It’s been a fast, colorful month so far–and it’s nearly over!
Every October, we spend a week in New York, and this year the city gifted us with perfect weather start to finish. In tune with the fast pace, we tend to cram a lot into that week. Shopping hits top of my list. And yes, I’m now all but finished my holiday shopping. Country mouse goes city mouse to spend urban time with friends and family–heading up with BW and Jason, meeting up with Laura, rounding it out when our pal Sarah arrives to spend a couple days and our adventurous Kat flies in from a hiking trip with some of her adventurous family in Hawaii.
The gorgeous weather also provided a pretty amazing backdrop for the party with my new publisher. The rooftop and its amazing views ticked the box of most popular spot for the evening. Fun food, lots of wine, engaging company and a sunset worthy of Spielburg added up to a really lovely evening.
A day with the girls–including my editor and agent–(shoes! boots!) rounded out with a happy early dinner and the energetic, marvelous, ridiculously entertaining School Of Rock on Broadway.
Lots of urban hiking, uptown, downtown, midtown, scoring those holiday gifts (plus shoes! boots!), spending time with some of my favorite people. Yeah, a most excellent week.
Back home to the current chaos of a first draft which meant ignoring the chaos of my house. Boxes and bags, deliveries of more. Middle school math–and thank God Logan understands it as I don’t and never will.
The end of the marking period means a day off school. Kayla scared the life out of me by poking into the gym while my entire focus centered on sweating through cardio. I don’t see my girl as much as she’s running Cross-Country, so this is a treat. Once I finish the sweating.
She promises to come back Sunday to help me clear out the chaos.
Because Saturday is a most special day. My long-time friend’s wedding.
It’s a blustery day full of fall color. Inside the venue the warmth, the love, the happy glow just as much as the bride. She’s beautiful, and the handsome groom nearly as radiant. Those attending reflect the happy. The bride’s niece tells me while she did the bride’s hair and makeup that morning, the groom wandered around the house singing–and peeked in from time to time to tell his lady how beautiful she is.
The big day feels like the couple it celebrates–the warm and loving and the sweet. We have time to mingle and bask before heading out to a patio for the ceremony. The prettiest of pretty flower girls, a lovely, simple arbor where the obviously (really obviously!) adoring groom waits, the lovely happy bride walks to him.
A sweet, simple, heartfelt ceremony where the bride drips happy tears. And the groom brushes them from her cheeks with his fingers. More aww. The groom slips the ring (given to her mother by her late father) on the bride’s finger. And the kiss.
Some people are meant to find each other as just the right times in their lives.
That’s the feeling that carries through the day of as simply perfect a wedding I’ve been privileged to attend.
The best of best wishes to Elaine and Enrique.
That leaves me Sunday–and this time Kayla scares the life out of me as she slips in after my workout and the start of chaos clearing. She needs a snack! The kid’s running those calories off with training and meets. While she eats, I harvest the rest of my basil. Bumper crop!
Then she helps me haul, hang, organize. And for the first time in a week, the house looks like a house instead of a storage bin stocked by a crazy woman.
Since fall’s definitely arrived it’s a good day to make soup, and I love my favorite teenager wants to just hang out with Nana. Soup needs bread in my world. No time for anything but a quick one, so I get a can of beer and whip up some beer bread.
It’s still warm when Kayla, hungry again, has a slice with a bowl of soup. She approves both.
Now there are four tubs of books to sign–it’s nice to have her company while I get that done.
Nobody gives better hugs than my girl, and I’m treated to one before she heads out the door.
Now I’m late getting started on my Monday. It’s rare for a book to keep me up at night, but this one’s done that a few times. So a late start while I try to finish this damn first draft so I can see what the hell’s in this story.
I can’t cross my fingers or I can’t type, but I might just light a candle for a solid, productive work day. And hey, leftover soup means no cooking tonight!
It’s been a busy few weeks with birthdays, painting sessions and time in New York. Nora will get back to her regular weekend blog posts next weekend but I thought I’d share some visuals and some cool info for everyone. I think I’ll take it in chronological order.
Sunday, October 9 A group of us met at Inn BoonsBoro for their fourth Brushes & Bubbly session. Nora, Kayla, her mom Stacie, Mary Kay McComas and her sister, our friend Sarah and I joined nine other people in the dining room of the Inn to paint a mermaid, in honor of The Guardians Trilogy. Local artist Ronald Layman patiently led us through the layers needed to create depth and shadow and texture. We all had a great time.
Monday, October 10 (Birthday!) In honor of the birthday girl, St. Martin’s Press revealed the cover of the 2017 hardcover, Come Sundown:
Tuesday, October 11/Wednesday, October 12 The beginning of the annual fall trip. Nora, BW and Jason rode up to NYC and I met them at the hotel. I took this photo because I love those spires.
Thursday, October 13 After some very satisfying shopping and lunch — Kat (who joined us on Wednesday after flying in from a hiking trip with her cousins) scooped up these beauties —
we headed back to the hotel to get ready for the party St. Martin’s Press hosted to welcome Nora to the fold. Rain sprinkled in the afternoon, but the sun came out just as the party started. We all toasted Nora under the light of the setting sun on the rooftop patio.
Friday, October 15 Litographs went live with a Naked in Death infinity scarf in addition to t-shirts, totes, and posters! These super soft infinity scarves are available in your choice of 12 colors and 4 fonts. Shop today and Save $5 on your scarf with code NAKSCARF (valid through tomorrow, 10/18) https://litographs.typeform.com/to/Tm5XPa
The weekend was all about holiday shopping for Nora and spending time with my daughter for me. I headed back to Maryland early because I’m heading back to NJ next weekend. I’m sure Nora will fill us all in with what happened next when she gets back to her desk.
We have a fine day for our last, and natch, we start it off with a workout. BW surprises me by wanting to repeat his Cize experience, so we are three. But only two–down to me and Kat for the 8 Minute abs. Ugh! We top that off with a long, challenging yoga session with Jennifer Kries.
A little lunch, going through our leftovers, adding some cheese and bread and salami. And hey, last day of vacation, so let’s have a drink with that. And oh yeah, we still have gelato!
We have silly family fun setting up panoramas. Our first is in the villa’s bathrobes which Kat dubbed Obi-Wan-Bathrobie due the hood. So we pose here, change there, ham it up as Jedis in our OWBs. Then do another set as just us.
This family tradition takes some staging, some plotting out, and is always fun with results that make us happy.
A little lounging time, a little Olympics, a little more walk-arounds and basks. Then I have to face it. I should start packing.
We’re all actually pretty organized by the time we head down to dinner. Not many in the restaurant tonight–the one we’ve used for take-out up until now. Wine and pasta, as it should be for our last meal in Italy.
It’s busier down on the street with people in reflective pants directing actual traffic. Lots of cars, scooters, pedestrians. There’s a festival just on the other side of the village. We can see the lights–big, glittery flowers– hear announcements over a loud speaker.
I wander down to the street for a few minutes. I see one of our waiters, still in his work apron, cross the street. (Side note: It’s clear all local pedestrians simply assume cars will stop for them.) He goes to a scooter, opens the back and takes out a helmet–he’s already carrying one. He puts this helmet into the scooter, dons the other, and zips out and away. I wonder where he’s going in his work apron with two helmets.
Across the street two couples are playing cards at the dining room table. Lots of open windows and lights. A restaurant delivery guy comes out with a couple pizzas, gets into his car–(Second side note: Locals also assume cars and scooters will evade the car door casually opened onto the street side.)
Lots of people walking, and we join them. It’s a pretty night, and those big flowers are festive. But boy, this annual town festival was more than I imagined.
Music’s pumping as we walk up a hill flanked with decorations. Flowers, plants, lemon trees, displays of vegetables, all colorful and artistic. And this large park–how did we miss this–is full of people, stalls with colorful candies, jars of honey, crafts and food, food, food. The music’s coming from a stage where girls dance. Ballet, modern dance, duets, groups, a lot of operatic music–much of it dark and dramatic as, hey, Italian. And really well-done. Some sit in chairs to watch, some stand, all applaud. I see a couple of little girls in white tutus who must have been part of an earlier, lighter performance.
There are fluffy little chicks in a cage, and bunnies. Stalls with clever displays of really impressive vegetables and fruit. Things that smell glorious are smoking in stalls. No wonder the restaurant wasn’t crowded. If we hadn’t already eaten (and very well) we would have done just fine with festival food. I buy some candy, because.
We walk back, more mindful I think of the traffic than the locals. The moon’s just started to wane, but remains gorgeous for our last walk home from the village.
A little more packing, organizing, then bed.
We’re set to leave soon for the drive into the airport, then the long flight home. It’s been a picture perfect interlude for us, full of fun and beauty and flavors and adventures. Lots of memories in the book.
A misty morning over the sea with skies that range from broody to blue. The blue wins as the morning spreads.
Kat and I decide on another Shaun T, one we haven’t tried yet as it’s on the last disk in the set. Whoa!
40 minutes of fast, fancy footwork. I would love to conquer this one–and that’ll take some time. Still, it keeps us moving, moving, sweating, sweating and laughing. I’ve decided laughing burns more fat and calories. I’m sure of it.
BW joins us–and was warned!–for the 8 Minute Abs. Now we are three groaning our way through it.
From there Kat and I want some upper body. Rather than bands, Kat’s idea is to use our jumbo water bottles. They may only be a little more than three pounds, but it adds a challenge. 30 minutes of this! I can’t remember the DVD. It’s part of Kat’s Beach Body collection, but when it shifts to the push-ups section, Kat drops down on the mat, and I stay up, with bottles doing tri and shoulder work. My weak right wrist won’t handle the push ups. This turns out to my advantage as Kat gasps and moans through them.
A biting fly is hounding Kat, just won’t stop nipping at her. Our Kat is one who’ll capture a bug in the house, gently, gently release it outside. So when she finally smacks, smacks, smacks, the fly into the patio with her water bottle, snarling: Die! Die! Die! It’s a moment.
We emerge, once more, sweaty, righteous girls. The fly was toast.
By the time I’m out of the shower, dressed and set up for the day, my gang’s left to find the post office in a town between here and Sorrento. Just me and the cat for awhile, and my holiday workstation with the view of the sea.
Shortly after the gang returns I surprise myself by finishing the book. I’d hoped to make some good progress, but hadn’t counted on finishing. Go, me! But in not counting on finishing, I hadn’t done the usual spell check document by document as I went, thinking it would be simpler to do all that at home on my desktop rather than the Surface I only use a few times a year.
No problem, I think, and start.
Let me explain I use an ancient DOS WP program–I will never give it up! And my favorite geek–Jason–has found a way to install this on all my comps. I write in three chapter documents, so run spell check on the first three chapters. However the internet won’t reach my pretty station, so when I hit a word the program doesn’t recognize, and I don’t know how the hell to spell, I need to come into the kitchen, do a search for the word on my iPad. Not much of a deal, and this routine continues up to doc 6 out of 8 while the rest are watching–and commenting–on a triathlon on TV inside.
Moving along here, very happily. And suddenly, on my misspelling of barracuda, it all freezes. Can’t correct (I KNOW how the spell the damn word!), can’t escape, can’t nothing.
Call my beloved geek. Even he is puzzled by this, fiddles and fools, finally finds a way for me to escape and start the doc over. I do so with him hanging out in case. The in case happens, again on barracuda. Well, jeez, what’s with this? He thinks perhaps the program’s caught a bug, but he runs it on his device, no problem. I’m able to zip through spell check on the remaining docs, no problem.
So baffled, all around, we’ll deal with it all later. And I manually spell check the wacky doc. Apologies in advance to my editor.
But finally, involving a lot more time and frustration than it should have, it’s done. I find the quotes I want, move into the kitchen, and through the magic of the interwebs, send the book from our holiday villa in Italy to my editor and agent in New York. [Note from Laura: I forget the title, but it’s an In Death. Since it won’t be out for a year, we’ll wait on that a bit.]
Satisfying, and let’s have a bellini!
Hell, let’s have two!
I’m in time to watch the final leg of the tri–two Brit brothers well into the lead on the last grueling section. It makes it sweet to think about these brothers training together, making the Olympic team together, running now almost side-by-side on that last leg. In the last couple miles (MILES!) one bro pulls away into a clear lead, but second bro is holding firm onto second. In the last, nearly to the finish line, first bro takes a Brit flag from one of the cheering onlookers, and carries it with him across. It’s pretty great. He slows down, actually looks behind him–I like to think he’s looking for his brother–before he crosses that finish.
Then he just lies down on the track. His brother crosses about 12 seconds after, I think it was, drops down with him. They clasp hands, pat shoulders. Yeah, it’s sweet.
It’s time to change for dinner and the short drive back to the first panorama restaurant we enjoyed. Even that short drive involves hairpins and on-coming scooters. The view, the food, the happy service make it all worthwhile. Some local red, pasta and pizza, salads so fresh they deserve to be slapped. And the moon peeks round and red over the horizon. That red wash adds the exotic even as it fades on the climb. La Luna is just as striking tonight as it was last.
A short ride home–we have gelato at home. Mmmm. A fat white moon sailing starry skies, a bowl of gelato. A perfect way to cap the day.
Today’s our last day in Italy. I’m going to appreciate every moment–even if we do 8 Minute Abs!
We have plans for some fun family pictures around our holiday home. But for now my gang’s still sleeping. I think I’ll take a little walk around, rub some rosemary on my hands and enjoy the view.
Shaun T’s our man today as clouds roll and the sun goes in and out. We decide to try his bonus section. It’s not easy to sweat and laugh–because you just can’t make your feet, your hands, your body remember the moves–but we manage. In fact, we manage the two bonus routines for better than 60 minutes. And smooth and soothe and stretch it out with Rodney for 20 minutes of yoga. [Workout list is here.]
I’m done–but Kat’s still revved. I clean up, and when I come back to set up at the kitchen table to work, she’s still rocking it on the patio.
You go, baby!
By the time she’s finished, and she must’ve done around another HOUR out there, the sky’s gone moody and broody. Smoky clouds over the near hills, trailing and swirling. We’ve having a much cooler day, with rain patterning, and the view from our perch forms a huge curtain of soft, spooky white. No land visible past our little islands–as if we might be the ones floating now through the mists and smoke.
A good day to be tucked in. The calico comes to curl up for a nap on the kitchen door mat.
We share our cookies with the housekeeper, have a fun, interesting conversation in bits of language, with some hand language and props. She approves the cookies, and the ‘moat’ Kat (I mentioned KatGyer) created to protect them from ants. One large-ish shallow bowl stacked with a smaller one inside, topped by the cookie plate. Add some soapy water to bottom bowl. If ants come calling, they hit the moat, not the cookies.
With afternoon the blue breaks through, in little pieces at first, then spreading. The haze lifts, sweeps away as it swept in. Jason heats up what he calls his pizzagana–his leftover pizza from the night before. BW surfaces from downstairs, and Kat makes a lovely platter of cheese and bread and salami while I finish up at the keyboard for the day.
I believe it’s glass of wine time–probably long past! And with wine and the revived sunshine, a nice walk about. I could have picked another two pounds of figs easily. I really hope someone does.
We mostly laze through the late afternoon. It’s good to vacate on a vacation, so we decide to eat at home. Time to make another pot of red sauce, more tomatoes and mozzerella. We have big tubes of pasta to boil, and with Kat and Jason willing to walk to the market, more supplies. (And more wine!)
A pretty little cucumber, a lovely red pepper, some fresh bread to go with the garlic-butter-herb mix Kat’s made. She makes more fresh lemonade–mmm–Jason chops, I stir. We create ourselves a very fine meal for dining on the patio.
The moon rises as we eat. It becomes a full, perfect, fat white ball in a sky of deep, twilight blue. Stunning. Stunning enough it draws us away from the food and toward the cameras. I’m not sure any photo can replicate the sheer beauty, the way the moon sails up from the horizon, first just the rounded top of the sphere, then more and more until it hangs full over sea and land. Or the way it glides in and out of clouds, shoots a silver, shining streak over the water. How it seems to glow whiter and whiter as the sky deepens to night-black.
La bella luna.
After the meal, after group KP, I wander out to admire it several times. How often will I have the chance to enjoy a full white moon sailing over the Med?
It’s been a lovely, quiet day of mists and rain, sun and blue, and a breathless moon over dark seas.
Soft breezes this morning. Kat and BW have an outing planned. I don’t know if Jason’s going with them, but I’m happy right here, away from those snaking roads.
When BW says he’s up for a workout, we go for a 30-odd minute Shaun T. BW Cizes it up with me and Kat. I think we rocked it. Our guy cools it off with a swim while Kat and I face the rigors of 8 Minutes Abs, then do some resistance training, another round of cardio before we call that part of our day a wrap. [Note from Laura: see workout list here.]
BW and Jason are heading off to Sorrento to meet Bruno and his boat for the day. Kat and I remain landlubbers. While my girls walks to the market, I clean myself up, set up for writing on the patio.
A lovely breeze, a lovely view.
When I slip into the kitchen for a moment, Kat’s dicing up figs. So pretty! She has her recipe, her ingredients. She has a plan. I work, wander in off and on to record her progress.
A small issue. We have no measuring cups. The Ukranian housekeeper tries to help, finding a small plastic cup and marking it metrically. But Kat’s got her own way.
I watch her take a Coke bottle, cut off the base and make her own cup. She uses the ounce measurements on the blender pitcher, figures and calculates. And has herself a measuring cup for the dough.
This is the girl you want with you when you find yourself shipwrecked on a deserted island.
While it chills, I go back to work. I hear Kat singing along with Adele while she sits at the kitchen table with her tablet. I must have gone deep into the work as suddenly I smell something fabulous.
In I go to see Kat’s already rolled out the dough–making a rolling pin out of aluminum foil and cling wrap–don’t ask! I have no idea how she manages to come up with things like this, but it’s why we call her KatGyver.
The long logs of fig-filled cookies are baking, already sending out a siren’s scent.
A little more work for me–it’s such a nice day and obviously Kat’s got this.
When I knock off for the day, the cookies are cooling. We watch a little Olympics–and a reply of the endearing, amazing, one-in-a-million Bolt’s sprint.
Time to cut those cookie logs into servings. I don’t like figs, have never liked the Fig Newtons my pop was so fond of–and BW continues fond of. But I take a small one. Okay, I like Kat’s Fig Newtons. The cookie part is perfectly delicious, and I’m sure partially because of fresh figs and partially because of Kat magic, the filling is fabulous.
I’m a fan.
The guys text–they’re off the boat, going into town to complete a task, and want to go out to dinner. Okay then. We change, doll up a little. The breeze has come on strong with evening so I pull out the white linen jacket I found–I think in Sorrento.
The calico comes to visit, and oops, a few bites of ham fall out of Kat’s fingers. This draws the gray tabby with the fierce face. This one has a cold, unwavering eye–a warrior’s eye. Not the type to preen under a human hand, this one. In fact, Kat wonders if she meets those eyes directly, he’d turn her into a frog.
He looks capable.
Here come our sailors. A great day for them. Beautiful seas and skies, a wonderful trip along the coast–with photos that show just how high up our villa sits on the cliff. I knew we were up there, but the tiny white building perched up there from the water’s perspective? Wow, we’re UP there.
They went snorkeling–and avoided jelly fish. Jason claims the water was cold enough it took his breath away when he first jumped in. They cruised around our little islands. One is privately owned, with a big villa, other homes, a church. Jason says we wouldn’t have enjoyed ourselves, as the ride back was wild and bumpy. But then, he and BW always loved boats. We four all had a fine day doing what we enjoy.
They have photos, lots of them. Some of skinny, crowded beaches where there are more rocks (or concrete) than sand. And still the umbrellas and sun-lovers gather. Back in Sorrento they rode the beach elevator (!) from the beach up to town.
Now, full of sea stories, we walk down to our little village for dinner.
Such a pretty night, the clouds forming swirls and sweeps over the hills. We’re a happy, hungry group and choose the revisit the charming restaurant where we had our first meal here.
A table beside ours is full of people–and a little dog. He looks like a small labradoodle, all curly gold. He’s Chester, and wags over to me for a pet. And more pets. Chester and I bond. The group, from the voices and accents, seems to be a mix of Americans and Italians–and they look as if, like our guys, they’ve been out on a boat, or maybe they’ve come in from the beach or a pool.
Happy group, happy dog.
We’re happy, too, as the food’s just as good as it was the first time, and the service charming.
A walk back under a fat white moon. A visit on the way from a couple of the local dogs. There’s some traffic on our little road tonight–maybe it’s that moon. Where are they going? Scooters, little cars. Then again, it’s such a gorgeous night, why not go for a drive?
I manage to read for about ten minutes, then just drop away.
This morning, the clouds across the sea formed a magic cityscape on the horizon, as if mystical buildings had grown up overnight. There’s just a blush of pink behind them, and the pale, still water along their foundations.
The cloud city holds for awhile, a quiet shimmer, than disappears into the mist.
The usual gorgeous day dawns, all rosy gold blurring to blue. Kat and I decide to hit a short workout early, as we’re driving to Pompeii for the day. She picks a 20-minute Pyro routine. It’s called Fire for a reason. Holy crap! This may be low impact, but it ain’t low energy.
We gear up, sunscreen, water, hats, guides, program the GPS and we’re off.
Shortly BW is wary as our Brit GPS girl is taking us in a different direction than he believes she should. Stop, consult map. They are both correct, so we go with the Brit. This, we discover, may be a shorter route by a couple kilometers, but OMG. She takes us climbing on the skinniest roads yet, beside high unforgiving walls on one side, parked cars on the other–and it’s considered a two-lane road. Up and squeezing, up and snaking. We pass the red villa we can see–high up–from our own. I’ve wondered about this place, but now that we’re going by I just want to live through the drive.
We go through what appears to be a vertical village, the road all but straight up, the houses stacked on top of it and each other. I feel I could have snatched laundry hanging out on balconies. We decide, firmly, we won’t come back this route.
Out again on the marginally wider road. We’re heading more or less to Sorrento, and there’s considerable traffic jammed the other way. So scooters and motorbikes just swing out, come at us in our lane, zip back between cars. Again and again, shooting out, coming balls out toward us, until I just say: Stop that! Stop that right now!
It’s harrowing, but they don’t stop.
Ultimately our navigation gives us the turns, we learn, when we’re AT the turns. Now we must begin to anticipate as her 50 meters is not reality. But we get to an actual highway, and into the longest tunnel I’ve ever been through, out, into another, then a third. Still, this is the straightest road we’ve come across.
We drive over and by the contemporary city of Pompeii, sprawling, urban, big.
And finally into the bustling, touristy area outside the historic site. Many options for parking–with people actively waving cars into lots. We’re a little confused as it’s very, very busy, very active. We make a turn, and a man perched on the corner tells us: Go down! Well, we gotta now.
It turns out it’s a small lot, mostly with caravans. And we park for the day.
I’m very grateful to get out of the car.
Up the road again, but not before a little girl encourages us to come see the ‘baby’, a pretty gray kitten.
A man comes up with us, guiding us across the busy road. A short stop in a shop with cameos and coral and so on at his insistence, then we make our way to the entrance. Jason’s bought tickets on-line, so after some confusion this saves us a line, and we walk down a wide promenade, tree-lined, sun and shade. A long walk which none of us recognize from our initial visit.
But eventually, with a turn here, there, we come to it. Kat has a map and a guide, not especially easy to follow, but helpful.
Many things strike about Pompeii. The size of it–this was a large, thriving city, a sprawling center with good stone roads, villas, houses, shops, gardens, orchards, an aqueduct–there are wells that still provide water. And art. The art lives on, and I find that achingly wonderful. The frescoes, some stunningly well preserved, are a testament, I think, to human imagination and creativity, to the love of beauty. The softly faded reds, somehow still vibrant blues, all those images someone saw in their own heads, created with their own hands are still there.
A small bird on the wing, a flowering tree, a goddess. All still there among the ruins.
Along with the wonder of that, the respect and appreciation of that, is the strong sense of sorrow. So many people, ordinary people going about their lives. Mothers tending babies, children sleeping, servants preparing food, every day things–all with their lives ended so suddenly, so abruptly by the eruption of the great mountain. Minutes, only minutes, for that intense heat then the smothering storm of ash to bury them where they stood or slept. A horror, a tragedy we’re now part of by walking those same streets, stepping inside those houses and shops.
It’s almost too much, it’s an actual weight despite the crowds of people in shorts, with cameras, with babies in strollers. Thousands of people gone in a matter of heartbeats lived and walked right here.
So I look instead of what they accomplished, what they left behind, how they lived, what they loved. There’s an expansive villa that catches me especially. A woman’s villa–Julia. It must have been stunning, as what remains still is. The frescoes and mosaics, the lovely, lovely central gardens with pools (that were heated). There’s a chamber done in white marble, the floor, two long sloping benches, wall niches, overlooking the gardens. To my delight, I read this was the dining room. Guests would lounge on the marble beds while water trickled down one of the niches, there to dine and enjoy the gardens.
It’s so wonderfully, outrageously decadant.
I wonder about Julia, how she accumulated her wealth and position, how she entertained, lived, loved.
We go into a villa dedicated to Venus where the large fresco of the goddess is almost perfectly preserved. The guide says it’s awkwardly painted, but I don’t find it so. I find it beautiful and hopeful. Art survives.
We’ve seen theaters–they had two–the grand and the every day. What may have been a humble shop or home still shows bits and pieces of the frescos, the color and imagery that seems to have been a part of the fabric of life here.
We walk and look, stop and wonder for a couple of hours, and don’t see half the city.
We make it to the amphitheater, take the ramp down as this was dug out instead of built on. It’s massive–and according to the guide, the oldest known of its kind. So art, commerce, games and sports. And likely some brutal combat as there’s an iron hook fixed into the ground in the center. I can’t imagine those–human or animal–chained there had a good day.
Still, it’s truly amazing, the size and scope of it, fascinating to imagine those stone stands filled with people cheering.
We go into what I think was billed as the grand palace–it’s now used for exhibitions. Not only is the art inside a bit odd–very Egyptian–but the set up is strange and disorienting. Lots of twisting, weirdly lit corridors with dark walls (Kat bills it as the Fun House). I’m actually dizzy–and some relieved when Kat announces she’s dizzy. Our guys admit they’re off, too, and we find out way out into the air and light.
A nice open area–and there it is–the rise and loom of Vesuvius. It’s beautiful, no question, and supposedly still active. But he’s quiet today, and we can look out to him as I imagine the thousands who once lived there often did.
More walking, more streets, more turns and a short, vertical climb up some stairs. I nearly balk at the stairs as they feel slippery under my feet, but up we go with me pulling myself by the wood rail.
It’s worth it for the view. The city, the vineyards, the great mountain, the world spread out.
Down the path, around turns. The map causes some head-scratching. A sit on smooth-topped broken pillars in the shade for a minute. Jason goes off and finds displays of pots and utensils, that heart-breaking every-day again.
We find the big open area, the forum I think of as a big park. They’ve added some huge and interesting art–I’d have wished for art reflecting of the time, but it’s still fascinating. Icarus is very popular, so popular one of his statues, depicting him fallen after his brush with the sun, is well-weathered–but for his prominent phallis. That’s very shiny!
We’ve missed much, but you’d need days to truly cover the site. It’s marvelous and achingly sad, a mirror into the ordinary and the extraordinary of ancient culture and life. A reminder to live as fate can be quick and cruel. And certainly a testament to archeologists, anthropologists, preservationists, historians, all who dedicate their skills to uncover and study what was, and who was.
We find our way out, breeze through the souvenir stalls (many) but I want some tee-shirts for the kids from Pompeii. Jason and Kat grab cold drinks, and we head to the garden restaurant attached to our parking lot.
It’s mostly shaded and they have a fine mist that blows through cool at intervals.
And they have wine.
Four tired adventurers revive with lunch. Across from me, a woman at a table is eating pizza with a knife and fork. To me this is already just wrong, but I see she’s carefully cutting around the crust, eating only the inside and leaving an almost perfect ring of crust on her plate.
If lunch revives, surely gelato will polish it all off. It so happens our little lot also has a gelato stand. One-stop shopping!
Now, the long drive home.
Back through the tunnels, back onto the winding coast road. A stop for a vista–and as there’s a stand hugging the curve, a cold drink. I get a kind of lemon slushy–just a little cup of delish.
But the drive really takes a toll on my system, and poor Kat’s in the backseat. Kudos to BW for handling it all, but nothing looks sweeter than the gates opening on our villa. I take a walk around in the air, Kat takes a lie-down.
Some quiet time, some catch up time. Some wine for me as the rose comes back to haze the horizon.
Smoothed out again, it’s time to consider dinner. Nobody wants to go out–yay! We have some leftovers, and as Jason and Kat will walk down to the market, they can pick up a couple things to supplement what we have.
They come back with good news and bad news. Bad news? The market’s closed, but they got the additional pasta to mix in with leftovers, a big salad to add to our field greens, and were given a big half loaf of fresh bread.
We put all this together–with some tomatoes, mozzarella and basil prepared fresh in our kitchen–and have a fine meal in that kitchen. It’s gotten really breezy out, and the kitchen meal is nice and cozy. After a team clean up, the calico drops by. She and Jason have a nice visit.
I was sure I could polish off my lemon cake, but I can’t. Hey, it could be breakfast.
Today, BW and Jason head into Sorrento where the villa manager has a boat. They’ll have a day on the water. Kat and I aren’t much for boats. After our workout, likely after I write awhile, we’ll try our hand at baking fig newtons. I have to add that two pounds of figs are recommended. To determine if we had enough, too many, Kat–being Kat–devised a scale using a coat hanging and a bag of sugar.
We’re good on figs!
Note from Laura: I’m not sure if it was internet or a food coma, but I finally received photos from the meal with the chefs. I’ve added them to Day Thirteen.
As clear and perfect a day as you could ask for, with the light pure, the breeze gentle. Rather than the soft, subtle blur of horizon, the line between sea and sky is sharp and defined between the two shades of blue. The sky’s cloudless, just a perfect sweep, with the mountains far across the sea standing out against it.
Lots of boats skimming, and more huddled near our little knuckles of islands. We think there must be snorkeling there.
Kat and I do our thing–hit all the notes with cardio, mat work, band work. We are righteous girls! We split– since there seems to be interest in what we’re doing–between Cize with Shaun T along with his brutal little 8 minute abs, and the full 50 of a Ten Minute Solutions Pilates deal (with bands).
While we workout–and starting earlier–we have many visitors. The gardener, the Saturday complement of housekeepers, the laundry pick-up, the florist who replaces the faded white lilies that greeted us with fresh and lovely white hydrangeas. And the guy who cleans the pool.
Once we’re done, they’re done, I settle down outside to work awhile. It’s never quite work when you sit outside with sea views. Kat’s catching up on work of her own at the kitchen table, Jason’s housed in the living room with his laptop, BW’s stretched out with a book.
When work’s done for me, I decide it’s bellini time–after all, we have lovely fresh peaches brought back by Jason and Kat from a market run just this morning. It seems a fine time to wander around a bit, see how BW’s doing under his pool umbrella. And why not a little snack of bread and cheese and fruit to go with the bellini? And a book in the lounging area where I can see all I can see.
We’re going to walk to the village for dinner–and before we’ll work up an appetite by climbing that steep little road up to the lookout point. BW’s talked about another panorama restaurant, but we’re not sure if we’d have to drive to it, and really want the walk.
It’s cool enough Jason and I opt for hoodie and sweater respectively. The walk’s as pretty as ever, and the climb up that road steeper than it seemed the first time! I think because I’ve done it all at once this round. But the view is so beyond worth it, even if it takes a couple minutes to suck my breath back. We still have good light, and those clear skies. All the hills climbing up, Sorrento spread out with the sea, houses climbing, shrubs clinging.
Kat volunteers to venture up what’s no more than a track to see what’s up there. She comes down again to happily report BW’s restaurant is up there, and just across the road. Pleased with our luck we climb up, cross over and hit the restaurant pretty much the minute it opens its doors for dinner.
We have a table on the big covered porch, overlooking both the lookout view and as it just sweeps along, the view we get from our villa. We’ll dine on our eagle perch overlooking all.
We try what they call deviled potatoes as an appetizer. They’re fries, spiced up with red pepper and some grated cheese, and just wonderful. The local red–an almost embarrassing five Euro for the bottle–is just as wonderful. Salads all around, with a dressing as fresh as the day. I go for the penne alla’arribiata–I like the bite. Others come in as we sit, and before long many tables are occupied. I think our waiter is also the owner. He’s warm and friendly and helps to interpret the Neapolitan saying on the menu. It’s something about the hour is good, the day is perfect.
I absolutely agree.
Night’s fallen, the lights of Sorrento are glittering far, far below, and we need to make another market stop–tomatoes, more gelato!, some soft drinks. Jason and Kat head out as the market closes (more or less) at nine-thirty. Its hours are very casual. BW and I follow shortly after, and not until we do, do I think about the flashlight home in my purse. But there’s enough moon–the half slice is growing fat–to light our way down the track, down the steep little road and onto the more lighted road of the village.
The market is bright and cheerful, the man who sits the counter happy and helpful. We buy those big, gorgeous tomatoes, an onion–we still have eggs and BW is thinking of Sunday breakfast–more of the peppery cheese Kat and I like especially, a little of this, a little of that. And the young among us haul it back.
A couple of village dogs come over to say hello–one is very shy but we get our fingers licked before they watch us move on. I see bats zipping–and our Kat has her first sighting thereof. Their shadows swoop over the road, their bodies zoom through the little streetlights. Eat those bugs, I think. Feast.
Home again, and into pjs. I find though the mind was sure, the system says nope, you just can’t fit in any of that strawberry and lemon gelato after all. We watch some Olympic diving, some fencing. We have some puzzlement over the fencing rules, but watch until the US girls take the bronze.
I’ve got just enough left in me for a few pages of my book, then turn the lights out.
I woke to another lovely day–clear again with a thin smear of pale purple between the blue and the rose.
When the others wake, I expect Kat and BW will make that Sunday omelette before we choose today’s workout. Maybe we can talk the guys into some family yoga. I’ll work some more, I think, a couple hours. And tonight we have a chef coming to prepare our dinner here. It’ll be fun to watch someone cook–maybe get some pointers.
Tomorrow is Pompeii–and we’ll leave here early to try to beat the heat. So today is for home and no schedule at all.
We plan, such as we plan, a busier day. Since we Cized It Up big time with Shaun T the day before, Kat and I do a mellower hour with Petra Kobler. Still break a sweat, but we’re Liquid Grooving to start off the day.
Clean up, get dressed, grab the guides in case–set the navi system in the car, and we’re off to Positano–with the GPS locked into a parking garage.
It’s hard to describe a drive along the Almafi Coast without running out of superlatives. It’s simply breathtaking at every turn. There are a lot of turns. Still most of the road is just a little wider than the skinny snakes we’ve dealt with.
Towering cliffs on one side, rough and sheer, often with wire fences rising up them to hold back what would surely be rock slides. Still shrubs cling to them in that sun-baked green, and here, a stunning wall of deep, drenched blue morning glories wind up the fencing. On the other side, the cliffs streak down, down, down to the sea, one nearly as blue as the morning glories. The boats plying the water, the distant horizon.
As we get closer to Positano there are vendor carts–lemon drinks a specialty–nudged in on curves on the seaside, and houses, high up, built into the cliffs, all soft colors. The mountains rise high in fascinating shapes. What kind of road takes those who live so high up home?
The road narrows again, the curves increase, along the narrow roads and hairpin turns cars are parked nose to butt. We figure as BW negotiates the thin, crowded, winding ribbon of road, people park way up here, walk down, down, down to the beach. Wow.
This little fact makes driving those last kilometers an adventure as cars are also leaving Positano, and we all have to fit.
Some shops now, some restaurants, some houses, more traffic. We come to a stop, at a sort of intersection with many roads. A man in a yellow vest, holding a stop sign chugs from a water bottle as we all wait, and wait–expect for scooters which are allowed through. Cars come up the long hill and turn, and still we wait. And see why when a bus–a really big bus lumbers up the hill. More waiting–at least the view is beautiful–and another huge bus rumbles up, makes that wicked turn.
We’re released to inch our way down between parked cars and moving ones, winding round and round. Shops, their pretty wares displayed outside, skinny sidewalks, gorgeous old buildings layered on the rise and fall of the land. Lots of people walking, shopping.
Around and around, going down and down so the hills and the buildings stacked on them rise around us.
The GPS doesn’t let us down, and we work our way to the parking garage, a small madhouse of its own.
Down is our goal as BW wants to see the beach. Steep little sidewalks lined with shops, restaurants, everything full of color. It’s less urban than Sorrento, and though crowded seems less so. There’s a holiday vibe here. We walk to a kind of plaza in front of an old church, take in the view. All that sea below, spreading out, all the boats–so many boats closer to shore–more buildings rising up. In a window I see a woman hanging out snow white sheets, and they billow beautifully in the air against the sun-faded building.
We go into the church, but as Kat and I have on sleeveless tops, are quickly and politely turned out again. LOL. I’d forgotten some Italian churches are very strict on dress code.
We go down and down, and while we glance at shops, nothing shouts my name. Until. I see a linen dress–sort of a deep orange sherbet. It looks so pretty, so cool, so comfortable. I have a weakness for easy summer dresses. In we go. The one that drew me doesn’t come in my size, but here’s another style in raspberry sherbet, and it has pockets! Everything should, in my world, have pockets. The clerk is helpful, attentive, shows me others, but it’s this one. She helps Kat, but the dress that caught Kat’s eye isn’t available in her size. But this adorable camp shirt–white with that Capri-blue lined under the color and on the short cuffs–does.
A very happy stop.
On we go, down and down, and oh, look at this scarf. I shouldn’t buy another scarf, but . . . They’re so reasonably priced, and hey, it could be a gift–so could this one, and well, yeah, maybe this one, too. Kat finds a pretty, breezy tunic–and we walk out with all for less, honestly, than I’d have paid for one scarf.
The beach is crowded, the dark taupe-colored sand lined with pretty umbrellas. Boats zip or putter by, most full of people. The breeze is beautiful, as is everywhere you can look. A wide walkway separates the beach and its sun-worshippers from the line of shops and restaurants. We decide to sit, have lunch, enjoy the view.
A table facing the beach side is perfect–and so is the bellini I order. It feels like a Cary Grant movie–the look and feel of it all. I could see Audrey Hepburn strolling along the walkway in a big, stylish straw hat with some swingy little dress, huge sunglasses.
People do stroll while we sit, enjoy, all manner of people. Some with skin so pale I hope it’s slathered with sunscreen. Couples–one young woman wears a little white lace dress Audrey would have admired–and I think they’re surely on their honeymoon. A couple of guys in Speedos who shouldn’t have been, a man carrying a blue seersucker jacket, his white hair topped by a straw fedora, a huge camera hung around his neck. Babies in strollers and back carriers, kids trooping by in bathing suits, a skateboarder, a multi-tattooed woman and her friend rinsing a naked baby in one of the beach showers. People crowded in our restaurant, others stripping down to bikinis and tanks on the beach, more walking by.
And here’s a woman–middle-aged with magenta hair and a two piece bathing suit with the top flopping precariously down over generous breasts. Lots of generosity exposed.
It’s a constant flood of color and movement, shapes and sizes and styles. And everyone seems really, really happy.
We’re happy, too.
We eat, we drink, relax, then walk again. To more views, then back again. I’ve seen these big, pretty bags–thin like scarves–and decided they make good gifts or Fabulous Prizes for the girl spa. They really shouldn’t be ignored. So I buy two–they’re weightless and lovely.
We start up, up, up. We’d planned to buy bananas on the way back at a market we’ve seen, but it’s closed for the afternoon siesta. Lots of the shops are beginning to close now. We pass art galleries–we’d stop in these on the way down. Some fascinating art, and lots of it. Big modern figures made out of what look like chain saw or bike chains. Pictures, blurry ones, of ballet dancers that move as you walk by, a couple of gorgeous bronze figures, so fluid.
We climb, and climb, work our way back to the little madhouse of a garage. It’s amazing to me they can find our car. Amazing again, BW can sneak his way out again onto the road. The car’s alarm beeps regularly as we skim so close to buildings, to other cars. At one point a bus inches by us close enough my traveling companions and our sturdy driver make gasping noises. All–I decided to just look the other way–confirm we crept passed each other with under an inch between.
Then we’re up and out, winding over the water, beneath the cliffs. Scooters pass us at crazed speeds, their drivers leaning hard into turns. We watch a couple of cars beep and zoom around curves, passing two or three cars at a time, nipping back into their lane a breath or two in front of on-coming traffic.
We think to stop for those bananas at our local market, and we three passengers get out while BW drives off to turn around. Too late we discover it’s also closed for the heat of the afternoon. Kat and I opt to walk home from there–enough winding driving for us!
A dog, pale caramel color, sweet face, walks over, so I check out that face, go ahead and pet him. He’s delighted, and starts walking with us. Oh-oh! He stops, sniffs, smiles up at me and walks with us again. Fortunately he found a canine friend before we got to the gate, so we didn’t have to disappoint him.
A little hangout time, then we have our wine tasting.
The owner of a renowned local vineyard, his wife and daughter, bring us several bottles to taste, along with the treat of salami, cheese, bread, their own olive oil. They have a large coffee table book with amazing pictures of their vineyard where the vines look more like trees. They’re very old and survived a blight that wiped out many vineyards around Italy. Because, we’re told, of the ash from Vesuvius. The parasite couldn’t live in the ash, but the vine could and did.
Our host, who was a vet, decided to make something of his family vineyards and so with his brother and two friends began Tenuta San Francesco–St. Francis is, in addition to being the protector of animals, also the protector of wine. Interesting.
We taste–first the sparkling–and though I’m not generally a fan of the sweeter Italian sparkling, this is lovely. Fresh and not over-sweet. And the white wine’s gorgeous. The red’s are soft and supple. I’ll add Jason drank his Fanta–he has no wine pallet, he admits. It all tastes like grape juice that needs sugar.
We enjoy our hour, and I–having come from one and having made my own–appreciate and admire family businesses. We’ll enjoy, too, the wine they left for us–and what we ordered to be shipped home.
Olympics time, and we can just heat up some leftovers tonight.
It’s been a lovely, happy, busy day, one that ends with that striking half moon and scattered stars.
This morning the gardener’s come early to cut the grass, tidy the shrubs and patio. I think the noise is why the cat hasn’t visited.
About time now to pick the morning workout. A day at home–with a trip to the market (coffee for BW is a must), some writing, some reading for me. Sounds just excellent.