Thursday, October 30, 2008

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Saturday night in Velletri

Everyone goes into the town center to walk the main drag... Back and
forth. I thought it was cute that in one area all the old men gathered
and watched the young people walk by.

More cultural differences

Italian stores have the funniest names.

Just Our Luck

They say that Rome was not built in a day. Now, I don't know about all that but I do know that Rome is taking a helluva lot longer than that to fall apart. This is not our day in Roma.

We arrive at a hostel with paint pealing from the walls, a sink lower than my knees and hairs all over the floor. Nasty. (This is the same place that the owner will burst into the room with "breakfast" at 8am the next morning.) But, hey, we're not here to sleep. We're here to experience Rome. We set off to see the sights and, by God, they're all ruined! Falling to bits of rubble. The Coliseum: a shell. The Aqueducts: barely standing. And what's more, they are charging people to see them! Highway robbery. I can appreciate now the birthplace of the mafia. Hell, I have seen double wides in Ohio kept together solely by one 2x4, a roll of duct tape and three cinder blocks. That, friends, is a miracle worth paying admission to see (and for free you can sit in the rusted out Buick in the front yard). The marble pillar that (miracle of miracles!) has been able to lie in a field for centuries. . . hardly worth twelve euros. In London: Big Ben, Parliament. In Paris: the Eiffel Tower. In Rome: broke-ass bricks. Part of me cannot help but wonder if the ancient Romans would laugh to see touristas paying to walk through their old outhouses and pig stys. I smile to myself.

Still, because it's what we do, we continue to meander our way through the hot streets - enjoying the statues and fountains and avoiding entrance fees. Kelly's new shoes are hurting her when we stop for a beer. This is when the email comes.

Oops, you didn't remind me you were coming and I forgot. I already have some HelpXers who want to stay a while longer. And I like them. I won't be able to host you. Best of Luck, Simone in Spain.

Uhhhhhh. As you can imagine, this comes as an unwelcome surprise. What do we do now? We had planned for two weeks of helping in Spain. Just bought our plane ticket from Madrid to London. We are f**ked.

We order another round.

Perplexed, we do what we do best: walk. Ah, another dried-up fountain and more rocks (or is that a ancient Roman bath house?). Our map does a poor job of delineating the gems of the city from what could easily be mistaken as a condemned tenement. We choose a route to the Vatican. Surely the Pope (or at least a bishop) will know what to do. And even if Pope Benedict is not available, there is nothing like the sight of apostles to brighten the day.

Straight away we stumble across a cybercafe. A sign. We go in and do some HelpX searching. This makes us feel better. Not completely helpless. We are back on the road when. . . what's this? Pints of Peroni for 2.50! A steal. This is too good to pass up. We step inside and pull up a stool. We don't end up making it to the Vatican that night but our luck is improving.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Where Brooklyn at?

In the drugstore gum section all over Italy.


Cultural differences are funny.


what could possibly be better than stumbling upon a street carnival in italy and having them fire up a ride just for me?

...eating the falling scraps from a 4 foot cube chunk of chocolate being sculpted into art in an ancient italian village.

i love perugia!!!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

We're screwed!

Christopher's reaction to our Spanish host backing out last minute.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Bring Out the Pigs

I have found my calling in life and it goes: oink. As you may have noticed from the photo, our HelpX France Edition took place on a pig farm. What a hoot. Every day Kelly and I would help with the feeding and watering of the pigs. What a great job - food/water twice a day and then just sit back and watch them walk around, oink and dig in the dirt. Much better than a camel farm, where I believe spitting is involved. Gross.

But do not underestimate the pig. One of the first things we heard from Marlene (and then Gary) is that they are a great way to get rid of your dead bodies and that the mob has used pigs to make people "disappear." They eat everything but the hair and teeth. "Do not cross a pig farmer," our hosts warned us. I chose to hear this as: "welcome to France!"

Marlene and Gary (former pub owners in England) were great. Kept us well fed and watered. We tried foie gras (tuna), duck, chicken, their homemade sausage and cracklin. Never had cracklin? It's the pig skin (and fat) crisped into a hard, crunchier bacon. Can also be used to chisel marble. Well worth an artry-clogging taste except that my piece (and I found out later, Kelly's as well) still had hairs from the pig in it. Yes, this being the very same pig that I fed at the beginning of the week and then helped load onto the trailer bound for the Bergerac slaughterhouse. He sure was tasty, though.

While with them, I also learned how to mix cement and build a wall (the cinder block hauling I already knew how to do). Kelly spent a day in a tree cutting branches and riding the lawn mower throgh the grass. I tell ya, she looks cute riding a mower.

We also watched some TV from London with Marlene and Gary. They like Friends and reality TV. Yes, reality TV is everywhere. Simon Cowell on both sides of the Atlantic. Here it's called the X-Factor, though. So maybe that makes a difference. They also have a dancing show on, like, four times a week, a remodeling show and Sex in the City.

In Paris, we tried to watch a little TV but couldn't make out any of it - though one show was definitely another version of American Idol. There was also CNN, which is everywhere and in English, but all they ever talked about was the election and the fincial crisis. Over and over and over again. Eventually we gave up and watched a black and white French movie where a lady looked heartbroken and a good looking man stared contemplitevly off into the distance. Obviously very heavy stuff.

Also in Paris, we wandered into a brassiere (bar/grill?) for drinks only to find that it also doubled as a gambling house. Horses. The ever-inquisitive Kelly A. ventured into the gambling side of the bar. Immediately the men swarmed to encourage her gambling and show her the ropes. I'm pretty sure she is the only female to have crossed into that part of the bar. Ever.

I love the bread they eat in France, the fact that everyone drives a scooter and has an attitude. I would recommend France. Except, more than that, I would recommend the unconditional love of a pig when you're the one carrying the slop bucket.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Big Pigs!

Her name is Lucy. I'm not sure who was the bigger pig during our stay
in France, her or I. We got to try many local foods, and I am ashamed
to say Christopher and I both thought the homemade fois gras with
truffle tasted like canned tuna. We quite enjoyed the shoulder of pork
straight from the, it wasn't Lucy.

Ode to the public toilette

Oh, Squatty Potty
I came out clean, but you win.
I almost fell in.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

It Must Just Be Me

World travel is like a beautiful flower - a blossoming of international experience and a deeper understanding of the human condition. A magnificent thing, really. Sadly, these travels have also had a stark, cruel edge to them. No, it is not the language barrier or cultural differences. Nor the general disregard for our beloved Commander in Chief. No, I have had to face the hard, painful truth that my sense of humor is not a globally shared one. Never have I felt so comically alone.

Liz, in England, would stare blankly as I joked wise about bodily functions. Barbara, in Ireland, was too busy to take notice. Had the yucks of Mel Brooks, Chris Farley and Jack Black not captured the laughs of the entire world? My faith was rattled.

Just like the story line of a Greek tragedy, my plight ever-worsened when I realized that the only one who shared my sense of humor was a 2 year old - Rowan, the son of our Portugal HelpX hosts. Oh, the shame of it all!

Though his vocabulary was (very) limited, in sick potty humor we found a common language.

He would squat down while standing and I would make a bellowing fart sound. Pbbbbbbt. Scuttle around, squat. Scuttle around squat. Sometimes he laughed so hard that he almost fell over. In his animal picture books, he would kiss the rumps of the zebras and elephants and, again, I would make the necessary sound effects. Pbbbbbbt. Like this we would laugh together for hours, others passing by with a sort of half-smile. In fact, we played with his older brother's whoopee cushion so much that it broke! Stretched to death.

Head dizzy from the constant cushion blow ups and eyes blurry with tears of laughter, I sat back in my chair and felt a moment of pride for bridging the American-Portuguese divide.

Even if it was with a two year old.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

First travel glitch

Yesterday we got stuck in Agen, France. We couldn't make it to the
station in time to catch our train to Le Buisson. It turned out quite
well: French cheesy pizza, wine, and presidential race updates ok CNN
in a hotel that cost is only a few more Euros than our hostels so far.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Pasteries pasteries

Pasteries every day. We stopped for a day in Coimbra on our way back
to Lisbon. It was a very lively small town. We stored our luggage for
the day on the cafe across the street from the train station. My
Portuguese is pretty rusty so when they told me to take my bags to the
cafe I asn't sure we were communicating clearly.

The Aradas Canal

We did a lot of pretty hard labor in Portugal. Here is a canal we dug
across the farm. We also carried cement up to the roof across wobbly
scaffolding, cleared out a blocked irrigation canal, weeded, moved
rocks, and babysat a 2 year old with a mop-head.

Manly work

Christopher enjoyed using the pick-axe to impress me.

Monday, October 6, 2008

A stop along the way

On the way out to Pampilhosa da Serra each bus stop became less and
less of a bus stop. The one we stopped at for a break was totally shut
down. Four old men sat with beers and cards in front of castle ruins....