Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Another Dream

*sigh* I called my agencies today but didn't get an assignment. So, 'tis time to sign up with some more!

I had a dream last night. Some of you know I rarely remember them, but here it is:

There was a spider, rather large - one of those brown hairy ones with a domed head and three black eyes. I hate spiders but have never dreamt about one before. It gets weirder.

This spider was a spy in Cleopatra's palace. And Caesar and Marc Antony were there at the same time. I know this because I saw the three of them ride out of the city walls together.

Here's the weirdest part: every night, the spider would leave the palace and go to its masters, two boys like the one in Indiana Jones. But they were dressed modern, not Egyptian or Roman at all.
The spider would flip its head open and inside was a computer screen where the boys could read the information they needed. The project code name was....I forget...something like Cerulean.


I had more blog but I lost the notes. Ah, go here, but make sure there is someone on hand to gather you off the floor after you're done melting: Cute Overload.

Monday, January 30, 2006

My wanadoo internet connection is not working tonight, but through the wonder of modern connectivity, here I am. Well sort of. I can post from my phone until I turn blue, but can't see it! (Insert feminine expressions of frustration here) So you know what I did? I wrote cards to four special people!

Saturday, January 28, 2006


Ugh...I slept 10 hours last night, but at least I didn't have one of those trying-to-wake-up-but-unable-to-move dreams.

OK, OK, the bit you have all been waiting for. Miss S and I went to Cirque du Soleil's production of Alegria last night! (Which in Spanish means happiness, I think.)

And indeed, much of the psuedo-language had a Spanish flavour to it, but the songs were real, in Spanish, Italian and French. That's the amazing thing about Cirque - they don't actually speak a real language but pepper their sounds with real words and essentially you understand what they are saying.

The clown sequences in Alegria were the funniest I've seen yet. They were hilarious, and yet, true to the spirit of the original clown, there were some sad moments. At one point, it snowed paper strips and then a powerful fan blew it all over the audience. Paper was everywhere, in our clothes and hair!

These are the kinds of shows you watch, eyes shining with delight, mouth agape with awe, gasping with astonishment along with the rest of the audience. The enticing tunes entwined themselves around the pounding drums, very addictive.

In the middle, for a moment I could not believe I was actually there, watching human bodies toying with the laws of physics. There are things they do that you almost think impossible.

The costumes and characters are so quirky, as only the French (even the Quebecois) can do. The sounds, sights, and entire experience make for a truly surreal experience.

If you ever get the opportunity to see Cirque, do go! It will be expensive, but something you will remember for the rest of your life as being totally worth every penny.

Here is a link to a detailed guide to the productions of Cirque du Soleil.

Friday, January 27, 2006

untitled is the title

Happy Birthday, Wolfe!

The immortal Mozart turns 250 today.

The feeling of joy that his light and sunny tones can produce in the heart, along with the tears that can spring to the eyes at the yearning in his more serious works...

...Inspiring the love of generations to come.


Good news! Jia Li has been accepted to university to finish her social/cultural studies. It sounds interesting, and she has promised to keep me updated on what she studies.

Steli, having been immersed in studies for a few weeks, is finally unleashing himself on those dreaded exams.

And Blue, who has finished her scary exams, is beginning to enjoy life and altogether having too much fun for one girl.


And me? I went to work yesterday but when I came home all my bones hurt. I think it was the cold. Except this morning I was once again glued to the bed - one of those mornings when I keep dreaming I am waking up, but can't move.
I have finally noticed a pattern - this only tends to happen when I am on my last days of PMS.

Gosh I am so fuzzy today...hate PMS...

I came up with the phrase "bumbling bureaucratic boobs" last night and can't remember in what context...


I am doing the old random babble some of you used to enjoy, but that's because I have forgotten the main thing I meant to blog about.

Oh! Going to Cirque du Soleil's production of Alegria tonight with Miss S.
A couple of years ago we went to Dralion.

Love them all but it's great to finally see it live. That song she sings in Alegria is haunting.


Leaving it here, possibly unfinished, more later, we'll see.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Orientalism and TOYS

My Korean friend once told me I was probably Chinese or Japanese in a former life. Because although today I went out looking a bit county - with my jeans tucked into brown boots wearing a green sweater, ivory pin, and brown leather belt - I am an opportunistic Chinatown-style eater and lover of all decorative arts oriental.

Today at Wasabi, the sushi bento cafe on Piccadilly, I chose 10 pieces of norimaki sushi (you know, the usual little rolls) and a deelish salad topped with seaweed and a yum sesame dressing.

Two doors down, I decided to pop into the Japanese sweet shop and pick up my dessert. It's very zen in there, with minimalistic koto music and row upon row of prettily wrapped sweets made from bean paste, persimmon jelly, rice starch, chestnut paste, and who knows what else. Kudos to the Japanese for offering the most varied desserts in the Orient.
I bought a jyukushi (persimmon jelly made of bean paste) and a tsuyaguri (bean jelly with a liqueur chestnut in the centre).

The reason I started on the Asian theme is because after the Job Centre trip on Monday, I went to the China Life shop in Camden. They sell all sorts of herbal concoctions and health gadgets, there's an alternative medicine spa, and a newly opened tea room which serves dim sum. I bought theeeee most fragrant Jasmine tea ever, which I enjoyed tonight with my sushi (I find green tea brews too bitter over here), and I bought a Korean Su Jok finger massager. It looks like a funky silver ring, but rolling the prickly thing up and down your fingers and toes daily for a couple of minutes each is supposed to relieve all sorts of aches and pains, ease tension, and improve lung and digestive system function.


Now let's start from the beginning:

After dropping off my gallery application at the agency on Hanover Square, I doubled back to Regent Street and went for a long walk, making one stop at Hamleys (for you Yanks, it's London's equivalent to FAO Schwarz). I like to wander around there once in a while, just to remember the joys of childhood.

-- I think I spent more time than is normal running my hands through the marbles, remembering which ones I used to have. There was a guy dressed like Ali G, blowing bubbles and repeating, "Bubbles bubbles blowing bubbles."
And a Latvian guy blowing a magic balloon and hollering something about being superhuman to the dazed couple in front of him.
-- I went around squeezing the stuffed toys and looking to see if I could find my Steiff (Knopf im Ohr) ducky (I called her Pikki...why?). I hope I didn't snip her label off, she could be valuable one day.
-- I was in awe of the Narnia staircase. Snowflakes came out of a little machine, it was dimly lit and filled with snow-dusted fir trees, there was a cutout of Mr Tumnus and the Ice Queen's sled...!
-- I went up to the little girls' floor and found the Sylvanian family I used to have, with their tiny furniture. I didn't know they still made Cabbage Patch Kids! Barbie is more ridiculous than ever. And I also found the Zapf creation baby I had. Now I'd prefer the teeny weeny wrinkled newborn baby. Awwwww it was adorable and looked a bit real.
-- Then I went all the way down to the interactive floor. I bought something! Yes, one of those little Sea Shrimp kits I had about 20 years ago. I was tempted to get the Triassic trilobyte-y kit but let's start small, eh? Oh there is a whole line of Annoying Frog (Ring dinga ding ding ding) products, including a noisemaking keyring. You could get one and annoy people in lifts and Tube carriages.

You know, there were more adults than children in this toy shop...adults unaccompanied by offspring of any sort.


Once I got to Swallow Passage I cut through to Piccadilly, which is when I picked up my dinner. Ah, nearly forgot I went to my old haunt Fortnum & Mason to buy some Orange Pekoe tea. I didn't get a choccie box because they had no dark choc Turkish delight, no marrons glace and no Cocobello logs. Nothing I usually buy! They don't even do mini-Florentines anymore! That section seems to be shrinking, hopefully because it's still dead-January.

But never mind, I forgot I had some Chicci di Caffe from Rococo. They look like coffee beans and taste like coffee, but they're made of dark chocolate and likely infused with coffee essence.

Ooh, it's been ages since I rabbited on about luxury goods, hasn't it? Well, Olivia is once again a Human Bean...!

Oh, and I am going to work tomorrow on Haymarket. Looking extra smart again. Tut.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Dream, Interrupted

This morning before I woke up I was having the nicest dream.

It seems my family (none of whom I now recognise) was sheltering a new superhero - not a surprise since my friend was Lois Lane and she was seriously in love with Superman - in fact they were now a public couple. This new guy didn't have his super-persona figured out yet, and I don't know what his superpowers were supposed to be, but he was certainly special. And he was super-cute...!

We realised we liked each other immensely, so one day as I was sitting on the sofa, he walked up to me and kissed me partly on the cheek, partly on the lips, but I shifted! We were both slightly taken by surprise, especially as he'd never been kissed before and I was only slightly ahead of him. (It was niiiiiice. I had forgotten what that was like!)
No words were spoken in this dream, everything was implicitly understood. We were in love.

Next day he was around again and we were left in the kitchen. Another kiss. That was it - I took his hand, checked both ways and sneaking quietly behind my father in the living room, we went up the stairs. Just as I opened my bedroom door...


I talked, hung up, and flopped back down, head in hands, groaning, "Oh I was sooo gonna score!" Yep, in my dreams...

The story of my life. Always an almost.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Storytellers [Addendum]

Tonight Jia Li, Blue and I had a round robin storytelling session. It involved us agreeing to meet up in Paris in the Jardins des Tuileries, eating ice cream and playing Twister, but we woke up and realised that was a dream which we each had simultaneously. We called each other about the coincidence and decided we'd meet in Paris after all.

We did eat ice cream in the park but didn't play Twister. Instead we went to the Tour Eiffel, but it started raining so we went into a cafe, fell over on the wet tiles and were rescued by two nice Parisians with whom we sat drinking coffee for hours. Jia Li ended up dancing on the table to the Casablanca soundtrack, then we skipped back to the hotel where we ate pizza and watched romantic comedies all night.

Then we woke up again only to find we'd been dreaming, but had somehow turned up in the 31st century. Jia Li tried to make supper but couldn't figure out the futuristic food preparation methods. Fortunately, I was still able to make a cup of tea for everyone. We went out into the city but there were no trees - had we been disconnected from the Matrix? Or had we stepped on mushrooms and entered an unending hallucination? [cf. X-Files episode]

Somehow we found a time machine in the bathroom, and fumbled our way to the 1950s where we lost our heads and ran around screaming, only to bump into our Parisian friends driving a 1953 Thunderbird.

Back to the time machine for us, but it ran out of gas so we landed on the stage in the middle of a 1990s Grateful Dead concert. Ran off screaming again when finally the Time Fairy got fed up with us, probably, and came to rescue us with 3 wishes.

*poof* So in the end we were dancing on a cruise ship in the Mediterranean with our handsome rescuers and one of their brothers.


Comedy, sci-fi, recurring themes, and romance, right there. And this was us writing while not feeling particularly "with it".
So, was the end a dream within a dream, a hallucination, or were we still in the Matrix???

Go to JL's blog if you want to read the original text: The Jia Li Diaries

Huge sigh of relief. The NI problem was cleared up yesterday. Today the IR problem went away too!
Hours of telephone run-arounds and referrals and transfers...I am becoming an expert...

So tomorrow I can go out and earn money again!

12.56 update:
No wait, I can't because I've received the gallery application from the agency and the deadline is tomorrow and I have to drop it off there. This is usually the sort of application that takes a few days, handwritten, with many revisions.

*Girds my loins for the long afternoon/evening/night*

Friday, January 20, 2006


My day had started out so well, but it went downhill once I got home and performed the

10 Point Check:

1) Have been trying all week to contact Internal Revenue because I am missing something important. All busy numbers.

2) So I emailed IR and they gave me a list of phone numbers. Oh no.

3) I called a wrong department just so someone could pick up and I could yell at them. Even worse, she gave me one of the same numbers I've been trying.

4) Finally got through!

5) Suddenly they have a problem with my NI number, so they told me to call NI.

6) Called NI who put in a confirmation ready in 10 days but by then deadline for tax will be over. So they told me to call the Job Centre.

7) Called what I thought was my local Job Centre but may have been in Scotland. She gave me the number for my local JC

8) Called them and must go in Monday for immediate confirmation of number,

9) Which means I have to call my nice temping agency to tell them I won't be available for work because I will be

10) Waiting in long queues at the Job Centre

Which is exactly what I had avoided doing now that I got work! Bugger. All for nonexistent money that I haven't even earned! Bugger.


Thursday, January 19, 2006

Did you miss me?

Did you? Huh?

No, Liv has not disappeared. She went to work today! And pigs did fly!

Yesterday I had that interview remember, with the agency and they liked me loads and are happy to throw me in rather than demurring like others at my so-called "lack" of experience. My wonderfully gay agent said I should get out and do the London office thing, and he thinks I have excellent experience, thankyouverymuch.

He called me at 9 this morning to help cover reception and the post room at a management firm in deepest Mayfair. Nice people, nice place. Very friendly and there was Molton Brown handsoap and lotion in the loo. Yeaaaah...

I had to wear a suit, so spare me. There were two of us from the agency, but they only wanted me again tomorrow, ahem! But I can't go in as I have an interview for a gallery position. (Fingers crossed, thanks!)

I ate a little lunch at Pret a Manger and enjoyed the Piccadilly people-watching. Types are entrancing.

Unfortunately, I missed yoga - I am sooo disappointed. My day ended as yoga started, and it turns out there was nothing to do between 5 and 6 anyway. So boo hoo.

I consoled myself by going off to my club the next street over, picking up the January events calendar and having a cup of tea at the snug little bar upstairs. As I was flipping through their Christmas photo album, I spotted a pic of me at the Masquerade ball.

Having rested my weary tootsies, I went off to M&S and snagged myself a gorgeous size 6 dark brown calf-length skirt suit with matching blouse. Also a black jacket, so I don't get caught out again - mixed black with dark grey today, shame on me. But I was in the middle of finding suits to fit me, that's all. I gave all my square American suits away ages ago.

I really can't spend money on anything more costly than M&S at the moment, and they do fit nicely, though someone usually gets there before me and buys all the petite sixes. I know you girls will agree: It's so exciting to try something on and then let out a gasp to see all the lines falling in a perfect fit....


In other news, I received so many compliments on my parents over at 20six that I fell in love with both of them all over again, and spent a while leaving messages on their phones. Surprisingly, Dad called back and I was breathless with awe and we had voice hugs. But still waiting to hear from Mum...


Continuing the happy people theme, Jia Li and I were reunited with Blue, who has been taking exams since December. She was happy to be back and soaking in the delightful back and forth that Jia Li enjoy.
Then before I could say good night, Blue, bless her heart, posted a pretty thing for me on her blog. As I write this, they probably think I've gone to bed like a good girl, but I just thought you all deserved this nice update beforehand.

So OK, time for beddy-byes now so I can wake up happy and not be in a rush for the gallery interview.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Um, a title? Here.

Went to the interview today. I was one of the only applicants to get 30/30 on the spelling test. The girl before me got 17.

They are trying to fill a position at the local hospital here, so they were rather pleased that it's so close to me (5 minutes' walk?). What savings I will make on travel if I get it. I hope to hear from him tomorrow.

I spent £30 on 3 very pretty items, that had originally totalled £120. I like Principles!
And at Zara, got 4 very preppy items for £20, which would have totalled £70. Also a pair of girls' size 14 cargo jodhpurs for half price at £8.
These sales are amazing.

Yes, I am a girls' size 14...


You've seen my Daddy, so it's only fair you see my Mumsy too.

I used to call her another Jane Eyre because she was ahead of her culture and her time. She used to devour the books in Latin and history and civics, and take tea with the Argentinian ambassador. She didn't want to marry like her sisters did, to spend her life serving her husband. She used to perform a sort of social equality program at her first job in Bookers department store. She would sell necessities for pennies to people she could see were in need, and recoup it by overcharging men who came in to buy baubles with their mistresses.

Aged 22 in 1967

She worked for Revlon and Elizabeth Arden, and even toured Guyana as a ta-da! rep in go-go boots for a soap company, and got into the paper simply because whatever her family did got printed. Small country.

Looking a bit beatnick and rebellious

Once she moved to England, though, after a stint hairdressing, she let loose and went into electronics and early computers. Then she'd get bored and push for promotion. She so wanted to work above men, and she was when she started training them.

Looks like a Supremes fan or something, but actually she preferred dancing to Dean Martin and Nat King Cole.

When she had me, feminism went out the window and Dad took care of us. EMI begged her to come back and held her job for a year, but she said: Nope, I have my baby now.
I tell Mum that she was born to be a mum, and she should have had 100 children because she has more than enough love for them all.

I love my parents, and I wish they were still together. What they had was perfection. Equality in everything, understanding, and deep love. Every time he came home from work, her heart fluttered. There was something in the way they looked at each other. Holding hands in middle age everywhere they went. And lots of laughter at the dinnertable. They met in 1975 and were together for 28 years.

This I will have one day. And it will not end.

Ooh Look!

...I didn't blog last night!

Well, I did a bit of a blurb on 20Six and I dare you, gentle readers, to go over there and see it:

Artmeliana: They Made Me Do It

Monday, January 16, 2006

Like my new sub-topics?


Ooh you know what? It is time for me to try to create my own job! Mainstream applications are getting me nowhere. Since I started writing about my holiday, the signs have increased.

My first ever suggestion came a couple of years ago from Korean friend and former classmate, Sun. When she heard me talking about food, she would tell me I should be a food critic. She should know, as she had been a food writer for a while at home.

Second suggestion came from formerDelightful, who wondered if I had considered writing for a magazine.

Daughter of my Dad's friend said my blog sounds just like when I talk, and dad's friend said I should write a travel article and send it to the papers - not following anyone's pattern, just writing the way I always do.
Then my childhood friend Haruko in Japan said my writing is friendly and warm.

Even Jason jumped on the bandwagon last week asking if I had thought of writing full time. He thinks I have at least one Da Vinci Code or Foucault's Pendulum in me. (Not so sure about that.)

And finally my landlord wants to see some of my writing, since he'd enjoyed reading my thesis so much. He suggested writing a book too, but I said after 4 months of my thesis I was ready to run away from it, much as I still love the subject matter.


What to write, what to write??? *eek*


Do they know the weekend is over?

Or are the phones at the Inland Revenue and Job Centre there just for decoration?

Scenario: It rings and the person at the desk jumps, staring at the telephone as if they've never seen one before.

More likely, it rings and they ignore it.

I may have to slog over there, wait for an hour just to make an appointment, and then return another day for the appointment, enduring the people who try to slot themselves in front because they think "it will only take a minute".


Half of me

You see? What a high standard I have been set by this man.

This is where I got my annoying left eyebrow and part of my face.
Aaah but too bad I didn't get the chameleonic blue/grey/green eyes too. I miss his eyes. And his voice. Some say I follow his speech patterns.

Modelling proof. Girls at Mum's office saw it and said she was crazy for not really wanting to go out with him.

Cheeky over the shoulder. I did it once and spooked a friend who had seen this pic.

Aaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhh, loooooooook. There is an identical picture of me at this age, together in one frame, but my Mum has it.

Friday, January 13, 2006

A non-Italian Friday

First order of business: to thank Jia Li for sending me an enveloped filled with such pretty things!
This and a handmade thank you card (for the diary I sent her for Christmas).

Thank you Mich!

Let's see, what else? No more coughing, it is 99.98% gone!
I went for a long-overdue haircut today at my favourite salon in Knightsbridge. My stylist is Italian, I have found so far they are the best. Stefania gives me the most suitable cut. And that's not all, one of the juniors, who is Korean, gave me the best hairwash I've ever had, not to mention the shiatsu head massage. Her fingers must be worn to nubs.

When I arrived, there had been a minor power outage, so the kettle and fridge didn't work, but once my hair was washed it was up again with most of the lights, so the manager practically begged me to take some tea and I relented ;)
She made it for me on the tray this time, and there was the usual Jaffa cake alongside.

Afterwards, I spotted a nice pair of boots at Walk.

This would please my mother very much because when we were in Italy, she was disappointed that I had not bought the cool Italian boots we were looking at. I didn't because whenever I am out shopping with Mum I subconsciously measure her reactions to any items I consider. As she didn't encourage me, I didn't go in and try them on.
Back at the hotel she said, "Why didn't you buy those lovely boots?"
I said, "Because I needed your permission."
She replied, miffed, "You don't need my permission to buy anything!"

Well, yes, I do. I can shop alone, but when I am with the Mumsy, I need her approval for my purchases. It's just a mum-and-daughter thing. My landlady knew exactly what I meant when I told her. (She has a daughter my age, except she's married with a new baby.)

I tried them on later with my Ralph Lauren moleskin trousers and then had to run downstairs to make a cup of tea because I was choking on a Swedish roll. While I was there, my landlord came into the kitchen and commented that I looked very "horse-ridey" and had I been riding? I said no.
Then he returned to the living room and I overheard him telling landlady:
"Have you seen Olivia...blah blah...horse riding...blah...jodhpurs...boots...." etc.
But later wondered if he meant ever, or just today, because I did a bit here when I was little, and more in Texas when I was older. Western riding is sheer torture for me and I prefer the English saddle position.

I certainly do have a tough grippy pair of waterproof black leather boots that are great in the snow and I don't doubt they'd be good on a horse too. I pinched them off my Mum when we were in Canada two winters ago so she had to get a nasty pair of snow boots, hehe. And as she's nearly two shoe sizes larger than I am, I have to stuff these with insoles and wear two pairs of socks.

A few years ago, I asked my Dad what I could take up that he regretted not doing. He immediately said, "Horse riding."
It's a valid question, I mean he has ice skated, danced professionally, modelled, flown a plane, been on the original Avengers, hung out with actors and artists (his brother was a high-so. portraitist), gone shooting, dated a Rothschild, been on a Top Secret missile project, worked on the first Concorde design in France....

One of my friends and I once exhausted a list.
"Have you done [this]?" Yep.
"How about [that]? Done that.

The only thing he hasn't done is been on a submarine. I think...

I have a lot of catching up to do!


*Hmph* The Arts Club sent its newsletter this month by Adobe email attachment...Which means that to book any activities (and oh there are so many!) I have to print it out myself. *grumble*

They have a new head chef - the Club's kitchen is already renowned across "clubland" for its excellence - even my landlady agrees because her club (which is homeless) has held events there.
So now they've hired this chef who studied under Michel Bourdin, and has worked, among other places, at the Connaught Hotel, Waterside Inn at Bray, Gravetye Manor, and Goldman Sachs. Ew well, excuse me.

If you're wondering why invitations have not been forthcoming: They're not doing Sunday roasts until March. It seems everything comes to life in March, including the whole of Italy, whereas London never really sleeps.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Can we go home now???

Woo. I took Night Nurse last night and it had me out for nearly 12 hours, and I still woke up for a bit of a cough in the wee hours and then flopped out again.

But good news - I returned to Yoga tonight! It was not as difficult as I'd expected it would be, considering the past month's inactivity, heavy eating, and then the cough. Surprisingly, I didn't gain weight on holiday. Mum says she even lost some. On 4 course meals and lots of sitting?


27th December - Montecatini

Christmas over, we now started on the first leg of our homebound journey.
Our drivers were kind enough to let us sleep in after last night's Sorrento musical, so departure was set for the humane hour of 9.30. Usually when we have a day's driving ahead of us, it would be at 7.30.

We drove northwards all day through green and picturesque Tuscany. We reached Terme di Montecatini, not far from Florence, in the early evening. It is a picturesque town, obviously prosperous because of the spa and more northern, Swiss-like undertones. Needless to say, it has a busy town centre and an elite shopping street with all the usual luxury brands.

Mum and I went for a walk before dinner. It was freezing cold and I could smell snow in the air, somewhere further north.

The hotel was pretty and full of antiques. They did try. The counterpane and curtains in our room were of pretty royal blue and gold damask. But the food was not as good as Hotel Mary's and certainly the staff didn't put love into anything they did.

One thing I did see in Montecatini that made me sad was to see that one of the spas, in a beautiful Art Nouveau building, is now closed. I know we were off-season, but this seemed different. It was eerie to approach such a building at night, but I dragged Mum along and peered in. *shudder* Anyway, the letter posted on the door said as best as I could make out that the spa had been closed due to its not meeting certain health and safety standards. Sheets painted with protests about licensing laws had been hung all along the fencing. That is definitely not a mere winter closure.
Walking further along, the same fate seems to have befallen the local Spa Authority building.

*Montecatini Mystery* -- I meant to look it up when I came back but forgot.
I have just done so and am just as ignorant as I was a few minutes ago.


From what I could see, Italian women either wear too much make up or none at all. I didn't see much that came in between. Some of you know how I apply mine, so I felt perfectly natural compared to them!

28th December - Bienvenue en France (thanks are due to Rox for the correction)

We made an early morning departure in the near dark. We saw a group of Chinese tourists leaving their hotel as well.

All day we drove into and out of pockets of falling snow and freezing fog.

In the early afternoon we reached the ski resort town of Courmayeur for lunch. Another town with even more of a Swiss feel about it, I could tell we were near.
It was -8C (about 17 F) here but I was happy in my mohair cardigan, wasn't I? A hot chocolate did not go far amiss here!

Unfortunately our drivers informed us that they would not be taking us through the St Bernards Pass (70 Euros) owing to traffic jams caused by an accident. We would detour through the more expensive Mont Blanc pass (100 Euros) which they said we would not regret because of the views.
Here's a point: The horrendous amount of money they spent on tolls on the French autoroute and Italian autostrada!

It is a long pass that goes under the great mountain. In Italy we entered Monte Bianco and exited in France at Mont Blanc. Not officially.
Every time we went into a pass, we derived a lot of amusement watching the coach's outdoor thermometer climb. In previous passes we reached about 17 C (~63 F) but under Mont Blanc we got all the way up to 25 C (77 F)! The air conditioning came on.

Once we emerged on the other side, we were treated to spectacular views of Mont Blanc. We also got out to take photos of the glacier. It was not spectacular or anything, but quite an experience to see the dense blue-green colour of the ice, and to consider that it is frozen water that has remained virtually unmelted for millions of summers.

Not long after that we saw Chamonix. All afternoon our eyes were full of alpine towns and Swiss-style chalets. Most of our mileage on this day was spent as the coach slowly descended from the mountain altitudes on winding roads. My ears even popped. What patience and concentration poor Dennis needed for this drive!

We arrived in Chalon-sur-Saone around 7pm at the hotel Ibis. At least you always know you'll get a certain standard with the big chains. It was really cute, and the warmest hotel I'd been in since the start of the trip, probably because it's not a draughty old palazzo with no heating at night, but a modern, well-insulated building. Mum and I even slept with the window propped open.
Dinner was held in the funky modern dining room. Lots of red and fuchsia. Even the water glasses were like I'd never seen before in a public venue: red glass with grooves cut through to the plain glass underneath. Very cool table centre-pieces with fresh flowers floating on water and dyed leaf skeletons around the rim. There was a sort of porthole so we could see into the big white kitchen. The landscaping outside on the terrace was uplit with an array of coloured uplights that faded from hue to hue. Is there a name for this? Everyone does it now.
And this was just a Hotel Ibis!

I sat beside an older lady who was very interested in my art history studies because she had been a dress designer at one time. On the end wall of the restaurant was a reproduction of a painting I should have known off the top of my head, not only because I'd studied the artist, but also because Steliano had blogged about pointillism in art and music only the week before! (Link will open in a new window.)

It drove us bonkers not knowing. We did know, however, that it was called The Bathers. So she started making a list with me answering. Manet? No. Monet? No no. Renoir? Oh no. Toulouse-Lautrec? Nope, he painted nightlife. It did bother me that she was convinced it was Renoir, but I insisted Renoir was no pointillist.
So we gave up and resolved to go and have a look in the corner after dinner.
Seurat! George Seurat. I kicked myself a few times. We proclaimed that we would never forget his name after that. (I did momentarily as I typed this, I admit.)
Note: The Bathers at Asnieres was painted before his pointillist days.


Home Run!

Well, on the 29th we drove and drove, reached Calais, and finally Dover. The previous 3 days we had merely endured the endless roads, sitting, sleeping, reading.
At Dover, all our fellow passengers got out for their connecting coaches to parts north- and west-ward. They had the hardest night ahead of them. Our coach was making stops in the London area and up to Watford, so other people who had been on other company trips got it.

I am so glad we did not travel with them! They were loud and the smell of smoke clung to their coats. It looked as though they had been to the Tyrol, as I spotted the unmistakable green hat.

At Waterloo our drivers stopped and got out to give us our baggage and kiss us goodbye and wish us well for we were "good folk" (to be said in your best Geordie accent).

*The End of my Italian Adventure*

I will never go on another coach trip. This was my first and shall be my last. I can endure 10 hours in a plane, but not this. I have never slept so much in my life. The passing road hypnotises me I think, because despite having had enough hours of sleep the night before, every couple of hours I would drift into a wicked sleep.
-- 5 days of 3 and 4 course meals and short days out
-- 5 days of 10 hour drives with 20 minute stops every 3 hours

Not again...

I do appreciate the fact that I could not have arranged so many hotels, trips, and activities myself for a comparable price or stress-free.
Next time, however, I will fly to one destination and take short day trips, then fly home again.

It is my opinion that a place cannot become endeared to you if you pass through it one day for an hour. You have to hang around a bit at cafes, discover favourite areas, people-watch, even get a little bored. Then it will settle in to a corner of your heart.

This is what happened with Paris: 5 days, a friendly boulangerie round the corner, two visits to the same places, going shopping to pack a picnic for Giverny, kissing the sailors on Bastille Day, sitting on a wall gazing at the Tour Eiffel and saying goodbye to it.

And Verona for 4 days - once every street has been explored, it's like this: afternoons at the top of the Arena sketching and humming, cooling off at a cafe for hours watching the beautiful Veronese, ordering a gelato, then a granita, then maybe a salada mista, soaking up the atmosphere everywhere, and going on a solo shopping trip.

Both of these places are now special to me. So is Rome, as I spent 5 days there in 2003.

*gasp* No more Italy stories to tell you! A bit sad, sort of the feeling I get when I've finished a long novel. I miss the setting and the characters. What do you think?

I plan to let you down slowly with a little daily treat.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Boxing Day Amalfi-style

Today in London there was a natural phenomenon that caused my eyes to hurt and made everything look colourful! I hear that such an occurrence is usually called sunshine, by those who know...!


The daily kitchen chat today consisted of landlord and I comparing Mustards. I have 3: Colman's hot English, hot spicy French, and rough hot Derbyshire - a lot for one person eh? But he outdid me with about 5.


Boxing Day - the Amalfi Coast and Sorrento Musical Evening

We went on the classic Amalfi Coast drive with our endearing guide, "Bene bene Cosimo" and his driver "Casanova". I wish I could have captured the lines he came out with.

"Casanova you do not the horrrn when I am talking!"

Although it was a day of occasional spitting rain, the views were stunning and I could imagine how breathtaking it would be on a sunny day...coastal Campania is all about communities clinging to the cliffsides, little villages sandwiched orange orchards and the sea.

We had a little tour of Amalfi. Away from the main streets, Amalfi consists of stairways and split level buildings which face out onto little piazzas. Deliveries are often made by a basket on a rope from whichever windows face the piazza.
After the tour, some of us went into the cathedral of St Andrew. There was a brass band in the main piazza, and apart from that just lots of shops. Overall too commercial for me.

I did enjoy leading Mum out as far as she would go onto the long rock pier. I took in lungsful of the clear sea air. From there we could see a long colonnaded building on the cliff high above the town. Back in the coach, Bene Bene Cosimo said it was a convent that became a cemetary. "The people who go for funeral will cryyyyy to think how many steps they must climb."

We stopped for a lunch prix fixe in Scala, and then the rain just came peeing down but we made it to Ravello. Now this town I liked. I could go exploring on a pleasant day and take photos of its charmingly shabby corners and ruinous housefronts.

Only 3 of us wandered this far in. Mum, the Captain's wife, and me. She slowed us down a bit, as Mumsy and I love a bit of a foray. She remained about 10 steps behind us but we could hear her let off some pretty long and loud ones. I didn't know someone could contain that much gas. Farting for England, she was. Valuable asset for British Gas. If anyone could get us to the moon it would be her. Specially with beans. Put her at the foot of Vesuvius, she could start it off again. She ought to move to Tooting.
Austin Powers would have punned to high heaven on this one. Speaking of which, she could get there on her own.

And after the last one, she called out, "Don't leave me behind." It was all Mum and I could do not to die laughing. What if we'd been slow enough to walk with her?

On the drive back to Vico Equense, we passed by Naples and Pompeii on the autostrada. One view, inexplicably, caused the entire coachload to gasp, "aaaaaah" which an entire day of Amalfi coastline had not. Why? I am not sure, but here it is:

All I know is it's possibly Naples. We'd been listening to the guide for 8 hours and I was tired, so if he'd said anything, I missed it.
It is a large urban area set on a huge plain surrounded on three sides by mountains and the sea on the fourth.


*sigh* Anyway, after dinner, the younger, braver, and more culturally tolerant members of our party went on the Sorrento Musical Evening. Some of them had seen it before and didn't like. I liked it! Not as awesome as Greek Festival Houston, but good enough. The cast played live instruments: violin, guitar, tambourine, mandolin, and castanets. The violinists played nonstop for the whole 70 minutes of the show. The dancers were more balletic than authentic but that was quite pretty. I endured the operatic Italian songs (including O sole mio and Funiculi funicula), but enjoyed the fast folk songs where everyone joins in, and there was a hilarious laughing song in the middle. One of the dancers looked just like me only bigger, and her ears even turned red like mine do! I leaned over to Mumsy and whispered, "That dancer with the short hair's ears have turned red." Mum replied, "Doesn't she look like someone I know." I said innocently, "Who?" She said, "Someone I know!" We repeated those last two lines back and forth until I'd reduced Mum to frustrated giggling. I love setting her off like that :)

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

On the fifth day of Christmas....

Well I didn't get 5 gold rings and I don't mind because I've gone off gold.

I held a 22 minute conversation this afternoon without coughing! Still not sure if I am stable enough to go to yoga. Because once it starts...
I ought to spend a week rebuilding my energy. Oh bother. I was so looking forward to classes again :(


Last night I went downstairs for a midnight snack and, I kid you not: the clock on the oven read 24.00. I watched and waited and then it became....0.01.

Oh yes my life is so interesting right now.


And so we come to day 5 of the vicarious Italy trip.

Christmas Day - Sorrento

Our drivers had taken us into town the afternoon before simply for something to do after Pompeii. I bought myself a chocolate mohair mix cardigan. Nice and fluffy, and when I put it on, for the first time since leaving London, I felt warm!!! To my fingertips!

So this I wore on Christmas day with my aquamarine scarf. Mmmm cosy.

It felt a little like we'd been taken out to stave off possible boredom at the hotel, but there were rumours of a parade at noon, so a few of us stuck together and wandered around for a few hours first. Went into the basilica, stood over the harbour, saw some pretty buildings.

We had a mid-morning coffee at a lovely big cafe on the main square. Because it was Xmas Day, we got plates of assorted little pasticcini biscuits.
Oh yes, the second night in Italy I gave in to all the coffee and drank a caffe latte. It was yummy, to say the least. I had given up coffee years ago because even cafe au lait made my digestive tract feel acidic. But I had no problems here, so for the remainder of my sojourn (thanks D) in Italy I stayed with mid-morning caffee lattes. I could just about handle cappuccinos but they gave me that feeling so I avoided them.

We were right in the square where the procession would pass, so we sat tight and waited.
After the lead police car had squeezed through, the crowd moved back only when the Sbandieratori flag throwers had pushed them outwards. No one would want to get hit by a flying flag, now, would they?
This was something I had never experienced before - men in full parti-coloured medieval dress skillfully tossing around giant feudal flags accompanied by hypnotic drumbeats. Like so:

If you would like to see a short video clip of this performance, please click HERE.

(It will open in a new window. Yay, Motime now hosts media!)

We returned to the hotel in time for lunch at 1pm, and spent the next 4 hours eating.

1) Seafood salad - squid, pickled sardine and mussels on a bed of lettuce. (yum sardines!)
2) Canneloni (or minestrone soup) (nice canneloni)
3) Egg & oxtail soup (comforting)
4) Steak and chips
After this I thought we'd get dessert but then the waiter came around and laid forks on the table.
"What's this for?"
"But we've just had steak! Is it dessert?"
"No it's for fish."
5) Grilled white fish and prawns on salad (quite nice)
6) I think there was more after this, but our table rebelled and asked for gelato.
Mum and I stuck around for the:
7) Bowls of mixed nuts with nutcrackers, bowls of apples and oranges
8) Plates of unshelled pumpkin seeds

It was 5pm. Christmas dinner was scheduled for 8pm. So Mum and I did stair exercises and walked around the terrace for about half an hour.

It goes downhill from here, so beware.
While watching TV, drinking water and resting from the exercise, I began to feel queasy and voila, part of the lunch made a reappearance! And there was that horrible chilly feeling you get in your shoulders beforehand.

The last time I hugged any porcelain was 10 years ago. That time it was food poisoning from cheesecake and went on for hours, but this was over in a minute and only confirmed that I must have an allergy to mussels, which I used to love when I was little until I suddenly reacted to them one night. (It was the same after eating a bowlful in Normandy in 1996 - I felt like shit on the train back to Paris, but thankfully everything stayed down.)

Anyway, needless to say I will never touch another mussel in my life and I won't miss them, silly little things.

We did not go down for the dinner and dancing, and poor mum, who always feels bad when I'm sick, went to sleep. I started getting hungry around 10pm, so I went downstairs to see how the celebrations were going, and to get a mug of chamomile tea.

Nino the night manager was there: "Melissa! How are you?" When I said I wasn't feeling so good, and used the universal comme-ci comme-ca hand rotation, he crowded round and said I could go into the dining room and ask the bar for whatever I wanted. However, he stayed behind me and asked the barman for a cup of chamomila for the signorina and said something else besides, then shimmered back off to the foyer. While my tea was being made, our tablemates waved me over to ask if we were OK - to my surprise, nearly everyone had turned up for dinner. They had just finished the meat and peas course, which I could not bear to see or smell.

The barman (who was a cutie) laid my tea tray. He put a sugar in the saucer, I took it off, and then he put it back again. OK.
When I reached into my pocket he waved me off saying it was free!

So I went upstairs to drink my chamomile - with sugar - and two Pims jaffa cakes, put my headphones on, found the second half of Handel's Messiah on the radio and ended up singing along to the end! All better.


Neapolitans (I can't say the same for Romans) have a knack for cluttering up the pavements and roads with themselves. They stand in tight clusters of between 3 and 5, smoking, shouting, gesticulating.

So the police had quite a task clearing and re-clearing the square. People wouldn't even let the lead police car through for a few minutes, one woman crossed in front of it as though nothing was happening!

There is something very Greek in the way the men greet each other with a kiss on each cheek. The older members of our group couldn't handle it, but I said nothing. With these old English people you have to mete out multicultural enlightenment in small doses.
(Thank goodness we weren't in the middle east - they get 5 kisses!)

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Numero Quattro

Two people who have meant much to me celebrated their birthdays this weekend. Lord H on Saturday, and the former Delightful on Sunday.

Hm, Capricorns...

For you London readers, does anyone know anyone who needs a room in far SW? There's one going in H's house.


Oh yes, still coughing. It's good exercise. All the muscles on my back are sore.
I went out on Friday and when the tickle catches you in the train, there's just no stopping it. Icelandic Opals with chloroform in them didn't even help. So I decided I would stay home this weekend and battle it out in my room and eat most of the food in my freezer.

However, it meant I caught all the calls from people who wanted to talk, even after I told them in a wobbly voice that I shouldn't, so I made good use of my mute button to save their eardrums, and said as little as possible, thus not saving mine :)

To stay occupied, I laundered and vacuumed everything in sight, and my room is now sparkling and smells like springtime!


Ready for day 4? I know some of you were holding your breath for this one!

Saturday 24th, Christmas Eve - POMPEII

This was the day of the warmest afternoon sunshine on the entire trip. Our guide Christine led us up the black-paved road into Pompeii. Mount Vesuvius was visible from every part of town, a constant reminder of the tragedy that befell that once-prosperous town.

We were told that before 79 AD, Vesuvius had two peaks and was double its present height! So the ancient inhabitants of the region were treated to an even more menacing view than we are.

The Forum
In what used to be the grain storage sheds, we saw a few of the figures preserved from disintegration when the archaeologists injected the crumbling ash cases with plaster. One lay flat on its back. Another lay on its stomach, one arm shielding its forehead, the other covering its eyes and face. Such a scene forced most of us to imagine ourselves perishing like that in pain and terror, suffocating on hot gas.

Surrounding the figures were countless clay pots, amphorae, and other surviving fragments of daily Roman life. Unfortunately, until the archaeologists excavated Pompeii in the 18th century, burrowing looters stripped it of anything worthwhile.

I read years ago in National Geographic of rooms that are preserved as they were abandoned two millennia ago, with entire meals laid out on tables, down to the wooden bowls of olives and loaves of bread, everything preserved by the fine coating of ash that settled - and hardened - after the deadly superheated gases had killed every living thing. Perhaps they have been moved to the museum or can be seen in Herculaneum which is smaller and possibly better-preserved as a result.

Bakery and Streets
We saw a bakery with its millstones made of volcanic rock. I suspect ancient bread was very gritty. Anway, the millstones were powered by mules - the fully-harnessed skeleton of one had been found here.

Many Romans did not eat lunch at home, so there were fast food bars (thermopolia - a nice Greek word) everywhere. Marble counters with sunken jars for cold foods, holes with lids for hot pots and contained heating sources underneath. Ingenious.

All the streets in Pompeii are paved with heavy blocks of igneous rock, and crossing each street at regular intervals are raised blocks, keeping the Pompeiian feet out of the mud and mire of the street. The wagons had formed ruts in the stone, and this is the reason wheel spacing became standardised - they also passed neatly between the crossing blocks.

Forum Baths

The usual, but this is the first bath I have been to with preserved walls mosaic floors and even vaulting! I remember the caldarium most of all. The bath took up quarter of the room - there was a vent beside it which let in hot air from the hypocaust underneath. On the other end of the room in what we could compare to an apse, was a giant marble urn-like fountain the bathers could splash about at if they got too hot. It was colder than ice and along the rim were copper-topped lead letters set flush with the surface stating the name of the man who had donated the money for the fountain, and to vote for him in the next election.

A bit like sponsored pews of the 19th century or park benches today, only a bit more ruthless as a political ad.

Looking up, the vault was ingenious. There were windows which might have been covered with adjustable vents, for light or temperature control. The colour preservation on the raised ceiling friezes was amazing. Very Wedgwood. You have to see:


House of the Faun

An unusually large house even for upper class Pompeii, modelled after aristocratic mansions of Rome. The doorstep was mosaiced with the letters HAVE - (I had no idea the letter H existed in Latin, did you Rebecca?) - but it means the same as Ave (hail, or greetings)

Here we found the well-known giant mosaic of Alexander defeating Darius. My favourite part is the horse's bottom in front of Darius's chariot. Personally I think it's a deliberate insult to show a mooning horse before the Persian king!
Alexander is as glorious as ever, with his curly hair and large eyes.

The House of the Tragic Poet

Here we saw the famous Cave Canem mosaic. Scholars dispute its meaning as not being "Beware of the Dog" but rather more something like, "Don't step on our small dog" because well-to-do Roman households valued their pampered lap dogs.

The House of the Small Fountain

Smaller, and thanks to the roof being intact, the wall frescoes are preserved, whereas the Faun house is just large open spaces.

I do wish that more of Pompeii were like this:

It gives me a better sense of the life that once existed there, though I do understand that if rooms were set up and roped off, fewer tourists would be accommodated and we would not see things as close up as we do now.

Now we can touch the walls, the bricks, even the frescoes; walk on the mosaics and look up at the ceilings.

The House of the Vetii (vetii are wealthy freedmen), where the walls are covered in the most vivid Pompeiian red and black frescoes. We did not go in to see them, but through bars could see this:

Priapus, a god of fertility, weighing his willy. Poor chap, having to lug that thing around every day. ;)

This is a proper fresco, but we all know Pompeii is notorious for its lewd graffiti (didn't see any), the phallic symbols used as good luck charms, and the ones used as a trademark above brothel doors.

We only spent an hour in Pompeii. It covers an area of 7 or 8 acres with more being uncovered daily. I would spend at least two days there, personally. To my disappointment, we did not see the Villa of the Mysteries, which for years has been one thing I have wanted to see. Here frescoes with Greek and Egyptian influence depict unusual marriage rituals.
Or the Garden of the Fugitives where so many of the plaster bodies are laid out.
And so much else!

I could not talk about something like Pompeii without proper illustrations, could I?
I hope you all enjoyed it, and if you want to see more pics or if these ones have disappeared as they did in my last few posts, go to my gallery:
Neapolitan Christmas 2005

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Third Installment

I've noticed that the bohemian fashions for the new season are still somewhat gypsy-ish, but having shed the trashy peasant phase (that so pleased H&M), they are now entering a more 19th century romantic poet style. I LIKE!

I keep thinking Shelley, Keats and Byron! Yesssss.

There is a secondary Chinese theme, which I like as well.

Friday 23rd - Jet Set Capri

But not much of it rubs off on you when it's cold :P Actually it turned into a mild day, about 12C (50F) but only for a few moments on the sheltered side of the island.

From Sorrento we took the one morning ferry to the island of Capri. The first thing we did was take a tiny local bus up the perilously winding roads to the town of Anacapri, which in Greek means "on top of Capri".

We all went "weeeeee!" as we careered round the hairpin bends in that little bus, and "wooooo!" if we got a glimpse over the edge. Never seen such small seats in my life. And no bus fares. You just hop on and off.

I've just remembered the dream I had last night. It was an exaggerated, more cartoony version of that bus ride, a real sphincter-clincher as there were no barriers, the roads were narrower, and just like a cartoon, some moments we were on two wheels.


It's odd but Capri gave me no real impressions. There were great views. We saw a pair of musicians in Anacapri, one with early bagpipes and the other with a sort of primitive clarinet. They played an intriguing authentic reel which I enjoyed, but my ears are more international than those of the older English people in the group. They stood around saying things like, "Call that a tune?"
Well, plenty of eastern music is not an actually hummable tune, but it is a melody - one that English ears cannot understand today - they have forgotten that medieval music was very eastern, influenced by the rhythms and instruments brought back in the Crusades.
And I dreaded to hear what the Scotsman might say about the piper, and was heartily relieved to see that they became buddies, united by the bagpipes rather than driven apart by them.

[I wonder how many Scottish people know bagpipes originated in the middle east. I discovered this when I watched a world music channel in the US, and there was a really cool bagpipe song from Spain. Did Spain get bagpipes from the Moors and let it spread it across Europe, or did Europeans return to their respective countries bearing eastern bagpipes?]

Then we descended into the town of Capri and had a pleasant wander around, and caught the one ferry back to Sorrento in the late afternoon. Imagine that, we were ON the legendary Bay of Naples!

Bits n bobs:

Capri has no water source, so it must be shipped from Sorrento.

Caesar Augustus bought the island from the Neapolitans and had a villa there. Oh, remember yesterday I mentioned his wife was Livia, the first Empress of Rome. Their son was Tiberius.

The island was made famous by the singer Gracie Fields who was buried there.
I kept insisting that

I've been wondering how Capri got its name. Apparently the island was full of wild boars so the Greeks named it kapros after the mean things.


Just because I spoke French in France, really...one woman on the tour asked me if I was French. As if an Anglophone couldn't possibly have any extensive knowledge of another language or culture without being a native.
I couldn't tell you how many of my fellow travellers would come to me to ask for translation in Italian. Possibly because some of them overheard me talking to someone over the counter early on or because I yelled at a flower seller who followed us at the Vatican like a stray dog. That's as far as my Italian goes, survival and a tiny bit of banter, but sometimes it makes all the difference.

I wrote too much today...I will keep Christmas Eve for tomorrow because we went to Pompeii and you know I will have a heap to say about it!

Wednesday, January 04, 2006


Ohhh, I have coughed enough. Every time I cough, the back of my head hurts, my brain's tired of rattling around in there.

Ready for Chapter 2? Am I being too detailed? Lots of people come back from holiday and they say, "It was great! We saw a sunset. I want to go back." The end. But noooo, Olivia has to tell stories.

Wednesday 21st - a Lake of Islands

We awoke to some excellent views of Lake Maggiore in the pale orange tones of a winter sunrise.
It was a freezing cold day, but the crazy English tourists had a guide and a boat and we went out to Isola Bella. Here the Borromeo family, lords of Lake Maggiore for the past 700 years, built their summer palace in the 18th century. Today they have come down in the world. No longer lordly rulers, they are mere financiers who nevertheless still own their titles, islands, and land nearby. Heck, they're in banking and they collect rent.
The palace is unfinished and has a rather forbidding air. Silence reigned as all is closed up for the season. What's worse the palace is unfinished, even though work continued into the 1950s! The ballroom is done in a nice Wedgwood blue.

We went on to Isola delle Pescatore, the island of fishermen. We saw the chapel (with a 12th century apse) dedicated to San Carlo Borromeo, who was pope in the 17th century, I believe. When his elder brother died and he inherited the title, he refused to leave the church because unlike most second sons, he really did feel the calling.
There are only 12 winter inhabitants on this island and every shop door announces their reopening in March 2006, a common occurrence across the Amalfi region, which is now majorly supported by tourism.

This was the day my little campaign succeeded in shaking the oaf - what the Victorians would have called "cutting" someone. And I brought us into the more amiable society of some lovely older couples. However, civilities continued and he never completely went away as he sat at our dinner table from then on. Everyone tolerated him because he had only 2 topics of conversation: 1) his daughters never visit him (I don't blame them) and 2) anything related to coach tours as he is a seasoned coach traveler and is buddies with all the drivers from all the companies.

Leaving Maggiore, we trundled onwards to Chianciano Spa near Rome, to a horrible hotel. I can't even remember the room.

It was just a stop so that on...

Thursday 22nd - From Roma to the Goal

...we could visit the Vatican! Yes, we went into the Basilica San Pietro with our exuberant guide Antonino. He showed us that every "painting" in the Basilica is actually a fine mosaic, and that the building is completely symmetrical.
He told us that the lettering in the gold mosaic friezes under the clerestory are 6 feet tall. And other jaw-dropping facts related to its scale.
Out in the piazza, after asking my name, he made much of the fact that Livia was the wife of...some emperor...neither of us could remember which one. [Note: Livia, wife of Augustus and first Empress of Rome]
And he pointed out the webcam, the chimney where the smoke comes out when a pope is elected, and the window of the Pope's private apartment.

Then we were off on a quick drive across Rome past the Memoriale Vittorio Emanuele II, the Colosseum, the Imperial Forum, and shot out of Rome and on to our main destination of Vico Equense near Sorrento in the Italian region of Campania.
As soon as we arrived at dinnertime, the staff began their attentive hospitality, which has kept the tour company with them for 20 years, even through a move to a new building.

We sat at a table for the next 5 days with the two couples we'd met the day before at lunch and dinner. S&D, a funny pair who keep buying coffee for Mum and me. G&P, a kind woman with a very impish husband. And the oaf, but he was at the other end of the table and it was poor D who had to endure his repetitions.

After dinner the night manager Nino, who looked like a young James Brolin only with the same colouring he has now, said to Mum, "Are you Melissa's mother?" A moment of laughter and confusion while we take in the fact that someone knows, and is using, my middle name. As it dawns on me that he's read our passports, Mums says, "How'd you know her middle name?" He replies, "I know her from London." She's always walking into these moments. P had great delight pulling her leg for the entire trip.
And so, to Nino, for the next 5 days, I was Melissa.

1) There are orange and lemon trees EVERYWHERE on the Amalfi coast. The streets are paved with....citrus fruits. I remember seeing maybe one olive tree?

2) Now I will give you the quick overview that I emailed to Vanessa this morning. She asked a load of questions, including one on Bernini and the Baroque, but actually, off the top of my head I could tell her more about the eruption of Vesuvius and the destruction of Pompeii because that knowledge is older.
Did you know that Michelangelo designed the Swiss Guards' uniforms? It is the oldest uniform design in use today. He also designed the dome, a feat of engineering.
The statue of St Peter began as Jupiter; in fact it was ancient Roman pilgrims who kissed his toes shiny before he was converted.
The circular shape of the colonnades surrounding St Peter's Square represents the arms of the Mother Church welcoming the world.
The immense baldacchino was created by Bernini and the wasps encircling the twisted columns were the family symbol of the Pope in office at that time.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Really Back Now

I am back indeed, as my dear mother is going home tomorrow morning. So, prepare to be regaled with tales from the Continent.

But first: the week's catch up news: not much really.

We spent the afternoon in Richmond with my grandmother and ate London's best fish and chips at the Fish Bar on King Street. When we left, a wintry haze had descended, though it wasn't so cold.

I am no longer fighting the sore throat I developed the day I returned from Italy, but have moved on to the stupid itchy cough. I could have done worse; sitting for days in a coach with lots of people is akin to a few hours in a plane.

Yesterday I showed off a bit in the kitchen and made my tangy grapefruit recipe for Mum. Landlady gave us the dining room as well as two Christmas crackers. I am abandoning my recipe, as the new thyme honey I had bought ruined the flavour and aroma of the sauce. I was standing over the pot insisting, "It smells different....ew, it tastes all wrong!" I can't describe it, but it was sort of pungent. The sauce is supposed to be tangy and sweet with a layer of spring oniony-ness, but all of that was lost thanks to that honey. Mumsy was diplomatic and said nothing, even emptied her plate. Unusual for her not to comment on my cooking. You know how it is with the daughters of good cooks, they can never get it right.

Oh joy! My Dad called me last night! Last year I wouldn't hear from him unless I contacted him first, so I stopped and waited to see how long he would take. He had the flu over Christmas and New Year's, so he must be in the post-flu bout of depression, and missed the familiarity of his ex-family.


And now, gentle readers, be prepared for a vicarious holiday. You deserve it now that you're back at work ;)

Monday 19th - Welcome to France

Our drivers were Dennis and Billy, northern lads. Dennis was the quiet one in charge with a little dry humour that we only heard over the intercom. Billy was the younger one on the sugar high who never ran out of quips. He was from Sunderland and it took me a couple of days to start to understand him.
We crossed at Calais and then made an alcohol stop. Mum and I bought a coconut and chocolate rum from Guadeloupe. It is...abominable.
In the ferry we had a nasty 'caf' dinner and were stuck with the annoying oaf who was picked up with us from London and who waited with us for the coach.
From Calais we drove for hours through freezing fog and arrived late at a little hotel in Rheims.

Through the windows of the ferry, I could see seagulls flying in the opposite direction. In the dark.

Tuesday 20th - A Spot of Excitement and Onwards to Italy

In the morning we awoke to hear that the coach had been broken into and wouldn't start because the electrical system had been tampered with in order to open the hatch. This was a lovely 5-week-old Volvo worth over £200,000! Luggage had been opened and clothing strewn all over a wet alleyway. Some people lost jewellery and electronics, but thankfully ours were untouched and we keep our valuables in our overnight cases anyway.

The manager called the police and a Volvo mechanic and another lady and I were roped in to help with some translation. The police could do nothing really; the mechanic came long after they'd left, called an electrician, and then one of his friends. We were over 6 hours behind schedule.
They provided us with free tea, coffee, croissants and placed us in a conference room where the wickedest members of the group wrote down cheeky things on a meeting board. After a while the one who had started it turned a new sheet and expressed our appreciation and Xmas wishes. Having meandered around chatting with everyone and ignoring the oaf who had attached himself to Mum and me, I went over and wrote it in French underneath and received a resounding applause.
The hotel was very kind and fed us a 3-course lunch on short notice. When someone came in asking if anyone spoke French, there was a loud rustle as everyone in the room turned and pointed at me.

We had a nice salad with vinaigrette and a topping of warm duck giblets (best salad on the whole trip). Roast duck leg in a white wine reduction with pasta (this being definitely make-do food for 35 people!). Still-frozen profiteroles in warm chocolate sauce. Finally, espresso. I drank one and thus began my trans-continental enjoyment of a beverage I used to detest!

Once on the road, we whizzed past Salzbourg in the dark, where we had been supposed to stop for a wienerschnitzel type lunch, passed very late through Switzerland and finally made it to Lake Maggiore on the Italian side. We arrived at the hotel in Verbania at midnight, where the major domo and the chef had waited to lay out our 3-course meal with grilled trout as the main. Some had gone straight to bed; Mum and I left after the minestrone soup but a few brave souls stayed to the end and went to bed at nearly 2am.

Our room was absolutely cavernous! The bathroom alone was the size of a small bedroom. The shower in Rheims was great, but this was a bathtub with a shower head attached so high up the wall we could hardly reach it, plus it was on the wide side of the tub, so where is the water supposed to go? Ended up running a bath and washing my hair under the tap.

I awoke in the wee hours to the most frigid room I have ever inhabited. My nose was so cold I could not feel it. I turned onto my stomach and rested my chin on the pillow so my warm breath would hold off the frostbite (!). With nothing but two blankets and a spread, and despite my long flannel jammies and socks, I slept fitfully between 2 and 6, when the heating came back on.

1) The Europeans seem to be inept at arranging convenient bathrooms. (Seriously, last year I stayed in a 550 Euro per night room, the shower was set on a cradle above the tap - all plumbing again set against the side of the tub. Every night I created a puddle on the marble floor...)
2) Only good thing is they always provide a bidet!
3) It seems in the closed season, unused plumbing runs rusty for a long while!
4) Cutting off the heat is either a European attempt at environmental conservation, or those hotels were lacking the extra star needed to keep it on for their guests!

Sunday, January 01, 2006


Happy New Year! May you be happy, healthy and filled with joy. May your endeavours be successful, and may you find the time to dream.

I went to see The Chronicles of Narnia with my mother yesterday. I highly recommend a viewing, it was very well done. A higher than usual number of the scenes touched me to tears.

I haven't read the book since I was about 12, but the tiny details that entranced me as a child came flooding back. I remember that at the time, I was intrigued that the White Witch gave Peter hot chocolate and Turkish delight, and the giant fur coats the children wrapped around themselves. Those are the sorts of physical impressions that stayed with me from much of my early reading.

Lucy is adorable and I love the expressions of wonder and awe on her kind and open face. Can't wait to see her in another movie one day.
Peter is a cutie and I think he looks great wielding that sword. He may grow into a heart-throb yet.
Mr Tumnus is really endearing, and I like Aslan's eyes and of course his earth-shaking roar.

My Neapolitan Christmas photo slideshow is now online! Your patience has been rewarded. As usual, I've captioned them...Tut tut, feel free to roll your eyes at me again. So when you get there, just press play and off you go! Takes about 5 minutes.

Still keeping my holiday tales for next week. I am off to watch Poirot now with Mum, but she probably knows I'm blogging right now. ;)

Here is the new link to my holiday photos which should work now:
Neapolitan Christmas