Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Trieste, Italy and beyond

When we boarded the Croatian Airlines flight from Frankfurt to Zagreb, all these men started boarding who were quite tall, high cheek bones and narrow eyes -- just like Michael, whose grandfather came from Croatia. It was as if we had found his tribe. Cross the border into Italy and genetics takes 6-8 inches off of the men and then places them all on motorbikes with the idle set on breakneck. Trieste also had a Christmas fair, great yarn and the best cocoa that I've ever tasted. I wish we had had more time to explore. Here we are in a coffee shop with our friends Kathy and Steve. I wouldn't say that the cocoa I was drinking was thick, but you could practically stand a spoon up in it.

On our drive up to Trieste, we stopped off to see the tallest Church in Istria, the 18th century Svetog Blaza. The guidebook said that it howed a great collection of religious relics and other treasures. But mostly we stopped there for a viewing of the Vodnjan mummies, the bodies of important dead clergy, displayed in glass cases and supposedly impervious to decomposition. Surreal, but not something one encounters in Toledo. We knocked on the church doors, but no one answered. Finally, someone in the almost deserted square suggested that we try knocking on the door of the home of the priest. He assured us it would be okay, so we ventured down this narrow, cobblestone passageway (I think residents might consider it a road) and knocked. Knocked again. One of the shuttered windows swung open and as if from a coo-coo clock a head emerged. She was barely tall enough to see out the window, but as she shook one arthritic finger it was as if she were saying, "you may not see our dead today." And then she slammed closed the shutter. The priest may live at this address, but clearly she was the one in charge, so we did not see the dead.
On to lunch in Porec, a charming sea side town where we had the best lunch of the trip. Why do we put up with such inferior food in this country? Fast food isn't even worth mentioning, although an outlet exists on every corner. One step above that you have the Applebee equivalents where the food is all prepared in Kansas or somewhere and shipped to be thawed out in less than 20 minutes. And we eat this, when the alternative is food prepared with ingenuity and unimaginable variety at local small eateries. I wasn't once tempted to order a chicken Caesar salad as the lesser of all evils and even though we ate well, I actually lost weight while abroad. We need to get our groceries in order.
I regret not having pasta in Italy, which means I have to go back -- and soon.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Pula, Croatia

Croatia does dark like West Virginia does dark. Real dark. Mountainous dark. Winding two lane roads through total blackness. Dark. So when we finally reached the outskirts of Pula after passing countless exclamation point signs and 20 (you read that right) tunnels en route from the airport in Zagreb, we really felt like we'd accomplished something. Those exclamation point signs have no explanation, by the way. They just appear beside curves and construction sites as if the road is agrees with the travelers and is screaming "Wow" as they pass.

But, then we had to connect with Kathy and Steve who were living in a no number house on a no name street. Thanks to a cell phone connection, we rounded curve after curve on what appeared to us to be a bike lane instead of a road and made one last sharp right hand turn at the church and there they were, standing beside the road wearing their best, warm but shivering Cleveland smiles.

The unfortunate thing was that the house was temporarily out of oil for hot water and this was Sunday and we were still in the same clothing we had left Cleveland in on Friday. But, hey. On vacation, right? We went to the open air fish market the next morning. Pula's main industry is fishing and tourism. Lucky for us we were not there in high tourist season, so we had more of a real life experience. Kathy had managed to master enough Croatian to negotiate our fish and vegetable purchases, so we were fat city that night for dinner. Anybody know what those green pointy thingie's are on the vegetable table?

We also made our initial acquaintance with the town of Pula, which has been a port of some renowned since ancient Roman times. Istria, the little part of Croatia where we were visiting, has alternately been part of Italy, Austria-Hungary, Yugoslavia, but appears to best like being simply Croatia. You know how in the US if a city building is 50 years young it is labeled too old and often torn down? Not in Europe. To them, recycling is not just a recent fad. They've been conserving and reusing for centuries. We were to discover ancient churches and fortresses, narrow cobblestone streets, all still functioning very nicely without the benefit of vinyl siding or plastic window frames. By far the most amazing site was the remains of a Roman Colosseum.

I have to say something here about Adriatic Blue. We don't do blue justice in Cleveland. Lake Erie blue is too often a tinted shade of gray. This is not photoshopped in anyway, this is the blue that was. Rich as it was enriching.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

"The bags never leave Paris"

That little figure in the purple fleece is me standing in front of our hotel in Franfurt, which was not intended to be a stop on our way. This was not the easy part of the trip to Croatia. This was the smelly, expensive part. In fact, Michael wanted to burn that fleece. This was the part where our flight misconnected in Newark and we were re-routed through Paris on Air France (which I later heard has the nickname Air Chance) and they lost our bags for 4 days. We had a nice night in Frankfurt compliments of the airline and meandered along an outdoor Christmas market eating schnitzel and cocoa. Turned out this would not be the only outdoor Christmas market, we encountered one in Zagreb, Croatia and Trieste, Italy among other charming towns. Sometimes tragdies aren't as tragic as they seem at the time. Except for the part about how we had to buy new connecting tickets to Croatia which put a little dent in the credit card.

Frankfurt is very visitor friendly. Europe does public transportation so well. We took a train straight into the heart of the city to find our hotel and trained back to the airport in the morning to catch the plane to Croatia. Later in the week when we visited the International School of Zagreb, as the other students were writing about conflicts in their lives, I wrote about the lost bags. It should be pointed out here that students at International Schools are often seasoned international travelers) When we all shared our writing, one student shook her head empathatically as I read my poem and said sadly, "the bags never leave Paris."

Unfortunately, she was so right. Well, not never. But 4 days is a long time to wait for your clothes while wearing the same purple fleece.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

yesterday, today, and tomorrow

Tomorrow we leave for Croatia. I haven't been obsessing about it until today. The clothes are in the bag, housesitting arrangements in place, meeting plans and reservations confirmed. The only variable is the weather. Nothing to be done about that, so no use worrying. Right? But as I hear the wind body slamming itself against the house and shooting ice crystals like buckshot into the windows, okay, I worry.

Yesterday was such a full day, it's amazing I'm even standing today. First a 4+ hour drive to Parma, MI to meet my new little pal, Suzette. She can't actually come and join the family until closer to Christmas, but I sealed the deal with the breeder. She is a papillon and (don't tell her) a runt. Cute as a bug. Hope I can handle the puppy training. Another worry to put on the stack.

Yesterday I also talked to Birmingham, MI teachers and media specialists about poetry in preparation for my visit to their schools in April. It was a great session and it is a pleasure to be working with old friends again. Barbara Clark, the head of the media for that district, first hired me for a district visit back in 1994. I remembered as I pulled into Covington School parking lot that I was wearing the exact same leather coat I had purchased to celebrate my visit way back then. When I saw Barbara, I couldn't help telling her, "you bought me this coat." It has taken me years to develop a sense of community in this job. My community is supportive and strong, if somewhat far flung.

Today was all about packing and getting the house ready. I wonder if houses miss us when we are gone. There will be someone here, but not the same throb and jive of the daily familiness. The refrigerator is down to bare wire, fruit basket empty. My bathtub will miss me, I'm certain. We like to relax together, bonded by transient, fickle steamy water. Maybe we should share a little goodbye soak. Always a good way to ward off the worries.

Friday, December 01, 2006

What a difference a syllable makes

"Mankind will need to venture far beyond planet Earth to ensure the long-term survival of our species, according to the world's best known scientist, Professor Stephen Hawking. " And how did he say this, exactly? He hasn't been able to speak for years. He said it by twitching the muscle under his right eye and activating a voice simulator. Here is a man that is literally all brain. I guess I always kind of knew that, that he was all brain, but I stumbled over his professional title when I read today's article about him. He is a cosmologist.

Do you realize that he is one syllable away from hair foils and pedicures? A rather puny degree of separation there. cosmologist -- cosmotologist.

Today wasn't as productive as I would have liked. Yesterday I managed to get a new YA manuscript into the mail and today I took a good long walk and just about got blown away. Not by the power of my thoughts, by the wind which let us know it has had entirely enough of this mild weather business and it has come to take over. It crossed my mind to just sit down and blow the entire day off except that I kept thinking of Hawking and while he didn't necessarily inspire me to board a rocket to another dimension, he did motivate me to get out of my desk chair and face the winds of change.