Thursday, January 15, 2015


No matter how hard you try, I doubt you will be able to figure out what's going on here. Never mind the dead fruit tree at the left.

Mystery photo #1

Mystery photo *2

Mystery photo #3

Under that pile of ???, beneath the limited winter sun of the next few months is a rest home for plants that have no business being outside at this time of year. The shadow is of the wacky woman who should be packing right now instead of conducting nutty plant experiments. In just three days, she's set to head back into the serious winter weather of the US Northeast where no gardenia, hibiscus, or geranium cuttings would stand a chance.

A sensible, non-hoarder would say, as do the clergy at funerals, something to the effect of: "So-and-so has enjoyed a good life, but her work on earth is done. Now it's time for a well-earned rest."  Instead, I am pushing the envelope, trying to see if a little more life can be squeezed out of these plants which, truth be told, have not looked that great even under the best conditions of the Umbrian sun.

It would make perfect sense to let them go. So why am I doing this? I'm not really sure.

When Voltaire said "One must cultivate one's garden," I don't think this is what he meant. But the sun is going down now, and it's time to leave those plants in peace.

At the other end of the life cycle, I have a new granddaughter who is likely to make her debut today. Like my plants,  she, too, is sure to be getting a lifetime of loving attention.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015


There's a reason that ours is mostly the road not taken. Actually there are two reasons. We live in a beautiful valley accessible only by two possible routes, each worse than the other.

Further, with respect to our so-called roads, just when you think they couldn't get any worse, they do. This resigned attitude comes from living in this part of Italy for six years. How many times has there been a rumor that the roads would be fixed? The last one was a close call. The funds were found and the workers were about to come. But then it rained. And when it stopped, something happened to the window of opportunity, and the money for the project got diverted.

Next there was a mayoral election which led to a promise: "Vote for me, and I will fix the road." He won, even without our vote, but still, no road improvements for us.

So you can imagine our shock at finding one day that some of the worst parts of each of the two ways to approach our house--especially that teeth-chattering one that landed me stalled in a ditch--had gotten better!

Some time went by, and then the unthinkable happened to the part of the road that regularly became washed out after a lot of rain. But on one historic day, it became literally impassible because a STRADA INTERROTTA sign said that it was being interrupted so that it could be fixed. Well, this was both good and bad news, since there was no indication of how long this interruption that required a major detour was going to take. Would this interruption end during our lifetime?

We lost faith. The local farmer who knows everything said he had heard about a completion date that we might actually live to see. Serious-looking, heavy equipment appeared.  And then, one day, the sign at the top of the road that warned about the interrupted road wasn't there. Jaded souls that we've become, we figured it had blown down. But sometimes you've got to take your risk-for-the-week and believe.

In some suspense, we headed toward the spot... COULD IT BE??
Strada interrotta no longer! There, before our very eyes was something that looked like a real mini-bridge that would not wash out! In fact, it looked to us like a work of art. Taj Mahal, move over! This was a thing of beauty!

We now have bridge pride! We asked our farmer neighbor how this impressive improvement might have come about. He got a twinkle in his blue eyes, made a gesture of beating a drum, and said that an important professore who lives just past the bridge must have known to whom it would be necessary to make the right noises to get the job done.

Welcome to life in Bella Italia! And with a bridge like this, who would want to be anywhere else ?

Friday, December 26, 2014


I'm wondering what it might mean that, of my current 160 posts, the one about Italian toilets has gotten three times as many "hits" as any other. (See  THE ITALIAN TOILET:A CHALLENGE TO YANKEE INGENUITY...        ) And this is even with my having shown just a fraction of my collection of documenting photos. Maybe it's time for some of them to see the light of day, and to offer a comparative study with those of a tiny country located a 7-hour drive from here--one whose facilities, among other attractions, make Slovenia well worth a detour.

Never mind my previous pieces about potentially knock-your-block off sloping ceilings (See WELCOME TO SLOVENIA--A KNOCK-OUT COUNTRY! ). 

Much of the country looks like the happy moments in a fairy tale.

 And don't get me started on the fabulous food.

This is the view of the Julian Alps from the inn where we stay

Winter sunrises can be especially colorful

This is the view from a beautiful apartment in the center of town

Yet, when it comes to practicality, Slovenia shows itself to be a place where things work. Maybe the small example of their no-nonsense toilets is a metaphor for bigger things. I'll offer a few examples, and you be the judge.

This is a frequently encountered sign in Italy. It's not clear when this facility will be back in operation, but I'm guessing that the answer is not in my lifetime. 

I came upon this very clean toilet in our local hospital. It seems to have all the necessary hardware, but I can't tell if the seat cover is taking a break on its way on, or off. This is because in my adopted country, many seem to feel that a toilet WITHOUT a seat is more sanitary than one that has a seat. 

This is actually from a different hospital than the previous photo, but the thinking with respect to the desirability of having an attached seat seems to be the same. 

Now this alcove in the Palazzo Davanzati shows the height of toilet technology in a Florentine Renaissance home --a private, purpose-built indoor space, much more attractive than the latrines we had at Girl Scout Camp, or those open-air benches with a hole poised over the medieval castle moat, which must have been a bit breezy in winter.

The next three photos are from the hospital at Terni where my husband received WONDERFUL care. But during the long wait, I had plenty of time to check out their public restroom, which held a few surprises. For example, this bidet!

There was a nice dispenser that looked ready to hold something. Maybe paper?

Ever wonder what would happen if you pulled one of these strings?

This piece of equipment on the left had me really perplexed.  A urinal? A drinking fountain? What if you guessed wrong?

The good thing about this dispenser which is in the public restroom at the facility where the family doctors see patients is that it actually had something in it. But doesn't it look in need of a bit of First Aid, itself?

Although the facility itself is called a walk-in clinic, nobody gets to just walk into this restroom. As the sign somewhat cryptically says, "Due to some people who have no manners, you need to ask one of the doctors for the key." Hmm... and what if one of those ill-mannered people abused the space? Well, maybe if only one person had asked for the key that day, it might be known which culprit should not be trusted to use this restroom. 

And now on to Slovenia!
Because we have family there, we visit Slovenia often, and have a favorite place to stay that feels like home, but with better functioning toilets. Below are toilets that work in ways that would not confound an unsuspecting American. Note that both of these have seats and that these seats are attached. Further, that the seat is a cheerful turquoise is a nice touch.

To my surprise, this restaurant toilet featured some educational reading material. It's true that not everyone is fluent in Slovene, but sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words.

Some members of my very own family cannot go into a restroom without some reading material in hand, but this seemed an unexpected place for advertising. It seems safe to say that capitalism has definitely made it to this formerly communist country.

And now on to our favorite place to stay when we visit this village. It, too, has some surprising features, but while eccentric, they are mostly the good kind.

Our bathroom comes sanitized with pride.

And while compact, everything here, right down to the footprints on the mat, is just my size.

A towel that fits like a glove? What are the chances?

Now hygiene is one thing, but I couldn't figure out why we'd need a toilet cover dispenser of our very own.

And I've never seen a door to a toilet that said "WC" on the INSIDE. But no matter.  This place has everything you need. So what if it has a few extras that you DON'T need?

OK. Now we will end our Slovene toilet tour with a visit to the facilities at a very high-class restaurant in cosmopolitan Ljubljana, Slovenia's MOLTO cool capital city.

Never having seen such dazzlingly sculptural toilet accoutrements,  I did not trust myself to get a good photograph to document this. But if you're lucky enough to have a daughter-in-law who is a professional photographer, you can get some great shots like these.

Next stop: the restrooms of a famous American Ivy League institution.

Never mind that "Certo" sounds like a very agreeable Italian word. This gizmo, which emits strange buzzing and squirting noises, adorns the walls of bathrooms in the Health Center. When I first heard these sounds, I didn't know what to think. Is there a ghost in here? But it seems that the Certo machine, at regular intervals (irrespective of what's going on in the room, or who is in there), spritzes the room with some type of perfume. Different bathrooms in the building can have different scents. I wonder who gets to choose?  

There ought to be a prize for the person who can figure out why the entire bank of toilets in this college restroom have water that's tinted like this. Hint: It's the weekend of the Harvard-Yale football game, when these arch rivals will stop at nothing to dump on the opposing team's school. Harvard's color is, of course, crimson!

My mother--the one who asked me to stop writing about insects--is sure to tell me BASTA with the toilets. Of course she's right!