Category Archives: Uncategorized

Market and churches

(Note:  written last fall but never posted.)

We had a leisurely start to the day, with no tours booked, so we took our time with coffee, news and breakfast.  Then we walked through the Campo to buy dinner for this evening – eggs, sausage, bread, arugula and a strange green called puntarelle that the nice vendor taught me how to cook  with garlic, oil, anchovies, salt, pepper and aceto (vinegar, pronounced ashetto, not achetto).puntarelle

There were lots of other delicious vegetables we could have bought,

but we tried to keep it simple because, by the end of the day, we have no energy for major cooking.

Today is a church day, because churches are where the art is.  We started with Bernini’s famous St. Teresa in Ecstasy in the high baroque church of Santa Maria della Vittoria.  The sculpture depicts the moment when the saint was pierced by the sword of an angel as she was overcome by the love of God.  Whew!  Tucked up in a chapel, it was not as visible as I had hoped but still filled with delicate tracery, a gold smile and throbbing joy.  st-theresaI can only imagine that the photo is a bit blurred because of the ecstasy.

The baroque ornamentation is just as gold and frou-frou as can be, as you can see from this view of the ceiling.della-vittoria

Dazzled but not tired, we walked on quite a way to the church of Santa Maria Maggiore.  The highlight here was seeing a few planks from Christ’s crib – just imagine!  cribYou can see the humble planks behind all the gilt.  It was right up there with the holy blood that we saw in Bruges.

Other highlights were Bernini’s tomb berninis-tomband more beautiful tile work.  Roman tiles really deserve their own post, but here’s a good one for now.  star-tilesAfter so much art and religion, we were ready for lunch.  We stopped at a cafe just across from the church and enjoyed watching the clericals go by – men in robes, women in habits, the real significance lost on me.  Oh, that Uncle Buzz had been with us to explain it all!  We enjoyed our delicous salads and for me a Campari soda, for Alison an Aperol spritz.  Refreshing for the weary art-lovers.

We had stopped earlier at a mosaic tile shop near our apartment, and the artist there told us that if we liked mosaics we should visit St. Maria in Trastevere.  We taxied over to the other side of the Tiber and enjoyed a very old church trastevere-churchwith beautiful gilt mosaics above the altar.  You can also spot them above the portico outside.trastevere-mosaicsMuch as I love the baroque, a little bit of sparkling mosaic was refreshing after our morning travels.  

Walking back home across the Garibaldi bridge we had a great view of St. Peter’s looming above the river.  We’ll be there in a few days…st-peters-and-tiber

Dinner was our market catch.  I have to confess that this picture makes it look slightly disgusting.  But in real life it was warm, fresh, and comforting.  Yum!dinner-at-home

A tropical spring


palm-treesIt’s not even the end of February, but we’ve already had several days in the 60’s, and today is predicted to be in the 70’s, for heaven’s sake.  Meanwhile, the ground is as dry as dust, as I know from having seeded a few favorites yesterday and today.

I’ve had mediocre luck with the incredibly easy sugar snap peas the last few years, but I’m trying yet again.  I have Sugar Ann left over from last year (Roxbury sells loose seed, and the smallest amount you can get is a quarter pound @ $1.50).  I sowed it very thickly in the raised bed in hopes that half of it will germinate.  Here’s what it will look like if all goes well.sugar-ann-2

The rest are annuals that like cool weather, too.  California poppies ‘Buttercream’ at one end of the sunny border, Shirley poppies in shades of pink and red by the mailbox, and sweet peas ‘Cutting Bouquet’ in the same bed as the sugar snaps.  They may all look like this.  (Thanks to the web for these images.)

Thanks again to Adrian Higgins who recommended sowing poppies in February.  It certainly worked last year!

The Heart of Rome, but first, a crisis

colosseumToday began with a crisis:  because there is no cell service inside the apartment, Alison tried to open the front door to go outside to the courtyard and check her messages.  The front door was locked, of course.  Uh-oh!  The long elongated key broke off inside the lock, leaving us locked in with no way out.  And having no cell service made it impossible to call Lucia.  First we emailed her, and then we had a brainstorm: we went up to my room, which overlooks the courtyard, and leaned out the window, where luckily Alison (but not me) had cell service.  We tried to explain on the phone what had happened, and the wonderful Lucia promised to come as soon as she could. However, she was afraid that only the locksmith would be able to help and he was not available until 8:30 or 9:00.  Meanwhile, this morning we had a Colosseum tour starting at 8:30.  We frantically emailed the tour hoping to be able to reschedule.

Lo and behold, Lucia turned up in about 30 minutes and just put her key in the lock from the outside, which caused the broken bit to slither out and fall on the floor.  You can see the remains at the top of the picture, and the truncated key on the left. keyShe gave us a replacement key, carefully explained how to use the key CORRECTLY and with no recriminations whatsoever left us to get ready asap for the tour.

We arrived at the Colosseum Metro stop via taxi (too worried to wait for the bus, which we just barely missed) and it turned out that we were the only ones – a private tour!  Andrea had a heavy accent but was very knowledgeable and friendly.    He led us into the Colosseum and, well, there we were. colosseum-interiorLooking down at the arena, we could see the reconstructed floor over part of it, while the underground areas where performers and animals stayed until needed were just beyond.  (An underground tour of the Colosseum is available and would be interesting for those who want all the details.)  I was glad I had read Mary Beard’s book about the building, its meaning, and how it actually worked.  What I remember most, aided by Andrea’s commentary, is that it was designed for quick exits (literally a vomitorium); that women could sit only at the tippytop; that there was a nineteenth century fad for visiting the Colosseum by moonlight and reciting poetry; that the life of a gladiator was not a pretty one; and that the logistics of obtaining, transporting, and maintaining wild animals was, to say the least, daunting.  Andrea filled in the blanks and gave us enough time – but not too much – to linger over a few details, including this section of original brick flooring.   colosseum-floorThere was only a little bit of danger:colosseum-danger

Leaving the Colosseum we made our way past the Arch of Constantine, the last triumphal arch built in Rome and, like so much in Rome, made up partly of bits from other monuments.  arch-of-constantineFrom here we walked up the Palatine Hill, which is one of the earliest inhabited places in Rome, but now home to the ruins of imperial palaces (plus some sort of temporary art installation).palatine-palace We wandered along, seeing very few other people but some beautiful trees (maybe an Atlas cedar?).  palatine-treeWe headed downhill to the Forum, where it all made so much more sense than reading about it ever could.  First off, the Arch of Titus, commemorating the siege of Jerusalem.  See the menorah?arch-of-titus

Then one monument after another (but not in a boring way), including the lovely garden and temple of the Vestal Virgins (they took a vow of chastity, and those who strayed would be buried alive).  vestal-virgins The temple of Antoninus and Faustina is quite imposing, antoninus-templeand it has a striking bronze door.   At the time it was used, they say, the door was at ground level but excavations later have left it suspended in space. One reason so much of it survives is that the temple was turned into a church in the Middle Ages. 

This beautiful doorway is from a neighboring temple…antoninus-door We enjoyed walking and talking with Andrea, but it was time to say goodbye.  It had been a bit drizzly all morning, and we were stripped down in anticipation of the Colosseum’s new rules about no backpacks (exaggerated, as it turned out).  Plus, it was not supposed to rain!  But rain it did: as soon as the tour ended it began to stream down.  We darted here and there trying to make our way out of the Forum, buying an umbrella on the way from one of the men who magically appear in Rome when it rains, but it was our second trap of the day.  Every path was a dead end.  Hither and yon we struggled in the rain until FINALLY we found the exit and took refuge in a nearby restaurant for restorative vegetable soup and a margherita pizza.  It was not photo-worthy, but it hit the spot and gave us the strength to go on, or at least have a rest.

Since the nearby churches were closed for another two hours, we took the bus home and had a little lie-down to restore ourselves.  After that, we valiantly bussed to San Clemente, which is famous for its many layers of religion.  One of the earliest is the Mithraic Temple, from a cult much favored by soldiers (there are Mithraic remains in London, for example). The remains are, of course, underground, with many stone corridors, steps and mysterious stone altars.  Unfortunately, the signage was not very illuminating but we checked it off the list.  (This would have been a good candidate for a guided tour.)  I was most taken with the tile floors on the main level.  More quilt patterns!tiles-from-san-clemente

From here we trudged up a small hill to the church of St. Peter in Chains.  This is famous for housing the actual chains (!) that held St. Peter when he was jailed, chainsas well as the Michelangelo Moses.  michelangelo-mosesThe latter was covered in scaffolding while we were there so we had to crane our necks, but here’s what it looks like normally.  (Both photos from the web since I failed to take any pictures.)  From here we walked down to the Via Fori Imperiale for the bus home, the 76 as I remember, which has become our old friend.  

After a quick drink and a peek at the news (CNN International, so we cannot escape Trump), we meandered over to the Campo for dinner and some delicious

And so to bed.

For the Birds?

Over the last few years, the supposedly squirrel-proof feeder I had became less and less satisfactory.  old feederIt was a good one from Droll Yankee, but it never really worked all that well.  First of all, the squirrels quickly figured out how to work around the baffle and helped themselves. See the bite marks on the edges of the baffle?!

Next, it attracted only some of the birds and I wanted to expand my scope.  Finally, I had an old hummingbird feeder from Dad that was hard to clean and had lost a few parts that I had to tape on.  Time to move forward!

The young guy at Roxbury Mills recommended two feeders, one for thistle seed and the other for sunflower seed and supposed to be squirrel-proof.  I also picked up a simple hummingbird feeder.  The results have been great, despite a few bumps in the road.

Here are the thistle and seed feeders, hanging from a new shepherd’s hook.feeders

You can see that the goldfinches have found it!  Also the house finches.  Here’s a close-up of them actually feeding.feeders2

So far the visitors have included Mr. and Mrs. Goldfinch, Mr. and Mrs. Housefinch, chickadees, tufted titmice, cardinals, and  a nuthatch that swoops in from climbing upside down on the oak tree.  On the ground below I’ve seen mourning doves, a brown thrasher, robins, and white-throated sparrows.  Nothing out of the ordinary, but such fun to watch.

However, I have also managed to attract two pests, squirrels and cats. The perch on the sunflower feeder closes up if enough weight is on it, theoretically deterring squirrels. It took the damn squirrels less than a week to figure out how to put all their weight on the pole so that they can get to the sunflower seeds.  I try to shoo them away but it’s really useless unless I want to sit there all day with a BB gun on my lap.

The cats are my neighbor’s free-range cats.  More than once I’ve noticed an ominous silence and when I’ve looked the window have spotted the orange and white cat sitting patiently below the feeder, waiting for a SNACK.  Not on your life, buddy.  I plan to invest in a spritzer and stand ready to spritz him with water the next time I see him.  Yes, I know this is a losing venture, but it might give me some satisfaction.

On a happier note, the hummingbirds have found my new hummingbird feeder!  I can see it right out of my kitchen window and have had lots of fun watching them.  Unlike the feeder’s on Kristi’s deck in Vermont (seen here sans hummingbirds, but what a view!)

hummingbird magnet

hummingbird magnet

my feeder attracts only one at a time.  In typical fashion he (sometimes) or she will zip in, sip either while fluttering or, something I didn’t expect, perch and sip.  Here are a few pictures thanks to the burst feature on my camera.hummingbird3

This is the Mrs., without the ruby throat, hovering until she can find the right spot.DSC07087

And here she is feeding.  I’ve also seen her husband, whose brilliant ruby throat is visible for a fraction of a second as he flies away.  I have my camera right by the kitchen window in hopes of getting a better picture.

I’ve also bought a second, window-mounted hummingbird feeder, but it may be poorly sited.  I’ll play with its placement a little and see if I can get some good close-ups once they find it.

This has been a ridiculous amount of fun, despite the swearing at pests.  I may just add to the feeders until the place looks like a scene out of The Birds.

What else we saw in Kansas City

After our restorative lunch and an even more restorative nap, we set out for the World War I museum, partly because it was highly rated in Trip Advisor and partly because it was in the general direction of our dinner reservation.  It was well worth the trip despite these weak reasons for visiting.IMG_20160421_165412

It’s set on a hill with great views over the city, but the museum itself is mostly underground.  You could spend hours here, but we only had one.  Nevertheless, we saw  incredible recreations of battles, followed the timeline of the gaining, losing, gaining and losing of the same ground over and over, saw a recreation of a trench, watched videos and generally came away in awe both of the horrors of this war and the skill of the museum staff in presenting complex information in an engaging and illuminating way.  If your travels take you to Kansas City, go here!

We wandered around the art district at the tag end of a gloomy day and didn’t see much except for the remnants of the industrial side of KC.  Here’s a glimpse of the back of Union Station and some double-stacked freight cars.  IMG_20160421_192613We proceeded from here to our amazingly delicious dinner at Lidia’sbbhg_lidias_pittsburgh_9122_-_copyI did not realize until this very minute that the restaurant is run by that Lidia, Ms. Bastianich of PBS cooking show fame.  No wonder it was so good!  The best Caesar salad I have ever had, followed by our old friend cinghiale, this time in ravioli.  A perfect end to the day and to our Kansas City adventure.


San Jose on foot

What better way to start retirement than by traveling, learning and visiting family?  Hence this trip to Costa Rica.  The first half is a quilting workshop with Craftours, followed by four days with Beth and Bill.  Great combo!  Here’s a quick report on part one.

I flew in a day early to get oriented and see a bit of San Jose.  I had booked a morning walking tour with Barrio Bird so I headed from our hotel near the airport to downtown.

My cab ride featured incredible traffic and a very friendly driver who had about as much English as I have Spanish.  We made ourselves understood and enjoyed learning from each other.  She was interested that I had no children, and I’m afraid I shocked her when I said that my religion was “nada.”  She set me down at Parque Morena where our group was to meet.

Our group was only three:  me plus a young couple, an American lawyer and a Swiss architect, who lived in Switzerland and had been traveling throughout South and Central America for over a month.  Our young, enthusiastic guide took us through all the high points.

The metallic building:  Metallic buildingvery modern in 1897, shipped from Belgium with each part labeled with a letter or number for easy setup, kind of the Ikea of its time.  You can see the letters and numbers at the bottom of the columns here.Stafford Piecemakers show 005

It’s been an elementary school ever since, and despite the fears of the townspeople, the children have not baked like cookies inside the hot metal building, due to cross-ventilation and good insulation.  I wish I could tell Pat about it (the architect was intrigued).

We walked through several small, beautiful parks featuring, of course, house plants.  They live outdoors here and get enormous.  Here’s an example, the monstera deliciosa.  MonsteraWe ended up at the liquor factory, now an arts center, most interesting to me because of the sun dial outside that was installed incorrectly.  Rather than re-do it, the powers that be installed a plaque below it with an elaborate formula for calculating the correct time.sun dial

After walking by the national library, an imposing though not very welcoming  building, librarywe came to a monument to a bit of history that most Americans know little or nothing about.  William Walker was a brilliant young man from Tennessee who earned a medical degree and studied law.  In the 1850s he decided to invade Central America with the goal of annexing it all for the US, thus creating more slave states.  Though it was not a US invasion, it was certainly sanctioned by our government.  It ended badly for Walker, and the monument commemorates the five countries (actually just provinces of Spain back then) that rallied against him.  The hero of the day was Juan Santamaria, after whom the airport is named.  statueThere’s clearly a good story there, which I will try to track down…someday.

We ended up at the National Theater, an ornate building dating from 1897.  Built with coffee money, it opened with a production of Faust and features statues of  Chopin and Beethoven among
The interior is quite lavish.interior

Between this and the metallic building, San Jose was really on the cutting edge of art and culture back in the late nineteenth century.  Oh, and our guide told us that San Jose was only the third city in the world – after Paris and London – to have electricity!  It makes me think of those opera houses built in the jungles of South America in books by Eva Ibbotson and Ann Patchett.

After catching a quick lunch at Starbucks (sorry!), I walked back to the National Museum of Costa Rica which you enter through a butterfly garden. Here’s one.


An exhibit of pre-Columbian artifacts included these remarkable stone spheres.  They date from 600 but were re-discovered in the 1930s when the United Fruit company was clearing land for banana plantations.  The culture that made them has long since disappeared.  pre-columbian spheres

From here I walked down to the nearby Jade Museum for a cold drink and a rest.  I met one of our instructors, Pepper Cory, and together we rode the hop-on hop-off bus through the city, seeing sights like the president’s house (just the condo he lived in when he was elected), the gorgeous mosaics outside the University of Costa Rica, and the seamy side of town where drugs and prostitution made for a depressing scene.  After that, the driver agreed (I don’t really know why) to drive us 40 minutes back to our hotel, which was very generous of him.  Pepper and I discovered a mutual admiration for the Bernard Cornwell books and had a lovely chat as the sun set.  And so to bed to prepare for the first workshop tomorrow.

Words of Wisdom from Margaret Roach

A Way To GardenFor the last few years (really), a little slip of paper has been floating around in the piles on the kitchen counter.  I had planned to see Margaret Roach’s garden in Copake, New York, at her Open Garden Day as part of a trip to visit Uncle Buzz in Salisbury.  Sadly, her garden was devastated by hail, so instead of a tour she offered an illustrated talk.  I was disappointed not to see her garden, which I’ve been following virtually here for years, but felt worse for her to have so much work turned into shredded leaves in just a few moments.  The good news is that her lecture was fascinating, as I can remember from my notes, scribbled on a piece of hotel stationery and saved since, I kid you not, June of 2013.

“The garden is a 365-day-a-year thing.  The garden never closes.”

Non-gardeners and sometimes even gardeners can get trapped into thinking the garden is all about smashing moments, nothing more, but there is always something there.  Even on the most dreary day of winter, you’ll find something to look at, to take note of, to think about.  It’s not all roses, people.

“When people say some colors don’t go together, think of the colors of the sunset.  It is YOUR garden.”

So if you want to have orange marigolds next to pink lilies, be her guest.  Mom always said, somewhat ominously, that you could tell a lot about a person by her garden.  So, embrace it!

“Design your garden from viewing spots in the house.”

This is just common sense, but how often do we really do it?  The oak tree garden is a focal point from the dining room and even from the front door, and it’s my most successful garden, so that’s good.  The kitchen window overlooks the rhododendrons and the akebia on the trellis, not terribly exciting but okay.  The living room windows overlook the maple tree, so not too bad, and the back door offers a good view of the terrace.  Pretty good on the whole, but not on purpose.

My final notes are about a few plants she suggested.

  • For big leaves, go for Rodgersia (I think it’s too dry here) and Astilboides (maybe ditto).
  • Leave rhubarbs to flower, they are gorgeous.
  • Cissus discolor, the rex begonia vine, is a tropical she has written about here.  Gorgeous leaves!

It was a wonderful morning, and I intend to go back…one day.  Maybe this June or August?



The Tragic History of Ireland – part 1

Today was all about history, and by the end of it we were able to hold most of it in our minds.  But first we walked down to the end of the street to Trinity College and the Book of Kells.  (This is history, too, of course, but very different from the rest.)

Before you see the Book, you go through a very informative display about the history and making, including a hypnotic little video showing someone very slowly sharpening a pen, dipping it in ink and scratching out a few lines.  Then you enter a darkened room where two quartos are open and you can view two pages close up.  A very helpful guide pointed out a couple things we might have missed:   each page was finished with an egg white wash that gives it a nice sheen, and one of the vellum pages had been flayed too hard and developed a hole.  The monks had cleverly painted a design on the following page that shows through and makes the hole less noticeable.  I always like an enthusiastic person who wants to share the information.

From here we walked up the stairs to the Old Library, which is one of the great libraries I’ve seen.  Dark, dark wood, lots of book ladders, books crammed onto the shelves, high ceiling – well, just take a look.

An additional treat was an exhibit of children’s books based on mythology. Everything from Harry Potter to Alan Garner and Susan Cooper was on display, a visit with some of my old friends.

Though viewing the actual book is jokingly referred to as the biggest anitclimax in Dublin, it was worth a visit.  Here is AO looking happy after viewing the BOK.AtKells

Landing in Dublin

The latest trip – Dublin and Northern Ireland – started with the usual efficient flight but without much sleep.  Note to self:  next time, try Peggy’s tip of traveling during the day so you don’t have to try to sleep in a noisy, cramped metal box.

We arrived to sunshine and beautiful clouds, bussed into the city and checked into the Harding Hotel, perfectly situated across from Christchurch Cathedral.

The cathedral was beautifully sihouetted against a gray sky.

DSC05957Outside was a very moving sculpture that would be right at home in front of the library.


Inside was notable to me mostly for the floor tiles.  A major Victorian renovation meant that most of what we saw was nineteenth century, incuding the tiles, but they were based on medieval tiles still extant in one of the small chapels.  As always, it made me think of quilts.


There was also some beautiful Victorian embroidery on the altar cloth.DSC05961

In the crypt were the lovingly preserved bodies of a cat and a rat found mummified below the floors and mentioned by Joyce in Finnegan’s Wake.  One of the church’s best things, I think.


Even after a nap, we were still zonked, so after a delicious dinner in the Copper Alley Bistro downstairs, we had an early bed.

First Day in Chur

Biffy and Judy were on one flight, and I was on another.  When we landed in Zurich, there we were, standing right next to each other in the passport control line and didn’t even know it! Great hugs all around, then found Silla with great joy.  She drove us through Zurich to Juerg’s elegant apartment overlooking the lake.  DSC05386He and his wife, Nelly, gave us coffee and croissants and we caught up just a bit.

The apartment was so lovely that I had to take pictures of it -the clean lines,DSC05387 the oversized art, and even the people.  DSC05390It was lovely to see Juerg again after so long and to meet his wife.  Cheek kisses all around and we were off.

Silla and Biffy talked about this and that as she drove us the two hours to Chur.  Judy and I dozed in the back seat, waking up only to see one of the things I remember best from my year in Switzerland:  steep mountainsides dotted with farms, and the lake or valley below, then the mountains rising up just as steeply on the other side.  Wisps of cloud, fog and occasional rain obscured the view but just made it all the more magical.

Silla’s equally elegant apartment is just around the corner from Ottoplatz, where she grew up and I spent a year back in 1967-68. DSC05391 We were so jet-lagged that just about all we could do was pull out the sofabed and fall on it like wounded soldiers.  A two-hour nap restored us, as did a big slice of a delicious apple nut tart and a cup of tea.DSC05392

With renewed vigor, we set out to walk around Chur. We started off at the Hotel Stern where Biffy and Judy will be staying. DSC05396 It is a charming old hotel with Carigiet paintings on the walls, knotty pine and beautiful stonework, and these delightful pillows.DSC05395

Although many memories have vanished over the last almost 50 years (can it be???), I absolutely remember the walk up a steep path to the CantonsSchule. DSC05400 The school itself, with its courtyard shaded by enormous trees, has long since been replaced by a new building, but the steep sidewalk and the bishop’s vineyards are still there, as is the lovely view down to the city, with the mountains all around.DSC05402

We went into the Catholic cathedral, built on a site that has been home to a church since the 800s.  DSC05405It’s fairly austere for a Catholic church, but the beautiful altar and some stained glass windows brightened the interior.DSC05413(I am much more aware of stained glass from following Jane Brocket’s blog.)   We also liked these Celtic-looking animals,DSC05410and the entrance arch is lovely.DSC05407

From here we walked down the hill, past the spot where in the 16th century there was a wall separating the Catholics at the top of the hill from the Protestants at the bottom.  This was the old town that I remembered, with cobbled streets, sgraffito’d house fronts, and interesting little shops and courtyards. DSC05417DSC05416 We stopped at a pharmacy and ended up sampling Churer Roeteli, a local liqueur.  A little farther on was a fabric shop, and I ended up with a nice selection of locally inspired yardage.IMG_20150523_170944

By now it was starting to sprinkle, so we wended our way back home again, weary but happy, for Silla to cook for us while we draped ourselves over the furniture and assured her that we would be good helpers tomorrow when the jet lag wears off!