Thursday, January 31, 2008

A Rainy Day in Ravenna

Ever have one of those days when things just dont go your way? Well, yesterday was my turn. I wont go into the details but suffice to say it all started with the 4am alarm to get up so we could make the 6am train to Ravenna. According to the weather, it was supposed to sprinkle in the morning and that was it. In reality, it remained incredibly foggy all day and rained steadily until after lunchtime. Getting lost in Ravenna in the rain with the pain in my knee (I really do think I have created a weather indicator) was not the highlight either!

However, things finally started to fall into place and we did get to see the famous mosaics in the city. For those of you who have seen St. Marks Basilica here in Venice, you know the mosaics are mostly all gold. In Ravenna, they are all other brilliant colors. The pictures really dont express the colors justly.

We had a nice lunch at a local restaurant (ironically called Bella Venezia!) and met some really nice Ravennan's. Its always a pleasure to escape the rudeness of Venice for a bit and be around people who smile and have manners. By the end of the day however, my knee won the war and it was time to rest. I am glad to have seen it and I am glad to be back!

Monday, January 28, 2008

More Carnivale Pics

Today, we were just normal tourists milling around. We went out early and headed down to the Arsenale area and stumbled across a load of costumed people with professional photographers around. My father had once sent me a powerpoint presentation of Carnivale in 2005 and now I understand how it got put together!

I have come to the conclusion that these people are probably Venetians and work for the Carnivale kind of kick start the celebration and give it a more festive atmosphere. They are wearing costumes that I dont see in any of the Atelier (costume designers) stores...they sell mostly 1700 and 1800 style dress. And, these costumed people are all very small boned and somewhat short--another reason to assume they are Venetian.

But they certainly are a sight to see....enjoy

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Paparazzi and Carnivale

So today we donned our masks and capes and went walking amongst the hords of people in St. Marks. And I do mean HORDS OF PEOPLE! Take the height of summer season and add a couple thousand more for good measure! The great thing about wearing a costume is that people tend to move out of your way because they want to get your picture. Now, I was by no means anywhere near the best dressed out there but I think the height of my mask added a certain something something that you dont see everywhere.

I do know now that I am quite certain I dont want to be a famous person. Its really an odd feeling when people want you to stop to take your picture. I was glad that my entire face was covered because I wasnt sure what to do. There was one point where we stopped for a few Japonese and ending up standing there for a good 3-4 minutes. People just kept coming from everywhere--some to take pics, some to have their pics taken with me. There was even a professional camera (there are several documentaries and movies being filmed right now) on me at one point. And there was this one man who was getting so many pics of me from all angles--it was disconcerting and strangely fun all at the same time!

And then there are those people who dont understand what to wear for Carnivale and are dressed like its Halloween in America...I have included some pics for you so you can see the right way and the wrong way! And I have also included a pic so you can see the vast sea of people who are milling about during these days. They have descending on the city and will be here for another week. For my part, I will go out again in costume...its much easier to get around than when you are just a tourist!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

T Minus 2 and Counting

Carnival in Venice officially starts on Friday and will last until February 5. The swarms of people are starting to arrive today and tomorrow for the big event of the year. There was a quiet before the storm atmosphere yesterday as I was walking around and today you can feel the buzz starting.

Every day is filled with various events around the city. This years theme is Sensation: 6 Senses in 6 Sestieri (there are 6 sestieri or districts on the island). The sixth sense in this case is the brain as a whole.

There are also several traditional balls to attend if one has the money. The most famous is called the Il Ballo del Doge. It costs about 800 euros to attend and that doesnt include the cost of the required 18th century Venetian costume that you must wear (rentals start at about 800-1000 euro for a 24 hour period). However, there is word that George Clooney will be at this ball, so it doesnt really seem all that expensive now!

Carnival started in Venice and has traversed the world in various forms. The US has Mardi Gras, Germany has Fasching, and almost every country has its own name. But, like most traditions, the original meaning has been long lost. The name Carnival comes from the Latin meaning Farewell, meat! and obviously has to do with fasting around the Lent tradition in Catholicism.

The history of the Venice Carnival tradition began after 1162. The Republic defeated Ulrico, Patriarch of Aquileia in that year, and began a tradition of slaughtering a bull and 12 pigs in the Piazza San Marco around Shrove Tuesday to commemorate the victory. This celebration gradually grew and 1268 dates the first document mentioning the use of masks. Masks made the Venetian Carnival unique. If you cannot identify the wearer of the mask, you do not know his social status and this made Carnival accessible and celebrated by all.

The eighteenth century was the heyday of Carnival. Venice's decline in power was accompanied by a conspicuous consumption of pleasure. This is probably the image that most of the world has of the Venetian Carnival--spurred on my Hollywood movies, of course!

Carnival's significance declined gradually through to the 1930s, when Mussolini banned it. In 1979, a group of Venetians and lovers of Venice decided to revive the tradition. Within a few years, the image of the masked reveller had become a worldwide icon of Venice in winter.

And in just a few days, I will don my mask and cape and roam around with the rest of the revelers pretending we are in another time. For all my time in Venice, this is my first Carnival and I am so looking forward to the activities--even if it does mean an excess of tourists!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Cashier Nazi Strikes Again

The neverending saga of the Billa grocery store continues. Today we had a 'great' interaction.

The woman in front of me decided that she didnt want any cardboard boxes in her sack so she proceeded to take out the Swiffer pads and put them in a fruit plastic bag...she did the same with her pre-packaged fake croissants, etc. Then she asked the cashier to throw away all the cardboard. As she was standing there taking her time to pack, the cashier asked her neighbor cashier for two 5 euro bills in exchange for a 10. Then she started checking my groceries.

Now keep in mind, the total conveyor belt for each line is about 3 feet long...there is barely enough room for your own groceries, let alone when the person before you is still sacking theres and the cashier is shoving yours in with the bunch. The cardboard lady drops her bag of oranges and starts pushing me and my cart around so that she can get them. I am trying to keep my groceries separated from hers so she doesnt accidently pack them. Basically, it was chaos.

My bill comes to 15.78 euro. I give her a 50 (which is just asking for trouble, I know) and with one hand on my wallet, I turn it over into the other hand and pour out the change in hopes of getting her some coins. I hold out my hand for her take the 80 cents and she tells me my hand is too high up and she refuses to reach for it. Trust me, my hand was well below her eye level. With a heavy sigh, I put the coins on the counter for her to take them and then use my free hand to start packing my groceries. (By the way, this is the cashier that has repeatedly tried to overcharge me, so we already have a history together--no love lost here).

I am thinking we are great. She needs to give me 35 euro and 2 cents in change and I am outta there. Except that she saw I also had a 5 euro bill (I hate how they are always looking in your wallet). She wanted me to give her the 5 euro bill so she would give me 2 twenty bills back (and the 2 cents). I told her no. I knew she had 2 5 euro bills that I just saw her change and I could see she had a drawer full of 1 euro and 2 euro coins. There was plenty for her to make change for me. And how long does she expect to go without getting more change from the office anyway....this is the part that boggles the mind. If you are low on change, you ask your boss and you change for a 100, right?

Well, needless to say she was less than pleased with my response. She starts telling me she cant make change for the 50 and she has seen my 5, blah blah blah. I tell her I have seen her 5 also and she can give it to me. (Now, why I did this is beyond me....I wasnt looking to pick a fight but when she did the whole bit about not being able to see the coins in my hand, I lost all decorum--who knew I was so close to the edge!). She starts talking to the fellow cashier to tell her to tell me in English that she needs my 5. I tell her I dont need her to tell me in English. Then she starts talking to the lady behind me in line about dumb Americans who come here and cant speak the language and dont know how to do anything, blah blah , blah....I look at her with my most evil look, and tell her that I understand her completely. She was a bit surprised, I will have to say but it wasnt enough for her to give in.

In the end, I threw the 5 euro at her and she commented about how rude I was. They already think Americans are loud and rude in general, so be it far from me to disappoint her. I got my change, walked away biting my tongue and then watched her lean over to the next cashier again and get more change from her!!!!!!!!!!! She did it for spite!

Well, God bless her....I hope she sleeps better tonight knowing that she got the upper hand with another foreigner. I will deal with my guilt for my behavior and do my best to not stir the pot again, but somehow or other, I am pretty sure this isnt the last of these experiences for me and Billa.

Monday, January 21, 2008

A Weekend in Cologne

I am back from a great whirlwind trip to Germany to see my brother and sister in law. The weather was amazingly good..about 50 degrees but very windy. Its actually colder here in Venice! My knee is my knee...slow but sure. Still limping and still hurts but making progress. My sister in law gave me some gel to put on it....its called 'schmerz-und entzundungshemmendes' which I think translates to 'secret german formula that takes away the pain and lets you sleep at night'!

Saturday we went to an underground exhibition/restoration of an old Roman Praetorium (big house for rich Romans). They discovered it after the war as they were starting to rebuild the city (as you can tell from the black and white photo). They have only excavated half of it in length and a small bit in height (this you can tell from the darker portions on the bottom right of the model picture). Its huge and pretty impressive. I was actually amazed that they 'covered' it over and built the city again on top of it.

After that, we went to the chocolate museum! Now thats my style--three floors of nothing but chocolate, free samples and a gift shop....if 'schmerz-und entzundungshemmendes' doesnt help, chocolate will! You would be surprised at the combinations of flavors they put in chocolate. There was so much to it was, I tried to limit it to gifts (and I am staring at them right now as I type so I wont say who they are for in case they never arrive!).

For dinner, my sister in law cooked beef rouladen (my favorite) on Saturday and pork schnitzel on Sunday. She is a fabulous cook and I was sad when the catering performance (as my brother calls it) was over!

On Sunday, we went to the philharmonic. I have to say I have never been. Classical music was never much my thing and I cant read music and am tone deaf, but I truly enjoyed myself. We had fabulous seats, the acoustics were wonderful and the energy and emotion from the musicians and conductor was enthralling. I am now a bit more cultured and am actually looking forward to doing it again.

After the concert, we went to the Cathedral. This is the 3rd largest in the world (I was surprised to find out the largest was in NY City). It truly is breathtaking in its own right. There is no way to get a picture that would do it justice. I did not, obviously, climb the stairs of the tower (by the way, there are 509 steps, not 300 like I thought). Its a shame because I bet the view of the Rhine and the city is something from up there. Inside the church is not nearly as impressive as the outside, but there is a large golden shrine that is said to hold the remains of the Three Wise Men.

And today, I am back...put some more 'schmerz-und entzundungshemmendes' on and will take it easy until my visitor arrives on Friday.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Weather Report

As I am still lying here watching Fox News and the weather going on in the US, I cant really complain about winter here in Venice. Who would think that I would be having better weather than Atlanta?! However, I am getting a bit tired of the rain. This must be how the people in Portland feel! What I want is a good solid know, a monsoon rain...this constant spitting for days on end is annoying.

Of course, I havent really been outside to experience the rain, but from my window, this is the impression I get! The knee is significantly better in a week but by no means healed. I walk with a slight limp and very slowly. I think the extra humidity in the air has something to do with the healing process. I bet I have created a lifetime weather indicator in my knee now...what great stories I will be able to tell every year when it rains in Phoenix...well, ok, just, when it rains in Phoenix!

But I am still a stubborn German and I am heading to my motherland tomorrow as planned. I am actually thinking of getting a cane to help me walk (not to mention the special treatment I might get at the airport!). I told my brother we will have to make many beer rest stops this weekend and amazingly so, he was ok with it!

Back on Monday with some pics of me climbing the 300 steps to the top of the cathedral (NOT!).

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The End of the Internet

Today is day 6 of the injury and healing process. The ankle bounced back quickly and that is great news because the knee is not so keen on doing the same and I kinda need my other leg for walking! I sure dont heal as fast as I used to in my 30's! haha

Since Saturday afternoon, I have pretty much been lying on the couch or in bed resting. I went to church on Sunday (in the rain), was out for about an hour on Monday (it was a beautiful sunny day and I was going stir crazy) and today, I went to the grocery store. People have offered to help me but I am stubborn (also known as stupid) and today's jaunt to the grocery store pretty much did me in. Dont get me wrong, I am getting better, but its really a slow process. I am leaving Friday for Germany to see my brother over the weekend, so I am hoping for the best in the next few days.

But as I am lying around here, I am working on the computer alot. I have accomplished a great deal of 'work' that needs to be done and I think I have come perilously close to the end of the internet in my surfing excursions! Who knew this could happen?! I have also experienced the intense heat of having your laptop sit on your lap for hours at a time---and dont think I havent pondered whether or not I have one of those combustible batteries?!

As far as news for most of you out there, I have also made a decision and purchased my ticket to return to Phoenix in May. Bittersweet decision but no regrets.

So, now I am off to pop some more advil and settle back into the impression I have made on my couch.......

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Curtain Closes

The show is over. It was a huge success. Last night's finale was a packed house and great audience participation. We had a blast. And in the end, we raised almost 4,000 euro for the charity....we were hoping for 2,000!

The party was great...I made it up the 82 steps again, with only a brief rest half way. Lots of great munchie snack foods, prosecco and wine. It was a veritable gathering of famous people...opera star, international singer, famous painters, well published authors....I was rubbing elbows with all of them! And I love the question, "What do you do?". Its always good for a raised eyebrow and discussion when I tell them 'nothing' or 'I am having a mid-life crisis'!

And to celebrate today, I went shopping! As you remember, the big sales started on the 6th and because I have been so wrapped up in the pantomime and injuring myself, I havent been able to take a peek. Well, I hobbled along in my favorite store and made those girls work for their money by sending them back to check sizes, etc. It was a good shopping trip for me and the store!

And now, I am going to rest for a few days and give my knee and my ankle a break....a much needed break.

Friday, January 11, 2008

I SAID....The Show Must Go On!

So, yesterday was the first day of live in the morning and one in the evening. After I got ready in the morning, I was walking downstairs from the bedroom to the living room and it dawned on me that I have been here a little over 8 months and I havent fallen down any stairs yet! That's pretty impressive......for those of you who have been here, you know the odds are against you that you will eventually fall down the stairs somewhere in this city. Well, we all know where this is going, right?

I get to the auditorium and we are doing some last minute things before the show. I am taking the pies to backstage (you know, the proverbial pie in the face routine) and I totally biff it on the stairs. The good news is I saved the pies. The bad news is I sprained by right ankle and my left knee! The variety of jokes set I took 'break a leg' seriously and that the director was wearing purple and that is apparently bad the end, I tripped!

But I am German and we are hearty stock, so I perservered! I got a variety of drugs from the cast members (who will remain nameless to protect them!) to get me through and in between shows I went home to rest. It was so much worse in the evening and walking across Venice with two bum legs is not my idea of fun. I made it through most of the evening show before I raised the white flag. A long walk home and a somewhat restful evening (except when I moved and the pain woke me up!) and here I am today.

One more show tonight and then the cast party...I am staying home all day until the show. I think I can make the show but I am really worried about those 82 steps up to the apartment I told you about for the cast party......and, no, I am not going to miss the party! What was that blog I did about being a dumb American? Hmmmmmmm

P.S. The show is free but they are taking donations for Share and Care far we have raised about 1500 euro...

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The Show Must Go On!

So, last night as I was walking home from my dinner with the English and contemplating how dumb I was, the pantomime was falling apart. Our lead (Dick Whittington--who is traditionally played by a woman) called to say she was in the hospital. You see, she is about 6 months pregnant and started bleeding last night. I understand that all will be OK, but obviously, she cant do the show!

So, in steps a true team player and a professional. She is a singer and has done commercials (a recent Honda one) and concerts all over the world. Talk about luck! With script in hand, she gave it her all.

By the afternoon dress rehearsal (all costumes on), she had memorized quite a bit. Since a pantomime is supposed to be amateur, slap stick comedy, I think it adds to it for her to have her script in hand on stage, but she might just memorize it all tonight before the first performance tomorrow morning!

I have included a few pics of the dress rehearsal.....

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Dumb American?

Today is my third day in a row getting up to an alarm...ugh! Dress rehearsals are going well and I am excited to see it all put together on Thursday for the first show. Last night, the director/writer invited me to dinner after the rehearsals---and no, this isnt a casting couch blog!

SHE and her husband are expats who have lived in Venice for about 8 years. After the climb of 82 stairs (can you imagine doing that every day?) to their top floor apartment, I got the grand tour. What a beautiful, old much character, art and depth in was like stepping back into the 18th century. They have a terrace with the most breathtaking view of the city.

Also invited was the pianist for the show. We settled down to some prosecco and conversation before dinner. The writer is English, the pianist is English and the husband is American but he has lived in Europe for so long, he might as well be English! haha And then there's me. Our conversations were all over the board....solving all the worlds problems, etc. But a strange thing happened to me--not often at a loss for words, I soon realized I wasnt quite as versed in these topics as they were.

Now, by no means were they lording over me but I did feel less intelligent than they. It was a delightful evening but I just dont know as much about 18th century art and classical music and world affairs as perhaps I should. On my walk home, I was feeling a bit dumb...that stereotypical American who doesnt know their geography and uses way too much slang!

However, this morning, I realized that I have learned something. I learned a bit more about the world last night and I learned there is so much more to learn. And with that thought, I can greet the day with my head held high as an American!

Monday, January 7, 2008

It's Showtime!

Well, almost. Today was the first day of rehearsals for the Pantomime later this week. It was tons of fun except for the part of how I was there at 9am, left at 5pm and had an hour for lunch. That brings back bad memories of something I used to do called work! I am certainly not interested in that again anytime soon! :-)

At any rate, I am scene changer (mostly because I am tall enough to reach up and flip the scenes over the boards). We started setting up right away and at 11am, the kids who are playing the rat parts came in for practice! After lunch, the rest of the crew did their first run through of lines. Its really rather funny in parts and just a good, lighthearted event.

Thursday there are 2 shows and one on Friday. Then we have a cast party afterwards. Its just like show business. Admission is free but they are taking donations to support a local childrens charity in the area. All in all, I am really glad I am a part of it.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

We're not done yet!

So, its the 3rd of January and I imagine that most of you have returned to work now and have already looked when the next holiday is! (For those of you not in government or school, sit tight, I think its May). The stores have had their clearance sales and I imagine Target already has Valentines stuff out as soon as you walk in the door.

But, here in Venice, its not over. We still have Befana on January 6. Befana is a witch who brings candy or coal to kids stockings during the middle of the night. Of course, there is that resemblance to St. Nicks Day in America on Dec 6, right? But after reading about the legend, its kinda creepy!

All the witches and stockings are out in the stores for purchase and although she has a smile and my floor may need sweeping, I think I might pass on this one. Lord knows I dont need any more candy in my life right now (or coal for those of you thinking that way!).

After Befana, Venice will have its clearance sales and the decorations will all finally come down. That gives them a solid 2 weeks to get ready for Carnival on January 25!

p.s. it snowed here today! well, about 100 snowflakes but they were definitely real!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Happy New Year

We have arrived at the begining of a new year! Its frought with anticipation and optimism and.....silliness.

While I am not a superstitious person, there are a few things here in Venice that make me smile. First, it apparently was very necessary to wear red underwear out last night for good luck (although most mothers would just want them clean, right?!). Then there is the part about how they throw out the old (literally) in order to make room for the new. Some people are more symbolic and throw out the calendar or the newspaper but I read that in the past, some have thrown out appliances and other large items! And we shouldnt forget the important chain of events that must happen for a woman in order to have a year of good luck. Upon wakening, the first person she sees must be a man or all deals are off. Its 1145am and I am still waiting to hear a mans voice outside my window so I can look at him! I am pretty sure seeing a neutered male cat isnt the same. Finally, in about 1/2 hour the annual dip into the Adriatic Sea by the local polar bear club is about to commence on the Lido. I probably should have gotten myself ready to go see that event and take some pics but I was so torn with not seeing a woman, that I seem to be held hostage in my own apartment! Or perhaps its just that what you do on the first day of the year is supposed to indicate how you will spend the rest of your year.....relaxing and enjoying the day sounds so much more enticing than standing in 34 degree weather on the beach--at least for me!

Whatever you do for your traditions or superstitions, make it a great day! Happy New Year to you all!