Tuesday, July 31, 2007

I'll try not to schmooze all over things!

Avery tagged with an award and I don't know what to say except, thank you. Thank you very much. I haven't won anything since that 5 foot long pencil from a box of Honeycomb cereal way back. No, the pencil wasn't in the box but I sent away the certificate and sure enough a few weeks later a giant pencil arrived at the house. Lori, don't even say that pencil was yours. It was mine. Where is it now anyway? In the parent's basement if Dad didn't throw it away.
So this award is because: “As it goes, schmoozing is the natural ability 'to converse casually, especially in order to gain an advantage or make a social connection. Good schmoozers effortlessly weave their way in and out of the blogosphere, leaving friendly trails and smiles, happily making new friends along the way.' "
I have the power to schmooze but I promise to use it only for good and only when attacked never in offense or to be offensive. I must have gained this power because I've been in Italy for 4 years now. That's right I'm getting ready to celebrate 4 years at the end of August. That's a story in itself. I moved to Italy in August of 2003. Man, I was really clueless back then!

I'm supposed to nominate 5 others but I only follow about 5 other blogs and I think they have the award from someone else. So Avery thanks again for this honor.
Here is that photo of the Fiat 500 convertible I mentioned way back.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Music to Soothe the Soul

I thought I would do a completely random post in an attempt to take my mind off of the intense heat and wildfires ravaging Puglia right now. Some time ago there was a meme going around asking what 7 songs could you not live without, or something like that. I can't remember. My picks may seem rather arbitrary but nonetheless I like these songs and they all have a certain mood that goes along with them, so here they are in no particular order.

1. All Right – Toad the Wet Sprocket
I love Toad the Wet Sprocket and the albums Fear and Dulcinea are the best to me. This particular song is from “In Light Syrup” and it’s just so smooth and builds up as it goes. Then at the end when he sings “And these ladders, rising endlessly, leading, no where I can see…” It makes you ponder the future.

2. These are the Days – 10,000 Maniacs (unplugged version)
When you get that feeling that everything today is screwed up.

3. Sunrise – Nora Jones
A great song for relaxing on a rainy Sunday morning while reading the paper with a good caffe...Rain, what's that?

4. Minutes to Memories – John Cougar Mellencamp
There is something about this song that can bring me to the edge of tears (but I’m a man so I don’t cry). This is just a great song about a father giving advice to his son. Even if it is as simple as, “Suck it up and tough it out, be the best you can.” Maybe it’s a midwestern thing…

5. Graceland – Paul Simon
Paul Simon himself says that this is one of his best songs, which is high praise and it’s a great driving song.

6. Mambo Swing – Big Bad Voodoo Daddy.
I know I can’t dance but if I could it would be crazy, wild, throwin the girl around, swing.

7. Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia) – Us3.
Something a little different. Give me more, of that funky horn!

Whatta think? Has the sun fried my brain?
P.S. The photo was taken by Kent. Repeat photo by Kent (although I wouldn't have got the lamppost in the way, but I still love it)

Monday, July 23, 2007

Book review: Imperium

Here’s my first blog book review. I officially give a thumbs up to Robert Harris’s Imperium and I’m not really fan of fiction. I love great non-fiction stories like some of books by Bill Bryson. I love his book Neither Her nor There. Although, Imperium isn’t really fiction because it’s “based on true events”. It was so good that it sent me off researching the life of Cicero and to see what Mr. Harris made up and what was true. I was amazed at how much was true. I guess in history class you just don’t have enough time to explore characters like Cicero in depth. The book only covers the first part of Cicero’s incredible life as great lawyer and politician in Rome so I assume Mr. Harris is working on the sequel. The second part would be even more entertaining from what I’ve learned. See my sister’s blog for a photo of Nello reading about Cicero. Nello has yet to give his verdict on the book. How can you not like that photo?

It was incredibly hot this weekend so beach time was needed on Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday I saw yet another octopus and this time I got it on video. It’s on my Youtube site here. Yes. I realize my underwater video skills need help but you trying swimming with one arm and holding a camera steady in the other. If I wore my flippers then my feet could do all the work but they’re too heavy to lug out to the beach. Maybe I should just go all out and do some real diving? On Sunday I also saw this fish for the first time. I have at least 5 or 6 photos of nothing before I got lucky and managed to get a good side view. Before this summer is over I’ll have documented all the fish species in Adriatic!

One of the events that did NOT warrant my time was the FIAT 500 car rally Sunday morning. I pretty much missed it because it was on Sunday morning, but what I did see did not live up to the hype. I pulled myself out of bed at 11:00 AM for a couple of cars and most weren't FIAT 500s! I think I got one good picture of a convertible FIAT 500.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Back to the trail

I never did tell you about the rest of our hike. We hiked for 2 hours uphill in the deep dark forest to come to an area where the trees suddenly ended and we had great views in all directions. Lori had the right idea and settled down in this field (you may have to open the picture to see her in the photo below). She just relaxed and took in the views while Kent and I ran around snapping pictures. The only sound was the wind and the dull clacking of cow bells echoing from the valley below.

This is the spring we found and it was soooo good and just when we needed it. We could have made it back with the water we had but this made the return much nicer.

We didn't see much wildlife but I did get this shot of butterfly.

This is the last photo I took before we entered into the woods again and headed back to civilization. We were just up there!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

FIAT 500 photo

I need your help. I love this photo I took of an old FIAT 500 in Ostuni (can you see why Ostuni is called "The White City"). Recently I started modifying it with different effects. You know making in black and white or charcoal or sepia. It seems to me that this photo is just begging you to play with it.
So I'm inviting you out there in cyberspace to take this photo and show me some creative ways to modify it. Maybe add some color to it or even people. I don't know. Then email it to me if you want. Maybe I should make a prize for the best modification?
This Sunday in Brindisi they're having a "raduno" of FIAT 500s in honor of the 50th birthday of the production of this car. They say there will be over 200 cars doing a little tour through town and all the years of production will be on display. I can't wait to get photos of this event. I'm even scoping out places to photograph from. I just hope I don't sleep in and miss it!! Why Sunday morning??

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Out of chaos comes order....

Back to happy posts. My sister has already used some of my better underwater photos here! But she didn't use this one. You can see his eyes watching me and sizing up the situation. I was amazed when we found this polipo so far from the really rocky area. Maybe that's why I haven't caught one out in the open yet.

This next guy however doesn't look to clever. He has a goofy mouth for a fish.

Hey, I see my sister is blogging about our trip to the mountains now. I better get to work and they better not put up that photo of me being chased by a cow.

Monday, July 16, 2007

It's MADNESS! I tell you!

There’s madness everywhere right now. Who comes up with some of the crap I’m writing about today???
Here in Brindisi something that’s maddening to me is the fact that there is a plan to drag up tons of sand from a beach just outside the park where I go and then deposit this sand down by Lecce. I guess the good news is that they aren’t taking it from the park. The thing that really gets me is that you can’t beat Mother Nature. If the beach down there is losing sand then this isn’t going to do anything except give them a place to play for a few months. Next year they will need more sand and the cycle will go on forever. So there is a protest today to try to stop this waste of time, energy, and destruction of the environment for some idiots. Legambiente has already come out and said that this move is technically and ethnically unacceptable. I think only someone with a lot of money thinks it’s a good idea.
Speaking of technically and ethnically unacceptable (and money), on the other side of the ocean I’m getting screwed by a different kind of madness. The biggest news story in Indianapolis is what happened to property taxes this year. Indiana has reassessed property values and raised property taxes at the same time. Doesn’t that sound like a good idea? People in Marion County, where my house is, “are feeling more of the tax burden” to quote the politicians, “are getting screwed more than ever” to quote me. The property taxes almost doubled on my house and there are others where the increase was more than double their current taxes! Now NO ONE has come out to look at buying the house. Me selling my house is nothing compared to the rumors of people on fixed incomes loosing their houses. The housing market that already wasn’t doing too well is getting an extra kick while it’s down. There are even protests going on in Indianapolis to try to get the property taxes lowered and that’s something because Americans don’t go protesting as easy as Italians. Property values are going down, taxes going up. I really, really picked the wrong time to try to sell my house. I guess the good news is that the house may still be waiting for me by the time I get back. I always liked that house.
So in Italy people are trying to steal the beach and in the USA politicians are stealing my money. Not a good Monday. Therefore in the middle of this madness post I thought this would be a good time to use the photo of the worst mime in the world. I swear this guy is talking every time I go by and he’s always out. He does the same stupid 10 second routine of bowing and waving his hands around every time someone gives him change. It’s madness!

Friday, July 13, 2007

Travelling on...

One of the beauties of travelling without a set schedule is that you can change ideas quickly. With the lake boring and sad we moved on. I didn't real have a destination in mind until I saw Terranova di Pollino on the map. It's position as a town at the end of the winding mountain road well inside the park seemed like a good place to be to start a hike. We would find out later the road continues but there's a good reason it's not on the map. So Terranova was agreed on as the place to stop for the night, if we could find a place to sleep. We arrived in town and actually were very lucky to find one of the two hotels they have, the Hotel Picchio Nero. Hey it's good enough for Robert MacNamara and Whoopi Goldberg so we thought it was good enough for us. We dumped our stuff and headed into the town. It was late afternoon and the town just starting to stir again. I've grown very attached to watching Italian towns come back to life after the afternoon siesta. Watching the shudders roll back and clerks put out their little displays or potted plants outside the doors. Tables and chairs appearing on what was once a barren piazza. I need a caffe just thinking about it.

I took this photo of the center of town because I loved the "Bar 007". Lori liked the roundabout.
The sun was going down and we were getting hungry fast so we headed back to the hotel. Lucky for us the hotel owner is some kind of master chef because he whipped up a dinner fit for kings. I can't believe I didn't get picture of pasta dish. It was homemade spinach pasta (green) with local type of ricotta (white) and secret tomato sauce (red), so Italian! The only thing is that I found out that I don't like truffles. I'm sorry but there is just something about the taste that I don't like. I made sure he didn't see me scrape the finely grated truffle from the top of second dish.
I woke up early the next morning because people in these parts get up at the crack of dawn (that's around 5:30 AM) and then proceed to a beat big steel fender back into shape with a huge hammer. That's what it sounded like to me. After breakfast the hotel owner highlighted on the map exactly where we should go. I loved it because it involved driving down a road that doesn't exist on normal maps (we bought a local topographical map) and then starting our hike from there. He frowned as he had to give us an "easy" hike because we didn't have proper hiking boots.
Kent took this photo of Terranova as we said goodbye to the town on the street with no name. He used my camera because he's in love with my lens that goes down to 18mm. It lets him get in the sky and give the photo depth. Meanwhile, I was watching the road because it was in many wonderful states neglect. I think my Alfa Romeo has done more offroading than any 99% of the SUVs in the States. So it was huge surprise when we arrived at the trail head and the place was packed. I forgot it was Sunday and there were tons of families up there having picnics. We went straight to the trial and the noise quickly died off until we were alone with the only the shuffling of our own feet and the random buzz of a fly or mosquito harassing us. I took this photo of a typical trail scene.

The next part will be photos from near the top where the forest opened up to some nice views....

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Lake fun in Southern Italy!

What do you do for fun in the Midwest in the summer? You go boating on a lake or river. Hell yeah. That’s good fun. Well there are no lakes and rivers in Puglia but we (Lori, Kent, and I) saw one not far away in Basilicata called Lago di Monte Cotugno. Our midwestern mentality says, “Let’s go there!” and “There are mountains near by, bonus!” We took off relatively early, ok it was around 11:30 AM, Saturday and drove towards Taranto. From there we followed the signs towards Reggio Calabria but thankfully we weren’t going nearly that far. The drive along "the arch" is nice at times when you can see the Ionian Sea. In fact, it was so nice that we missed our turn inland. A short detour was required but we were soon back on track to visit the unique lake, which is on the very northern edge of the Parco Nazionale di Pollino. As we approached, the dam was the first thing we saw and it’s an impressive dam, which was a dam good sign. I had to get one dam joke in there. We later found out it’s one of the biggest packed earth dams in Europe. After that view, things went downhill fast. The pictures show more than what I can write. The water was strange milky blue-green color and there was absolutely nothing built “on the water”. Not a single house, dock, boat ramp, restaurant, nothing. In fact all we found were old stone houses in the water and a washed out road complete with a bridge that went nowhere.

With the scenery here sad and dead we decided to head for the mountains. Surely that wouldn’t disappoint?

Doesn't look like much fun here.

What's Gimli's line from Lord of the Rings, "You could find more joy in a graveyard." In the lake's defense, it's a very important source of water for Taranto and Brindisi. It wasn't made for having fun!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Did they have to go?

Well Lori and Kent are gone. I guess they had to go. Now things will get back to normal. How am I going to go back to the way it was? Lori was cooking up some great dinners and then Kent did the dishes. I was spoiled and now I have to go back to raiding dumpsters for scraps of food or cooking for myself. Anyway, I guess I’ll have the memories and a lot of photos. There’s always good news so with them gone I can post more here and catch up other blogs that I haven’t had time to read. Also I have Kent’s photos to use. Kent is great at going up to complete strangers and getting their photos like the one below. I just can’t bring myself to do it. I always feel like I’m being a pest but almost everyone he photos enjoys it.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Can I sum up Lori and Kent's visit quickly?

Let's see... It was everything from earthshaking to mountain climbing to chillin’ at the beach. I do mean literally earth-shaking because we were all in the same room when Kent said, “Did you feel that?” I thought it was just me until his comment. We all agreed that the chair or bed felt “wobbly” for short time. We checked out an earthquake website and sure enough there was a small shudder centered near Corfu (5.5 on the Rictor Scale). We filled out an online report to document the experience.
Mountain Climbing: As I mentioned in the other blog one of the really cool things we did was to go down to the Basilicata-Calabria border to visit the Parco Nazionale di Pollino. I loved our hike and now I understand a few Italian things more clearly. One is the love for mountain spring water. We found a spring of cold refreshing wonderful water that came out of the ground at about 2000 meters above sea level. That’s amazing considering the highest point around us was 2200 meters. Also in the park we saw cows grazing around freely. Its no wonder Italians are so proud of their cheese. The biggest problem for these cows was annoying hikers between them and their spring water. Pesticides, hormones, stalls, no way! They were living “La Dolce Vita” of the cow world. Then when we hit the summit we were treated to some beautiful vistas from a place called “La Grande Porta di Monte Pollino”. Kent and I even got close enough to a several hundred-foot cliff to get my fear of falling going (it’s not the height that’s bad, it’s the fall!).

Chillin' out: Then on the other end of the spectrum, we spent several days chillin’ at the beach. The first day was by far the best. Calm seas, nearly empty beach, and on the last snorkel of the day Lori and I saw my first real octopus. I say “real” because it was the first time I caught one out moving about. Usually they dart into a hole and hide and then all you see is a little part, usually an eye peering back at you from the hole. If you want to eat them you just stick your hand in, or use a stick, and pull it out. I wanted a photograph without torturing the animal to death! This particular octopus was in the perfect position to get photos without harassment. It was funny because every time I swam down too close to him he would change to white and puff up to scare me off. I gave him his space (I’m not Jeff Corwin after all) but I knew that later I would wish I tried a few more photos. Video, I should have made a video! I always forget! The other days were a little windy and not good for underwater photography or snorkelling. However, the wind couldn’t stop us from throwing the Frisbee and I can honestly say in 3 days at the beach not one innocent bystander was maimed, knocked out, or even hit. Hey we’re professionals. Other sporting news on the beach is that Kent is starting to become a legend in Bocce. I knew he would have the touch necessary for the game but wisely Marco and Gianluca didn’t allow him to warm up so Kent and I lost our first match. Later when Kent matched up with Gianluca they beat the pants off of people. Kent was pretty consistent while Gianluca was just plain lucky! Admit it Gianluca!

Other sights, sounds, and tastes we took in… We had a great lunch with my Uncle Joe, Ruth and the Girls at the Penny Restaurant. I have to thank Ugo’s uncle for staying open to accommodate us. For taste buds there was also the Sagra del Pesce at Porto Cesareo. The biggest sagra I have been to with the least amount of food! The fish was good but I want more variety at THE Sagra del Pesce. Throw in a visit to Gallipoli, Polignano a Mare, and Monopoli and I think it was a pretty complete trip. We had thought about a ferry to Greece or Albanian but with Lori and Kent we always seem to have plenty to do in this area.
See Lori and Kent’s blog for other photos and stories. If our stories don’t match up then I’m pretty sure I’m right and they’re wrong. I’ll try not to duplicate photos but I see my sister has already used my best picture of the octopus but that’s ok because I’m sure I’ll use a few of Kent’s photos.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Climbing mountains just to entertain company....

Well my sister and brother-in-law are here now and I'm busy showing them around. Yesterday, we drove to Parco Nazionale di Monte Pollino. This morning we climbed and did one of the toughest "short" hikes I've ever done. We had to get up over 2000 meters where this Lucano Pine grows in the park. I have to say I was amazed by these trees for some strange reason. Maybe I'll right more and show more photos when I have more time and my calfs aren't screaming in pain.