Tales of a wandering lesbian

Unexpected beauty

Our trip to Salerno was a scouting mission.  An attempt to find interesting towns where the Ant could retire.  We spent our time taking day trips around the region, with days off in Salerno.  The days off were mostly days of rest, the two of us lounging around the apartment, or heading to the café down the street.  Food was always a part of the equation, whether pizza from our favorite place, or fried balls of stuff from a cart.

On one of our days off we decided to explore Salerno’s history.  We knew three things about ancient Salerno.  First, it had an important duomo.  Second, it had a big castle.  Third, it had some medicinal gardens.  We were most interested in seeing the castello, which overlooked the city from a big hill, so we took the bus into town and started walking up.

Our map, which wasn’t topographical and only showed us streets, indicated that it would be feasible to walk to the castle.  We picked out the right road and wound our way through the streets of medieval Salerno.  We happened upon the duomo, which seemed much more interesting in the guidebooks than in real life.

The dreariness of Salerno was only slightly less here.

Up, up, up we wound, the streets getting narrower as we walked.  Somewhere along the way we began to wonder if we were still on the right road.  So I ducked my head into some kind of a historical center, and found a beautiful young woman who seemed to be waiting to help us.

“Mi dispiaci, no parlo bene, l’italiano.”  I smiled my usual greeting, noting her abrupt movements as she came over to us.

“English?”  Like so many others, she’d guessed right.

I handed her our little map and asked where we were.

“Oh, mmm, allora, mmm.”  She muttered as she looked at the paper, turning it around on the counter we were leaning over.  She located our position on the map, after a good bit of studying.

“What are you looking for? Il giardino della Minerva?”

“The Castello,” the Ant and I answered together.

The woman looked at us.  “No, no, no.  It’s too far.  It’s not possible.”

The Ant and I exchanged dubious looks.  We wanted to see the castle, but we weren’t especially up for an impossible climb.

“But the gardens are very close.  Very beautiful.”

The Ant was nodding fervently.  “Okay.”

Our guide folded up the map and handed it to me as she led us to the door.    “Walk up here, and keep going, always forward.”  Good advice.  She returned the amused smile I flashed her.  We thanked her and headed up the hill in the direction she had pointed.

The Ant turned to me with a wry look on her face.  “Well you certainly do know how to find them.”  A little embarrassed, I chuckled and looked at the cobblestones we were walking.  Yes, it seemed I did know how to walk into a shop and find a helpful, pretty girl.

And she was right, it wasn’t far, but it’s not likely we would have found it without her instruction.  The undulating streets of this part of Salerno were a bit maze-like, due (as we would find out) to the fact that it was built on the side of a cliff.

Inside the unassuming gates of the garden, we paid our euros, grabbed the 4 page, single-spaced, English-language info pamphlet on the gardens and started mulling about.  The pamphlet told us that these gardens are recognized as the first medicinal gardens – ever.   The sense of peace and calm inside the gates was beautiful.  We spent the next hour or so wandering through the three levels of the gardens, snapping pictures, taking video, smelling plants, trying to identify some of them.  Plants strange to that part of the world, like Taro, materialized in the boggy beds around fountains.  Fish swam in pools with lily-pads.  I’m not sure if we saw any other visitors to the gardens.  It was like our own, private playground.

The gardens are built on the site of natural springs, so the entire location is filled with channels bringing water to the myriad of beds and fountains.

The terraces were connected by a staircase that was built as part of the outer wall, on the side of the cliff.  It treated us to spectacular views.

As we reached the top level, the woman from the admissions office came up behind us to tell us they were closing for lunch.

I grabbed a couple of last pictures and we made the climb back down to the gate.

We hiked back out toward the duomo, winding back through the streets where people live among a remarkable history.

We hadn’t eaten in something like 2 hours, so we were starving and stopped for a calzone at the first place we came to.  The Ant had something meaty, and I had something that equated to a salad in a calzone.

Much like the gardens, and the woman who led us there, it was quite unexpectedly lovely.

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June 28, 2010   2 Comments

Donne Potente

I’m posting a little later than usual today. Last night was a busy night. Sandra’s mom lives downstairs, in the apartment off the garden. When I first arrived, she was getting ready to move in with her son for a while, because of some serious work that needed to be done on one of the walls. And old, unused pipe was leaking. While that might sound like an easy job, it’s not.

In the US, I would have just bopped down and capped the pipe. Here, it’s taken a team of 3 or 4 guys over a week to do about half the job – banging and drilling every morning. The walls are made to last. They’re built of stone and brick and mortar and stuff. Many of the houses in the town are older than the United States as a country.  So, Sandra’s mom moved out for a bit while the work is being done.

Every day I try to take a little time to study one of the text books that Sandra has loaned me to use. I look at the pictures and try to pronounce the vocab words. Yesterday morning over breakfast, I was studying. “Tubo” stood next to a drawing of a pipe – the elbow of a pipe, to be precise. I thought this was funny given the work that wakes up the household at 8 am every day.

I had a great day at the studio, cleaning for 8 hours or so. It was good, but nothing really to write about, and I expressed that to Deb, wondering what I’d come up with. On the way home, Deb and I chatted a bit about the differences between Barga – the city on the hill – and Fornaci – the city at the bottom of the hill. I said how pretty Fornaci looked in the dark and mist, its lights twinkling in a friendly, seedy kind of way. Deb’s sneer made it powerfully clear that she preferred Barga and would be happy to be walking home to a place in Barga rather than driving to the bottom of the hill, regardless of how pretty I thought the view was.

When we got home, Sandra had prepared another fantastic meal. We joked about the tuna touching the mozzarella and all the cheese I eat. Sandra whined a little about how she’d rather stay home instead of driving up to Barga for a meeting. It was one of those misty nights that’s best spent in front of the fireplace. She drug her feet and stalled, and talked about playing Pictionary. Deb practically pushed Sandra out the door.

As Sandra and Deb were getting their jackets on to leave, there was a knock on the door. One of the neighbors calmly asked for Sandra to please come downstairs and have a look at something. About 2 minutes later Sandra was running up the stairs, telling us to collect as much water as we could, and mumbling something about a “casino” (a big mess). What the neighbor had neglected to mention when he so calmly came to the door is that, while prepping the wall for the next morning, he had drilled directly into the main water pipe that feeds the house. The pipe in the wall that runs through Sandra’s mom’s apartment.

It seems that there were a number of reasons this shouldn’t have happened, including that no pipe is supposed to be in the wall where it was. But It really didn’t matter. We gathered water in all the pots and pitchers and headed downstairs to help. “I think you’ll be able to write tonight. I think it’s going to be a really interesting night,” said Deb walking out the door.

Fortunately, the apartment has tile and marble floors, and has a series of rooms that step-down, eventually leading out into the garden. When we entered the dining room, we found 2-3 inches of standing water.

Kitchen water

Tom and I grabbed brooms, and Deb went to find something to stick in the pipe (kind of like the little boy sticking his finger in the dike, but with a twist). When Deb handed the makeshift plug to the neighbor woman who was clutching a towel to the hole, the woman let go of the pipe, shooting the water directly into Deb’s face.  The water was shooting out of the pipe so hard that when Deb moved, it shot out the door and completely across the street, maybe 20 meters away.  Not letting this get her down, Deb scrounged around and came up with an elegant solution. When she came through the dining room with it, I laughed. She put together some tubing and a funnel, which she held up to the shooting water in order to direct it out the door and onto the ground in a slightly more controlled manner.

In the mean time, Tommy and I had cleared the dining room, put down sawdust to soak up residual moisture, and closed it off. That meant, however, that we had to stand in the hallway and sweep as fast as possible to keep the water away from the closed door and direct the ever-coming water into the basement, where it could make its way out to the garden. We did this for just about an hour. Nonstop. As fast as we could.

If you’re looking for a new workout, try this: turn a garden hose on full blast at the top of a playground slide that is pointing directly into your front door. Then, take an ordinary broom and try to sweep fast enough at the bottom of the slide to keep the water out of your house. Seriously, for you crossfit types, this is going to be an awesome oblique/lat workout.

In addition to offering workout tips, I’d also like to take this opportunity for a gear endorsement. My Vasque Blur Gore-Tex shoes are not only comfortable, but they held up in 3 inches of water for 90 minutes and were totally waterproof. Totally awesome.

Vasque Blur GTX in the field

In the end, someone who was able to patch the pipe showed up. We weren’t able to turn the water off, because someone had cemented over the external shutoff valve. Really great news. But, the guys who fixed the pipe rigged a compression patch from rubber sheeting and zip-ties.

Tubo patch

It totally held all night. Until they started banging away again at 8am.
When we finally walked back upstairs, we sat down for a cup of tea. “You know, this is your fault. You wanted something interesting to write about.” “You’re not blameless. The house knows you want to move to Barga.” “Well, Sandra, you didn’t have to go to your meeting after all, but there was no need to make the pipe explode.”  We spent time blaming each other for the event, truly believing that we were responsible for the evening’s entertainment.

It was nice to affirm each other as powerful women (donne potente) capable of creating our worlds, but we decided that next time, we’ll be a little less passive-aggressive in our creating of things and use our powers for good.

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November 5, 2009   7 Comments