.7, 13" x 11.7
Pareja: Enamorado con Amor (Couple: In Love With Love) II 35 cm x 29.7, 13″ x 11.7

“My favorite is Enamorado con Amor II  Couple in Love with Love. You can feel  the intensity. Just beautiful.”  Arlene

Love takes many forms and we can always use more and can never have too much.  We should not oppress it but encourage its flowering and deepen the bonds that hold us together.

Vaughntown: spend a week in Spain at a nice resort for free

Vaughntown: spend a week in Spain at a nice resort for free


I spent a week just outside Segovia talking to Spanish people in English.  Aside from transportation and overnight stays in Madrid, the whole week’ room and board were free.  Only native English speakers can apply for these positions.

In our group, there were 14 Anglos and 9 Spaniards, so the Anglos had downtime, the Spaniards didn’t.  On the other hand, they had each paid $2400 for the week, so they were determined to get the most out of it.  The ratio differs with each program, so the amount of free time for the Anglos varies, as you will understand when you see the daily schedule.



The only rule (other than attending all activities held between 10:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m.) had to do with seating at meals.  We always sat at tables of 4, two Anglos and 2 Spaniards.  This was so that the Spaniards would hear Anglos talking among themselves, which is different than when we talk to foreigners.

The schedule for each day was as follows:

9:00-10:00  breakfast (you didn’t have to talk then, just grunting sufficed.  You didn’t have to stay for the full hour, either.)

10:00-14:00  – One on One conversation with a different Spaniard each hour, 10-minute breaks between sessions.  I never had more than 3                         and never 3 in a row.  There was at least one free hour each morning.

14:00-15:00  –  Lunch (15:30 if you had an interesting conversation going)

15:00-17:00 – break/siesta (Spaniards and Anglos)

17:00 – 18:00 – Group activity – everybody in central meeting room, no responsibility unless the MC selected you to participate in a skit or                         sing!!

18:00 – 20:00 – One on Ones (again, never more than 1, w/free time the other hour)

20:00-21:00 – Group activity – everybody together, no responsibility except to laugh at MC’s jokes

21:00 – 22:00 – Dinner

22:30 to whenever – optional pub quiz, bingo, whatever in bar


Long day, but hardly intense.  Between 6 and 8 pm on a couple of days, the Spaniards practiced phone calls, conference calls, and One-on-Ones over the telephone.  They find this difficult, as there is no body language to help them understand what’s being discussed.


Two paid staff on hand – the program director, who handled schedules, all details and emergencies, and the Master of Ceremonies, who explained everything and handled all the group activities.


I found the whole thing very enjoyable.  The facility was luxurious, the food was excellent, the other Anglos very interesting and the Spaniards quite outgoing, very determined to improve their English and so not shy in the One-on-One conversations.  They had 6 hours of One-on-Ones per day, and not once did I ever feel they were tired of doing them!  It was remarkably easy to get conversations going – I never had to resort to the usual questions.  You know, “Where are you from, How long have you been studying English, Why are you studying English”, etc.  Sometimes we had to rush to get the the next One on One because we were in the middle of a conversation and forgot to look at the time.  Youngest participant was 23, oldest about 50.  One of the young men was the son of the ex-Governor of Madrid and ex-head of the Spanish national police.  A 40-year old guy had just finished building a huge solar-powered photo-voltaic plant with 5 partners, one 30-year old woman was a high-school English teacher, another 30-year old was an optician (who lives in Valencia, coincidentally), one account executive for Pernod-Ricard, etc.  Only one recent college graduate who has not yet had a job.  Many of the participants had been sent by their companies, although some paid the full amount themselves.


The Anglos included 3 Australians, 1 Swede who spoke excellent English and who teaches Swedish to immigrants as his real job, 1 Czech (many years in England), 1 Trinidadian, 1 Canadian, 1 American (me) and the rest from England, although not all with the same accent!  No Irish or Scots — too bad for me, as I love those accents.  Various ages.


Vaughn has a special hotel rate at the hotel where they hold the opening reception on the Saturday evening before, as many Anglos arrive in Madrid on Saturday.  We met with the Spaniards at the bus at 9:00 am on Sunday morning, got to the site in a couple of hours, had lunch and an orientation session and One-on Ones Sunday evening.  On Friday, the last day, we had 2 One on Ones, a closing ceremony (with presentation of certificates, of course), a farewell luncheon, and left the site at 3:00.  Got back to Madrid about 5, so the Spaniards who were going home by train could all get home that evening.  So the program runs an actual full 5 days.

The whole week was very well organized and the participants felt that the week had been worth it.  Some were already trying to figure out how they could spring for another week!

I went to the El Rancho de la Aldeguela resort.  You can see it on Google Maps.  Look up “El Rancho de la Aldegüela, Spain”.  It is near Segovia, which some of the group went to for a few hours in their spare time.  A very beautiful old city.  I didn’t go, as the sun was really bright and burny up there.  At the resort, the weather was perfect.  Hot in the sun, but very comfortable in the shade.  So you could do your One on Ones outdoors in one of the gardens or indoors in the bar or one of many other quiet spots.   They

didn’t care.  You could go to a neighborhood cafe if you wanted to, or walk over to the grocery or pharmacy if you needed something.

I talked with some Anglos who had done the program several times.  Three or four of them were doing back-to-back weeks at two different sites.  They said all the facilities are excellent, and only one is so remote that it has no Internet.  That is Valdelavilla (sp?)  Unfortunately, it is also the one with the best food  ;) winking.  Given what Vaughn charges the Spaniards, the facilities had better be excellent…  I met a very interesting American at the opening reception who was going to Gredos, one of the other sites.  She has emailed me that she had a wonderful time there as well.

Vaughn posts the schedules way ahead of time so folks coming from far away can book flights, arrange the rest of their vacation, etc.  Some of the Brits who have done it before just check for last minute openings and hop over on a discount air carrier if the weather forecast looks bleak in England!  From Valencia, we can do that as well, as we can get to Madrid on the train.  Once you have been accepted, you do not have to reapply – you just go online and pick your week, if there are still slots when/where you want to go.  Very clever!

Everything I said above could be wrong, of course.  You may have a different ratio of Anglos to Spaniards, they may all be very shy or at a lower level, who knows?  The Anglos said that we did have a bit more downtime than normal, but that the English level of the participants was typical.  I thought it was quite advanced, actually, and that they were there for exactly the right reason – they wanted to get their speaking capability more closer to their reading and aural comprehension level.  Apparently they have to “test” in – somebody calls them up and they talk over the phone in English.

It took them about a month to send me the acceptance notice,  although I think the only requirement is that you speak English, can put two sentences together and are willing to invest your time to improving the English of these folks.    We had all different types of people in the Anglo group, from a young Australian guy whose main concern seemed to be when he was going to get his next beer to a couple of English housewives.Here is the link to the VaughnTown program:

Guatemala, December 2008

(This is part of our journal for this period.  We landed in the Yucatan and traveled by bus across Mexico to Puebla, Oxaca, across the border into Guatemala, then finally to el Salvador.  The journey took about 6 weeks.  We flew out of Guatemala.)

To Volcan Pacaya from Antigua, Guatemala December 13th, 2008

Guatemala is full of surprises, mostly because people don’t tell you everything you need to know, or you don’t read the real fine print which could be written vertically in very small letters in hard to see colors. Today we are going to Volcan Pacaya, an active volcano with a flowing lava field.

It started out innocently enough. The van arrived at 3:50 PM, 50 minutes late. There were 12 of us in the zocalo (central park) waiting and wondering. One couple was looking for green van, another a tan one, a third had been told what color to look for, although we’d all bought are tickets from the same agency. Peg and I were told the van would be green- it was. When it arrived the driver hopped out, calling out names from a list. There was one that sounded right so we gave him our ticket, the one that said ‘no refunds for any reason,’ and ‘the van can arrive anywhere from 15 minutes before to 15 minutes after the scheduled time,” with no address on the receipt. So I said it was 50 minutes late but that depends on how you measure it. Could be an hour, could be 35 minutes.

On our way one of our fellow travelers said he was told the trip took an hour each way, another said one hour twenty minutes. We were told two hours each way, two hours to the top. “Two hours to the top” should have was a hint about what was to come but we didn’t notice. About an hour and a half later, after driving on some steep mountain roads, skirting the outskirts of Guatemala (the Guatemalans drop ‘City’), we could see the smoking peak of Volcan Pacaya, the plume rising lazily in the cool mountain air. We could see three other volcanoes, one with a plume.

On the last leg of the trip the van was climbing a steep and narrow road. We were behind a stuffed chicken bus. I saw a woman’s back smashed against the window of the rear emergency door, which opened as I looked on. A young man climbed out of the bus onto the ladder leading to the roof, closing the door as the bus zoomed around the curves, our van in close pursuit; the term ‘tail-gaiting’ does exist here, apparently, or if it does, there are no enforced laws to discourage the behavior. Then the bus veered down a steep one lane road so we can only assume that the young man made it just fine.

When the van stopped at the entrance we were surrounded by young boys hawking walking sticks; this turned out to be hint two. I must have heard “Walking steek, meester?” 150 times in the first 10 seconds. It was so loud the driver closed the windows that the kids were poking their heads into. He then opened the van’s sliding door, pushing the kids back. When we bought the tickets for the journey we were told there would be a $5 charge to get in the park but we hadn’t heard the part about paying the ‘conductor’ but that’s what he said we had to do now, and we all did. This was hint three, since he gave us no time to check things out. The entrance fee included the guide, which no one had mentioned to us. Let’s call this hint four.

Our guide introduced himself as Antonio. He gave us hint five, and the most important: hire a horse. For q120, about $14, you would get a round trip on the smallish horses that stood around, their presumed owners sitting comfortably in the saddle. No one took him up- why would we want a horse or a walking stick or one of the flashlights the kids were offering – and off we went. This was nearly a major mistake.

We found out why right away. The first section after leaving the base is very steep, very very steep, a 45 degree angle or so. Peg had to stop after at most five minutes of climbing. Everyone was puffing heavily except the guide who again strongly suggested we get on a horse, but Peg was adamant that she would walk up this hill and I was game so it was onward and upward. Antonio said it would level out in another 5 minutes, and then go up and down, and a woman in our group said this bit was the hardest; they were both mostly correct.

The men on their horses were right behind us as we mushed on, saying ‘taxi horse,’ or ‘horse no cansado (tired)’ about every 15 seconds. ‘Caballo no cansado’ and ‘buen precio’ became common calls.. Sometimes they got ahead of us to position themselves where the trail was steep, especially if we were in cinder fields, since the bad footing made the steep slopes even harder to climb.

We lagged behind when I could not maneuver to keep some people behind us. Antonio stopped to rest about every 20 minutes or so, especially after particularly steep climbs, which must have numbered about a dozen. In the meantime he assigned Angelito to us, whose job was to make sure we did not make a wrong turn. Angelito was no more than 8 years old and never said a word, and never seemed to labor.

After about 45 minutes we passed the 2000 meter sign; that’s about 6500′ in altitude. Antonio said the peak was at 2800 meters, but the lava flow we’d come to see was at 2400 meters. He said it would be about 20 minutes before we would get our first view of it, and another 20-30 minutes before we arrived at our destination.

The ‘taxis’ we still watching us, like vultures at a cadaver,. Peg wanted me to tell them she thought it evil of them to prey upon us laboring tourists. But I did not want to create ill will and instead said she did not like horses, in the hopes they would stop annoying us; we might need a ride at some point. It made no difference as the hawking continued.

We enjoyed some fabulous views when resting in clearings. When the price got down to q20, we knew we were getting close. Just a few minutes later, an hour after we left, we got our first view of the lava. A thin red stream flowed from near the cone. As we took in the view the caballeros led their horses on their return journey; six had come so far for naught.

The final march of about a mile uphill the whole way took about 30 minutes, winding through a now cold lava field formed in 2000. The lava had formed a wide variety of forms. Antonio warned us to walk carefully. If you fell the rough rock caused a nasty wound. He was at this location in 2000 when there was a significant eruption. Rocks, steam and gas spew forth. No one was injured, largely because the wind was blowing away from the group he was leading. After that even more tourists came, hoping for more spectacular sights. ‘Crazy,’ he said, but I wasn’t sure if he meant the tourists or himself. Perhaps it was us he was referring to.

When we finally arrived, you could feel the heat of the lava. Large cinders spewed forth from the edges of the flow, cooling as they bounded down the slope. The mass edged almost imperceptibly, silently downwards. In the distance two volcanoes stood silhouetted against the pending sunset, the plume on one clearly visible. We stayed there about a ½ hour, maybe 45 minutes.

Peg ordered a horse for the ride down; her knees would not take the downhill portion. Antonio called his buddy Arturo, waiting at the base, while I snapped portraits of women who traveled without partners and joked with Antonio about cooking hot dogs and marshmallows with long sticks so the 600F degree plus lava wouldn’t singe hair and skin.

Angelito was assigned to identify Arturo for us; he stayed with us the rest of the time. Peg climbed on Canela (Cinnamon), who hesitated at the first hill but then moved steadily thereafter. Soon the sun fell. Arturo offered me the choice of being in front or behind. I thought it wiser to avoid the business end of a horse so it was the former for me. Soon it was pitch black, for the moon had not yet risen. The flashlight was strong enough except for the few occasions Antonio directed it elsewhere.

Somewhere along the way we’d been joined by Juan Carlos leading his horse. Peg had been interviewing him while I tried to stay in one piece. I only landed on my butt twice on the way down. One near fall I landed on my hands and bounced right back to my feet. Juan Carlos noted how well I’d recovered from the latest near fall, saying I was very strong (‘muy fuerte’). I said most of the time, in fact, I carried Peg down from mountainsides, but since it was dark, I could not do it this time. There were other jokes back and forth, and some discussion of the fact that Carlos’ wife, an American, was 16 when they married; Antonio said Juan Carlos was a bit impulsive. Also during the extensive interview Peg conducted in Spanish with little help from me, Juan Carlos told us that the biggest expense of a horse was its original purchase. His purchase price was $1300! He told us that a typical horse could do this trip once a day for about 8 years (less if used more often) before they had to do something else.

By this time we’d caught up with another horse, so I was at the business end of one of these critters for almost half the journey. I could barely see the animal. His handler wore a white blouse so I could see her, though. I passed her during the last two hundred meters. This was the steepest part and the horses slowed to a crawl as they made their way along the concrete path.

We said goodbye to our friendly caballero and his horse, Peg tipped Angelito (still completely silent), and offered him some crackers, which attracted a crowd of other hungry kids his age. We climbed aboard the van, looking for the next surprise to come our way. In the meantime, however, we were thankful to be in one piece and wondering only how much our legs would hurt the next day, and coming to an understanding of why the tour vendors provided so little advice and information about this rather arduous journey- it would be a revenue killer!

ADATA Announces New bi-lateral “Cabana Turistica”

ADATA, an alliance of ecological groups in the Chiriqui Highlands, in the western part of Panama, has opened a “Cabana Turistica” near Rio Sereno (the Serene River), a small town on the border with Costa Rica and on the edge of the Biological Corridor.  The Biological Corridor runs between South America and Canada.

The cabin is available for those wanting to visit the area.  Birders, hikers, naturalists and other groups visit this area regularly.  Now you can do so and support the environment.  ADATA supports the environment by supporting ecologically sustainable economic activities such as organic farming including organic coffee, restaurants, tourist activities, as well as direct support for the Parque Internacional La Amistad.

$25 per person per night, $120 for groups of six or more.  Ktichen, full bath, 2 bedrooms, 2 sofa bed (doubles),  maximum 10 people.



For further information, contact:  phone, email.

Primer proyecto 23 mayo 2011 gary


ADATA, (Alianza para el Desarrollo Ambiental de Tierras Altas), una alianza de 13 organizaciones ecologicas de Las Tierras Altas de Chiriqui, Panama, ya ofrece a turistas y grupos la posibilidad de alojamiento en Rio Sereno, en las bonitas y frescas montañas de Panama a la frontera con Costa Rica.  Muy cerca se encuentra el Corredor Biològico, donde viven mas de 250 especies de aves y otros animales como el puma, y una tremenda variedad de flora tambien. La cabaña es disponible para la gente que quiere visitar esta zona, el Parque Internacional La Amistad, y el Parque Volcan Baru (nombre exacto?).

Hay sitio para 10 personas.  Las ganacias apoyan …… ?    Vea abajo para mas informaciòn.


Un link al email aqui.




Back to Rome, 8/1999

Quiet, empty Rome
Stautary at the Villa Borghese
The eclipse in Rome
La Madonna del Divino Amore
Countryside inside Rome
Casina delle Civette
Everyman, the morality play
Music under the stars
Rome returns
New discoveries at the Forum

Back to Rome



Modica Bassa has two small museums in the same building.   One contains archeological finds dating to about 2000 B.C.E.   The older objects include many stone flints and hammer heads.   The other museum contains objects from about 100 years ago:   stone carving tools, blacksmith equipment, ceramics, shoes, clothing, and religious objects.  The sewing implements were of the sort that my grandmother probably used.   She was a seamstress in Palermo.   I pictured her sitting before the foot operated Singer, heating the irons in the fire to press the dresses.   Her son and both of her daughters followed this career.   An employee took us around and we understood nearly everything she said.  Afterwards we took the bus to Catania airport for the flight on Alitalia (L99,000, only about $60 for the one hour flight).  Finding where the bus stop took two visits to the travel agency, as I did not understand anything she said the first time.

From the jet we got a great view of the coast of Sicily as the path took us over Messina on Sicily and Villa San Giovane on the mainland.   We saw the islands just off the coast of Sicily. The view of the dead volcano Stromboli, whose cone was completely blown off, was absolutely magnificent.  The remains of the volcano occupy the entire island.  The other islands are dead volcanoes also, except maybe two of them farther west.   We also flew over the Isle of Capri near Naples and then got another great view, this of the historical center of Rome and the Vatican.   In the latter, the Coliseum stood out, its large bowl unmistakable from above.


Quiet, empty Rome

Rome is on vacation.  The traffic is light, the streets quieter.  Many shops are closed.  They post their vacation times on their doors.  Most places use the official form.  Each form has a letter ‘A,’ ‘B,’ or both.  ‘A’ means that they will be gone August 1-15, ‘B’ means August 16-31.   These forms are issued by the city government.   Many shops and restaurants must apply to the city before leaving for vacation; another line to stand in for shop owners, I bet.

We took long walks in the mornings.  The afternoons are too warm, registering 30-32 (86-89 F), and very humid at around 85%, but overall more comfortable than the past ten summers.    On the sixth we walked to see a section of the Roman aqueduct.   The roof of the channel for the water, on top of the aqueduct, is still intact in many places.  Along the wall people have built single family residences.   Many have gardens.  There are sections of Roman walls, some reaching thirty feet in height, in these gardens.  To me it seems quite a privilege to have an ancient wall in one’s back yard.   Maybe it’s old hat to these folks.

That evening we went to see Everyman, a morality play in English but we arrived just as they were finishing.  “Near the coliseum,” said the big, beautiful poster, but the play was staged 1/4 mile away.  It took us forty five minutes to find it.  The lack of clear or accurate directions is a frequent problem here even on posters that have been elaborately and not at all cheaply designed.


Peg writes:

We took the bus up to the Alban Hills yesterday to visit another of the 13 quaint, medieval towns on the south side of Rome.   This one features a Baroque Square, a beautiful viaduct built in 1854 that is 200 feet high and almost half a mile long, an immense palace built by the Chigi family [Pope Alexander VII, Bernini’s patron and the pope who finished St. Peter’s, was a Chigi]  and the famous roast suckling pig.  For lunch, we had a roast suckling pig sandwich, with olives.

Gary again:

And the views of the coast and coastal plain were beautiful.   They would be more beautiful if the coast was not always shrouded in mist, even in this bright sun.  It is generally cooler and breezier here than in Rome.

In the evening we attended a concert at San Ignacio, this time a chorus from Tampa.  They sang complex pieces, too muddy for this enormous place.


Stautary at the Villa Borghese

Cardinal Scipione Borghese built this magnificent palace, now a museum, around 1600.  It was designed by the Dutchman Jan van Santen.   During the Napoleonic era (1801-09), the French enriched the Louvre with more than 200 statues from the Villa.  The striking opulence of the building and the collection shows how great it could be in the church hierarchy in Scipione’s time.

The Villa contains magnificent ancient sculpture, originals and copies, reliefs, third century floor mosaics and  paintings from the middle ages through about the 18th century.   Most of the best pieces are on the top (main) floor.

Painters on display include Raphael (including the Deposition), Bernini, Lorenzo di Credi, Fra Bartolomeo, Durer, Domenichino’s Diana the Huntress, Carravaggio’s Madonna Dei Palafrenieri.  This last painting was commissioned for the Vatican but the figures were too realistic for that holy place.  Caravaggio also shows us David Showing Goliath’s Head, St. John the Baptist and St. Jerome.  Titian’s Sacred and Profane Love hangs here.

Bernini shows David slinging the stone at Goliath, a reminder to me of how long the Jews have been fighting to survive; perhaps Hitler was Goliath’s revenge.  Also in the collection are The Rape of Prosperina, Aeneas Carrying Anchises, and Truth.   The last sculpture he did before he died, a Jesus, is uncanny, so alive, so expressive, it just about made a believer out of me.   The Queen of Sweden wanted to buy it, but she could not afford it, and turned it down.  Bernini willed it to her upon his death.

Everywhere you turn in thei building Beauty invades your being, saturating you with its mighty but subtle rays.


The eclipse in Rome

The eclipse in Rome is on the order of 95%.   The sunlight is noticeable reduced but the effect is not as dramatic, of course, as you would find in the path of total coverage.   We watched television coverage (televisione or tee voo, as ‘t.v.’ is pronounced in Italian) with Speranza and her friend Elizabeth, also from Colombia.  Elizabeth is on her lunch break.  The Italian stations have sent cameras to English and Germany, and provide an excellent view of the sun’s eclipse which we watch on Speranza’s ‘tee voo’.   In the persistent lingering of mythopeic thinking, Muslims pray, because Mohammed did so during eclipses.  This was a good run up for those millions who believe that the year 2000 has an apocalyptic significance.  Jews, Muslims and others have entirely different years, of course, but this does not factor in the accounting for those enamored of the Christian calendar.


La Madonna del Divino Amore

To get to the sanctuary La Madonna del Divino Amore (Or Lady of Divine Love) is a local bus ride but you feel like you are far away from Rome.   The countryside is peaceful.  The sanctuary is perched on top of a hill with simple, but pretty views of the surroundings.  The small complex makes a delightful retreat center for the faithful.   In one of the halls there is an exhibition of images of Mary.   There must be 200 of them from all over Italy and the world.   Black Marys, oriental Mary’s, Mary in many poses, most of them the meek woman averting her eyes, submitting to God’s will.



Bracciano is a medieval town although it dates back much farther.   About forty miles north of Rome, it boasts an incredible castle owned privately by the Odescalschi family. All tours are guided.   The castle was built between 1100-1500 or so.   The oldest part is still standing.   In the 1400’s the additions by the Orsini family transformed it into a comfortable palace.  Now it has five towers.  One of the towers is from the 12th century castle, which still stands but incorporated into the later additions.  The fine views of Lake Bracciano and the surrounds alone make the visit worthwhile .   The Odescalschi family bought the property in 1695, and still pays taxes on it.  Two members of the family live on one of the lower levels.  The castle is in marvelous condition.  Kenneth Branagh’s Othello was filmed there.   The guide spoke in Italian, but later answered our questions in good English.

After the tour we walked down to the lake, about a mile and a half, on a steep dirt path.  We passed villas and gardens stuffed with tomatoes, figs and other fruits and vegetables.   To get to the lake, we entered the grounds of a summer club.   The club has a small beach, a cafe and a boat yard.   The boats include small sailing vessels, canoes and other small craft.  The vacationers lie on the beach, splash in the cool waters, chat with summer friends, and purchase meals and drinks which they consume on the terrace a few meters above the lake.  Sailboats and wind surfers here and there spot the lake.


Countryside inside Rome

The two mile walk through the Cafarelle Parks is a walk in the countryside.   However, we are in Rome, less than a mile from our apartment, entering the park off a side street extending from the ancient Via Latina.    This area contains uncultivated and cultivated fields, family gardens, tall reeds, and trash burned by the few families who live here.   Some live in beautiful villas surrounded by high walls, and the road there is paved.  These are nearer the main road, Appia Antica.  The houses farther in are more modest.  Some of the residents in the interior part have chickens.   We passed a man herding goats.

It’s less surprising to find yourself in the middle of an entirely rural area when you realize that Rome is surrounded by farms that supply the city with fresh fruits, vegetables, and grain, corn at least, since we have seen it growing in the nearby fields.  This is the only city of this size that I know of that makes you feel like you are eating fresh off the farm.  Suburban areas are mainly limited to the Alban hills to the south and similar small villages to the north.  On the west, coastal villages, largely vacant except in the summer months.   To the east many small towns dot the landscape, and on the east coast you face the sea.  From this coast you can get to Greece on ferries.



Ladispoli is a coastal town on the Tyrrenian Sea.   In this area the Etruscans built their empire, formed their pottery and fine jewelry, imported Greek pottery, built temples to the gods and provided the Romans with guides to the keeping the gods happy.    The town is a narrow strip.  The beach is black sand.  It is lined with bodies soaking up the sun.  Small boats are sitting on the sand, waiting for their owners to launch them onto the waters.  There are not many takers today, as the surf is rough.


Casina delle Civette

The Casina delle Civette is in the Liberty style.   ‘Liberty’ here means ‘art nouveau.’   The house-as-museum is most famous for its stained glass made 1908-1930, added 60 years after the house was built.   There are innumerable windows and doors with these Rene Mackintosh-like decorative glass (see the Scotland journal, July 1997 for more on Mackintosh).   Decorative owls appear throughout the building. The house has many roof peaks and arches.


An exhibition of Bernini’s works fills many rooms of the Palazio di Venizia.   There are sculptures, paintings, furniture, designs and models for many of Rome’s most famous and fabulous public places.   The building spree represented here was done under Pope Sixtus V.

A prolific and multi-talented man, Bernini began his career as a child under his father’s guidance.  His father Pietro (1562-1629) was also famous in his time, and worked in Rome for the Church.

I wish I could say more something more impressive about Bernini’s work.   It’s way beyond me to do so.



The morning was turned over to another Michelin Guide walk, this one labelled “Montecitorio.”  This takes us near the Pantheon, the Piazza Navona and again to the Fiume Tevere (Tiber River).   This section once housed enormous tombs and the funeral pyres of the Roman Imperial families.  There were theaters, amphitheaters, and sports facilities.   Pope Sixtus IV (1471-84) renewed the district to impress pilgrims on the way to the Vatican.

The Piazza di Montecitorio has an Egyptian obelisk from the 6th century BCE.   Augustus had it brought to Rome around the time of Christ, while Pius VI is responsible for its current resurrection (1792).    It once served as the pointer for a gigantic solar clock.

The Palazzo di Montecitorio (1650-97) is yet another Bernini project. It is home to the Chamber of Deputies of the national government, which convened here starting in 1870.   Some windows have roughly hewn ledges, giving a cave-like appearance to the opening.   The building is slightly convex, making it look bigger than it is, though it’s big enough.  Since everyone is on vacation, the plaza is empty, the guards relaxed looking, and the nearby cafes either closed or nearly empty.  A major newspaper is housed nearby, allowing convenient coverage of daily events.

The Piazza Colonna, near the Palazzo di Montecitorio, would normally be crowded.   It is being renovated and the workers are busy today.   The Piazza sports a carved column conveying, like the Trajan column, the exploits of an Emperor, in this case, Marcus Aurellius (161-80).   He warred on the Danube, and died there of the plague.   You can see the scenes better than on Trajan’s column, as they are bigger and in higher relief.  Sixtus V replaced the statue of the emperor with Paul in 1589.

The Torre della Scimmia (Monkey Tower) was named as a result of the exploits of a devious monkey.  Said monkey took the family’s young baby to the roof.   The father prayed to Mary, and then called the monkey to him.   I imagine Mary said, “Hey!  You over there.  Try calling the monkey, you idiot.”  Ok, maybe not the idiot part, but you must admit, it is an idiotic story, but such were the times and the beliefs of men, to which we are all still subject.   The monkey came down with the baby intact.   A lamp still burns on the roof commemorating the event, and an image of the Virgin who looks out for all babies carried to rooftops by monkeys.

Full of gold and marble, and stuffed with paintings, Sant’Antonio dei Portoghesi (St. Anthony of the Portuguese) is yet another of an astounding number of stunning churches of museum-like quality.   The facade is Rococo, the complex baroque decorative style.   Down the road and round the bend a bit is the Bear Inn.   Buildings in this area were mostly inns from about 1400-1600.   Bear Inn is still open for business, just a few yards from the walls of the Tevere (Tiber), whose sluggish waters pass far below.

Sant’Agosto, the famous Saint Augustine who dwelled in North African, has a church dedicated to him in this area.  It was built in late 1400’s.  It has a rose window, not common in Rome, though they are everywhere in France.   The interior was redone in 1760 and additions made in the 19th century.   The “Madonna del Parto,” sculpted by Sansovino in 1521, graces the entrance, despite being surrounded by burning candles.   A fresco by Raphael is also here, this one of the Prophet Isaiah.    A Caravaggio, the Madonna of the Pilgrims (1605), is marvelously executed, although Mary does not have the usual humble look.   She is looking at a worshiper on his knees, and seems to be saying, “Ok, enough of that.  Just call the monkey down.  Geez.”

Santa Maria Maddalena, the 12,000th church I would have seen here in Rome, was on this walk, but we did not get to it.


Everyman, the morality play

“Everyman” is a medieval morality play.  He is visited by the Grim Reaper, then sets about getting his life in order.  Fellowship, Strength, Knowledge, Riches and everything else abandon him and he is left only with Good Deeds to stand with him as he meets his fate.   This thirty minute play is performed predominantly in medieval English with the Roman Forum as a backdrop.  The actors are local native English speakers, except the Iranian.   Peg talks to Everyman afterwards and gets the name of the woman who heads the production of local English language theater.   Another of the actors is Australian and participated in a three year theater cruise of the Mediterranean.   The troupe outfitted a rust encrusted boat to carry them to many ports, where they performed mime and other language free acts.


Music under the stars

Guitars and mandolins skillfully perform in the piazza in front of the Basilica Santa Maria di Trastevere, dating from the year 217.   The campanile strikes every 15 minutes as it has since the 12th century.   The crowd murmurs as crowds have since crowds began to form.   All this passes below the holy family mosaics, whose figures gaze down as they have for the past 1000 years, like one would from a height overlooking a river.  To the holy family, We are like tiny boats passing never to be seen again onto the vast seas.   But no matter.  More boats shall come along, and they too shall be the object of the mosaics’ passing scrutiny.

Rome returns

The streets of Rome are busier as the Romans begin returning from vacation.   More cars.  The buses are filling as not only tourists ply the bi-ways.   Parking is no longer easily obtained.   More shops and restaurants are opening.   Pietro’s Trattoria and Pizzeria, near our apartment, opened when they said they would, but were not ready for business until the next day.   Romans are not quite ready to be back.

We saw two accidents today, one involving a motorino (scooter) which probably had been crazily careening between cars and buses.    The motorino was on the ground, its plastic windshield fractured, the driver already on his way to the hospital, the police collecting witness reports.  On the major highways leading to Rome, the carnage will peak as speeding drivers ignore the substandard signs that the highway department places to control the bedlam.   Everyone here seems to envisage himself or herself, especially the himselves, as A race car driver; authorities say that excessive speed is the major cause of accidents.  They not only travel well above the speed limits, they tailgate and weave like Mario Andretti.

Workers are making notable progress on the streets, buildings and monuments.   Scaffolding is coming down at a frenzied pace.   Streets are paved with macadam or laid with black stones day and night.  Rome will be gleaming as it has not for many years.  The fifth largest economy in the world is cranking away.

New discoveries at the Forum

At the imperial forums, archeologists continue to unearth new finds. These most recent discoveries were last exposed 1200 years ago but lost to history.   This summer they found:  1)  a courtyard they never expected; 2)a paleo-Christian church; 3) the base of the famous equestrian statue of Trajan, but the statue has not been found.   Also they found: 4) an entire medieval quarter; 5) an oblong hall with three vestibules, not yet understood.

Trajan’s Forum was intact until the 8th century.   Removal of its materials began to be were removed for use elsewhere.   From the 9th through the 11th century a new quarter was built.   Within it are traces of the vanished church, San Urbano.

In the works is a plan to restrict traffic on Via dei Fori Imperiali, built under Mussolini, running right through the forums and past the Coliseo.   It will be narrowed, and much of it will be a pedestrian zone.   They will allow only public transport on the boulevard.   The forums will be linked by an underground passage, which in the 17th century served as a drain for water.   This is due for completion in early autumn, whose coming time we can feel in the now sometimes chilly, breezy mornings.   There are new, large boards briefly explaining the sites to visitors.   The translations are excellent, much better and more detailed than those there previously.


Another visit to Caferelli Park

Around 8 a.m. we entered Caferelli Park from Appia Antica, near the Porta Latina.  This port and the connecting walls will later become a favorite spot for me to draw.

We came across a house in a valley set against a hill.   It looks quite old.  An old woman was burning trash in the front yard.   Peg, in her best Italian, asked her how old the house was.   The woman said it was older than Rome.   Another woman, whom Peg said was apparently a gypsy, said ‘500.’   They often leave off the 1000’s so this meant that the house was built in the 1500’s.  That’s seems entirely possible.  It looks run down and it seems that these people are living as if they were in the 1500’s.

Malta 8/1999




Arturo, my host, kindly drove me to Pozallo to catch the ferry.  The agency that sold me the ticket told me to go to the office in town.  It took a bit of convincing to get Arturo to drive there instead of directly to the port.  Once there he treated me to driving the wrong way on one lane alleys and running stop signs.  Only because the driver of a large truck was paying attention did I avoid being severely injured.

Harbor in Valeta
The harbor in Valetta, Malta

For reasons I never learned, VirtuFerries took passengers to the port from their office, rather than having passengers go directly to the port.   Maybe this applied only to people taking the package tour.   About ten people were waiting in the van, placed for maximum discomfort in the hot sun.  The driver did whatever drivers do in Italy when they could be transporting people.   I did not want to wait in the sun, so I stood about fifteen yards away.  He pulled away without me.   I pounced on him before he got away.   He said he’d be right back, saying “Dopo, dopo.”   (After, after.)  While I waited I enjoyed the splendid, shaded view of the port and the Mediterranean splayed to all points south.  He returned ten minutes later and transported just me to the port.   I guess Italians are worried about getting left behind, or maybe they just like the feeling of being crushed and roasted; there must be a reason why they all sat there, squeezed together, sweating in the sun.

After a passport check, I boarded the catamaran, which departed at the time scheduled.  Seating is airplane style.   There are seat belts only for the passengers in the front row.   You cannot go outside.  Fortunately the cabin is air conditioned, and the a.c. is strong enough to keep you cool.   The windows became fogged and splashed by the sea as we got underway, limiting visibility and pushing me toward seasickness.   I managed to see just enough of the horizon to avoid becoming ill.   In the past I have found going by slow ferry to be much more enjoyable.    You can go outside for fresh air, there is more room to walk around, you can visit the bar, and the like, but the ferry takes twice as long.   Of course, you can get seasick on a ferry.   I did once, despite seeing the horizon, on the route from Scotland to Ireland.  The waves were huge, and we were free falling between them.


As we enter the port you can see portions of the harbor in Valetta, Malta’s capital. Many historical figures, from Ulysses to St. Paul to Napoleon, have enjoyed this view.

After clearing customs, we got on the tour bus.   There were two buses and I was told to get on the bus for the tour in English.  However, most of the tourists were Italians, and only two were Americans besides me, and they spoke Italian, so the guide dropped English after about twenty minutes.   The bus dropped us off outside the old town, a pedestrian only area.   Local passengers boarded very brightly painted buses, of 1950-early 60’s vintage.   Some of them (the buses, not the passengers) have tail fins that look like 1959 Chevrolets!
Many Maltese, our guide explained, speak English but most of the time they speak Maltese.  The language came from the Phoenician, with significant Italian (she said ‘Latin’) and Arabic influence.   All the street and shop signs are in English, and they drive on the left like the in the U.K.   The population is mostly Catholic.

St. John’s Cathedral (1573) is the major architectural attraction.   It is in the Baroque style.  Every inch of the interior walls is intricately carved, except where there are paintings or emblems.  The floor is marble.  The museum has two excellent Caravaggio’s, but I did not have time to go in.

We walked through the narrow old street to a fine vista of the harbor and surrounding countryside.  The harbor opens directly onto the sea.  The basin is large and is easily navigated.  Large ships and buildings dominate part of the harbor, but the overall beauty has not been destroyed.

It is in part for this and the other harbors (two in Valetta alone) that the British defended Malta, then a British colony, so vigorously in WWII.   Also, Malta’s location between the coast of North Africa and Sicily made it strategically important, allowing a base for attacking ships attempting the passage through the Mediterranean.  Malta became independent after the war.  It remained in the Commonwealth until the 1960’s or 1970’s.


On the way to Mdina (meaning ‘Fortified City’ in Arabic), the guide told us that the local building stone is calciferous and easy to work.   The temperature can reach 40c (100F) in the summer.   It can be rainy in the winter, with temperatures of about 10C (45F).   Prices for hotels plummet in the winter.   She told me that I could rent an apartment in the winter for about $75 a month.  I asked her twice to see if I heard right.  I still don’t believe it.  The Maltese make a liquor from prickly pears, which are abundant and now nearly ready to pick.

We stopped for lunch in the countryside between Valetta and Mdina.   They served buffet style.  The food was Italian.  The choices included an excellent antipasto selection, veggies (including broccoli with big, white beans), fish and beef.  Everything was very good, especially considering how inexpensive the tour is.  I sat across from a young couple from Palermo who spoke no English.  They were not very talkative.  I asked them the names of things and they responded but never initiated any conversation.   I asked if unemployment was high in Palermo.   She said officially yes, about 15% I recall her answer being, but many of them were working under the table.

After lunch we completed the short trip to Mdina.   Mdina has a beautiful stone main gate.   Walls encircle the city of 50,000.   I felt like I was about to enter a village in the Holy Land.   Mdina is made entirely of stone, a beige, ok, a khaki color, which is altogether harmonious with the desert-like landscape.   The town is full of balconies, for which the Arabs are well known.   The cathedral is well worth a visit.   The marble floors have chiaroscuro portraits, or other topics, made from marble, and then inset. These are skillfully done and not commonly seen.

The afternoon has quickly passed.  There is much that we have not seen on Malta, and the other five islands have not even had a mention.   Onto the catamaran, and one final view of the beautiful harbor before spray covers the windows and nausea returns to haunt.

late 1950's vintage buses
Late 1950’s vintage buses


Sicliy, Part 2 July 1999

Figs everywhere, and all to eat.

General observations

Sicily, cont’d

“They [the Sicilians] built as if they would live forever, and ate as if they would die tomorrow.”



To Pozzallo, another of the beach towns reached by driving through the khaki countryside in the khaki Renault.  This road, like most in the area, is barely two small vehicles in width.   The road is squeezed between stone walls, rounded at the top, finely

chiseled by hand from the area’s quarried stones, built without mortar.   These walls delineate not only the roads but the fields as

well.  With a fine, long view you can see these walls climb up hills, straight as an arrow and over the top.

The fields are filled with olive trees, vineyards and orchards.   Peaches, apricots, figs, black pepper trees (one just outside the gate

to the villa), and ‘fichi d’India’ (literally ‘figs of India’, ‘prickly pear’ in English), beans, wheat.  My Sicilian grandfather, Giuseppe, extolled the virtues of the prickly pear.   The big cactus grows everywhere in this area. I guess that they are very good when

ripe.  I have never had a good one.   They are not yet ripe here but will be soon.

The beach is typical of those in the area.   The sand is white, the waves gentle most of the time, and there is plenty of room.  Most of the coast in this area is perfect for swimming.  There are many secluded spots and there is lots of fresh air.   I have not seen a life guard, nor any warnings about undertow.   People of all ages come to the beaches, often whole families from babies to grandparents.  Some of them own beach houses in the tiny beach towns.   They use them for a month or so and the rest of the year they are vacant.  They come back year after year to the same town, same beaches, same next door neighbors, same surf, same food, same khaki, desert landscape.   Nonetheless, the young teenagers enjoy meeting old friends, making new ones, experimenting with romance.  This experimentation is often conducted on the beach, on the benches, in the cars, for all to see.

Pozallo has a port and a marina.  From the former a catamaran takes passengers only to Malta in about and hour and a half.  A ferry also makes the run, in three and one half hours.  We drove to see the port, but you cannot get close as this is an immigration check point and access to the boat quay is only for ticketed customers.   The pleasure port is next door.   Large and humble boats share the quiet waters.   We ask at the harbor master’s for a price list, but he is gone and no one knows where anything is.

To get back to Modica, we took route 194, which takes us to Modica in half the time the local roads take.  Route 194 crosses Modica Bassa on a trestle that towers above the canyon, affording a spectacular view of the town.


Figs everywhere, and all to eat.

You do not getting much exercise living here.   I feel like we are back in the U.S., obliged to use the car, nor our legs, to go everywhere.  However, we got some exercise today climbing the steps to the baroque San Giorgio in Modica Bassa.  The vertical lift is approximately 50 meters (150 feet).  It looks immensely tall from down below.

Afterwards we drove out of the lower part of town to the cliff overlooking Modica Bassa to take pictures.  As we were about to leave,  I dropped my sunglasses over the side.  Fortunately I could climb over the wall and push my way through some branches to where the glasses landed.  This is when we noticed that the tree was a fig tree and it was bearing black figs.   We tried one and it was delicious.   We picked all the ones we could reach and shared them with our hosts for desert.  Over the next week we stopped several times to pick figs from fig trees growing free on the roadside.

Later Diana sautéed some small fish.  We ate outside, just beyond the kitchen.   The moon was bright, a few stars were out, and the evening breeze made everyone comfortable.

On the 29th it was breaded veal and excellently prepared and home cooked fries for lunch.  She said the veal was ‘alla Palermitana,’ I think I have that spelled right.   It means ‘Palermo style.’  For dinner we ate steamed veggies, at our request.    There is lots of fresh mozzarella in the diet, and Parmesan, eaten whole as well as grated.

The weather continues to surprise.  The morning sun is bright and hot, but we feel cool in the shade.    Late in the afternoon the temperature reaches about 32 C (90 F).   Evenings cool to about 22 (72F).   Most nights we sleep with the windows closed and the ceiling fan on.  If you don’t close the windows, a mosquito will surely wake you.  We have

had one living with us since we got here.   His name is Adolph.  I bought him a collar but he won’t wear it.

General observations

There are few street markets, but fruit and vegetable stands dot the area.   A large melon is in season.  It appears to be a kind of honeydew.  Watermelons, peaches, apricot and plums are also in.

Because Diana speaks little English, our Italian is progressing.   She is patient, pronounces clearly, and speaks standard Italian.   She insists on having no help at mealtime.   We put an end to that.  I made a pizza, Peg made some stuffed zucchini, on the 28th I made stuffed shells.

Cozze (mussels) and vongole (clams) are in.   They are local, very fresh and inexpensive (L5000, $2.50 per kilo).   We bought them at an outdoor fish market in Donnalucatta, another beach town.  I made paella with some of each.  Diana told me that you have to soak the clams in fresh water for about three hours so they expel the sand.    Salt water shell fish die in fresh water, I was taught, but these didn’t.   I added salt but I have no idea if that helped.   Diana went

to get saffron for the paella.  I was ready for it by the time she got back, but she could not find any.   You can substitute paprika, but there wasn’t any in the house and it was too late to go get some.  She told me to use curry instead.  She had some.  I had no clue what this was going to taste like.  To my surprise it was very good.  Arturo

said if I wanted to cook like this, we could stay as long as we wanted.   When Diane prepared mussels one afternoon, she used a little tomato, garlic, and olive oil to make the broth, which was good enough to drink!

During our visit, we bought white wine from the gigantic metal containers (red is in barrels) at the wine store close by, L2000 per liter.

There is no sign I can perceive of organized crime in the area, but corruption and cheating the government is a problem.   Arturo pointed out several large, incomplete houses.   The owners were caught building without a permit and were not following code by using substandard concrete.  They could not pay the fine so they abandoned the project.

More commonly you bribe the official to look the other way.   Some of these officials must be so busy looking the other way they can’t see anywhere at all.  This problem is not confined to Sicily, and is not particularly worse than in other parts of Italy.  But it is certainly worse than in most if not all other parts of the European Union.

The towns in the area are extremely clean.  Rome is not bad for a big city, but you could eat off the streets here.

The tourist bureau produces a food and wine guide for the province of Ragusa.   It tells us that Epicarno Siracusano (485 B.C.) was the first to write about gastronomy.  ‘Epicarno’ sounds like ‘epicurean’ but I do not have a dictionary to check the etymology.   Another Siracusano, Terpsione 380 B.C.E., had a cooking school.   Archestrato 320 B.C.E. is

famous for his recipes, some still in use today.   The Sicilians were famous among the Greeks for the cuisine, and of the citizens of Agrigento, the Greeks said,   “They built as if they would live forever, and ate as if they would die tomorrow.” (Agrigento has many fabulous remains of ancient Greek temples.”   This is not to be missed!   We went there five years ago).

In Sicily in the ninth century rice was cultivated for the first time in Europe.   Vermicelli was invented in Trabia around 1150, macaroni around 1250.   Sicilian Procopio de Coltelli invented sorbet, the forerunner to ice cream (no date given).

Each conqueror gave something to the cuisine.   I bet canoli came from the Arabs, along with most anything else made with almonds.  From the Spanish, paella, the Greeks many things but surely the olives and perhaps some eggplant preparations, the Americans, the mighty burger; even here McDonalds flips away.  From whence came the Almighty Pizza, the tourist bureau dares not say.   Kollura (Greek) was a bread offering to the gods, now called cuddura, apparently a bread shaped like a doll; the French ‘glacer’ became “agglassato,” a boned, stuffed meat roll.  The Arabic “quas’at” became the sweet ricotta ‘cassata,’   which the Michelin  says is an ice cream cake.

I have never seen so many ice cream cakes in my life as I have in this area.   In many cafes they are on display in glass?door freezer cases.   They are beautiful.  We had a piece.  It was fabulous.   Speaking of cream, they are not bashful about adding huge dollops to cappuccino or ice cream; cream mountains clutter the cafes.

Despite all this wonderful food, the people are not fat.   The young women have invariably stunning figures, and their middle age moms hold their own;  I wish some of them would ask me for a little help.  There are the plump ones, men and women, of course, but obviously they don’t each tons of the incredible variety of calorie rich food served everywhere.

The area also boasts significant wine production and is planning road trails so you can see, perhaps visit the wineries.

Our hosts go for coffee every morning.  I don’t think they ever made coffee at home.   Often Diana would have a granita mandorle, an almond flavored drink blended with crushed ice.  She said it is too hot to drink coffee in the summer.  This is such a common practice that many people double park in front of cafes to go in for a coffee.   They are usually done in less than five minutes.

On Monday the first, I head to Malta alone for the day.   The trip costs L130,000 round trip, about $72.   However, for L20,000 ($11) more you get a guided tour and lunch.  I went for the full monty.