Saturday, August 19, 2006

Happy Birthdayversary

Thursday was our 11th anniversary and my birthday. (I won't disclose my age.) Jess bought me a dozen roses in a beautiful pinkish-mauve color. I love roses, as long as they're not red.

This weekend has been quiet. There's a lot of housework to do as we get ready for a guest who arrives Thursday, and we leave Friday morning for a wedding in New England. Vacuuming, cleaning, dusting, even a little touch-up painting were all on the menu today. We ran a few errands, and watched a really pathetic movie.

I had an opportunity to shoot a couple of dog pictures; the dogs were in a mood today.

Here's Mandy:

And here's Dodger. Can't you tell he's just soooooo happy?

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Milan to Geneva, Part 3

The train started moving and I began to panic. My heart was pounding so hard that it was distracting to me. Overheated and over-excited, a flash went through my mind that I might have a heart attack, so forceful was the pounding. I could hear the blood rushing in my ears.

Moving around in the car's landing like a caged animal, I made the train crew nervous. I was trying to make my way back to the door to go back a car, just about ready to burst into tears, when the door flew open and there was Jess. Whew. So we started moving through the narrow hall of the car, single-file, toward our seats.

When we got to our compartment, we were hot, sweating, and looked a mess. We slid the door open and the woman sitting inside looked up, rather disapprovingly, before going back to her book. I can only imagine what was running through her head..."Stupid, bumbling Americans...great...and they smell!"

The car was very warm; the a/c was just barely blowing, and it wasn't that cool. Of course, air conditioning theory is different for Europeans than Americans; what many Americans would consider the right level of cool would be considered too cold by Europeans. And what Jess and I consider the right level of cool could be considered cold by American standards. Case in point: when Jess' cousins from Paris visited us, they complained that "the climatisation is too hard in here." We had a hard time keeping things comfortable for everyone in the common areas of the house, but fortunately, we didn't have central air, so we were all able to regulate the temp of our rooms with our own a/c wall unit. They may not be so happy when they visit us in our currrent house, which has central air...

We had a hell of a time getting our luggage into the luggage racks, which were located high above the seats. Heaving a 44-lb. full-sized suitcase more than a foot over your head is a bitch. Heaving two or three of those pieces is torture.

But I digress. The car was too warm, even by European standards. After waiting a reasonable period of time in misery, my mom asked our European rider if she spoke English. "No; Français" was the rather curt response.

"May we adjust the climatisation?" we asked, not expecting a good response.


So we adjusted. Unfortunately, the adjustment did little. Our train was an older train. Our compartment had a sliding plexiglas door that kept sliding open. We'd close it, and with the next jostle or stop, and the door would open. That got old quickly. I managed to get one smile out of our French traveling companion when, after the door slid open for no particular reason, I looked over at her, rolling my eyes, and grumbled, "ouvert, fermé; ouvert, fermé" which was probably not precisely the proper French for what I was trying to say (the French are very particular about their language), but she smiled anyway. I am sure she was thinking "stupid American!" but I'd like to think that for a moment, she was entertained rather than put off.

The view on the ride was actually spectacular. The little country villages and shacks that dotted the Italian countryside were charming, and it was clear that a lot of the land outside the cities was involved in agriculture. Vineyards were planted everywhere they would grow, and some grew in very unexpected places, like down the side of steep hills and areas next to bridges. As we pulled into some of the towns along the trip, they were names I recognized from Italian restaurants here in the States. Like Stresa, for instance...built into a steep hillside that ran right down to the tracks, the stuccoed homes were all bunched together in units, dappled in shades of pale peach, seafoam, ivory, butter, and salmon, with terra cotta tile roofs, some in the natural salmon color, others in multiple shades of salmon, peach, periwinkle, butter, and forest. Flowerboxes under windows spilled over with petunias and geraniums. There were few homes with yards, and many homes had clotheslines drying the daily wash in the pristine Italian Alpine air. The train station in Stresa looked as though it had been there for as long as trains had been running. Refurbished, of course, but you could see by the glass in the windows, which had been mottled by age, that it was an original.

The Alps were stunning. High, snow-capped peaks loomed on either side of the train, and the mountainsides seemed to run right down to just within a few hundred yards of the tracks. Vineyards were even planted into the steep mountainsides. We wondered if there wasn't anywhere that a vineyard wouldn't grow.

Crossing over into Switzerland, it was very evident that we had left Italy. The landscapes and towns were more spartan, utilitarian, the housing very homogenous. Very engineered, very unimaginative. It all had a coldness about it. On the train, we had been hearing announcements in Italian, French, and English. Shortly after crossing the Swiss border, English announcements ceased in favor of German. And that, combined with the apparent social and communal engineering, made me think this: We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Milan to Geneva, Part 2

Well, I'm back to regale you with more vacation stories. Yeah, yeah, this is the longest vacation post in blog history. I know. It's taking me forever to finish it!

So now I have to tell you my story of the Geneva train...and how we almost missed it.

The day before our trip, Jess had gone to the ticket booth in the train station and bought the tickets for our passage from Milan to Geneva. The ticket agent wasn't all that helpful, speaking almost no English, so we were lucky to get the tickets, let alone make the train the next day.

We arrived at the train station with about 15 minutes to spare. The train station has a large platform, 22 tracks wide. We were waiting on the train and track to be announced. Of course, no English, all Italian. So Paris was Parigi; Turin was Torino; Brussels was Bruxelles; Rome was Roma; etc. The names were close to their English counterparts, but some were more obscure than others.

So we look at the board, and the train to Genova is on Track 1. Each train's cars are numbered and then inside, the seats are numbered in first class so that there is no doubt where your seat is if you're in first class. And we were.

Oh, also, the tracks come into the station in a "v" formation, where the center tracks come all the way to the front of the platform, and the tracks on the end are set back about 100 yards from the front of the platform. Like this.

Okay, so we go down to track 1 and locate the car. It's not very clearly marked. We think this is it, though, and we get on. Mind you, we're carrying all our luggage. Each one of us has two pieces plus a backpack/camera bag. The pieces are heavy, weighing about 44 lbs. each. You bring your luggage on yourself, there is no one to help you. We heaved them in, unstrapped them from each other, and put them into the luggage compartment

Jess goes to ask someone in the center of the car where our seats would be, since this car doesn't look like first looks like third or fourth class.

At this moment, we found out that we needed to know more Italian than we knew.

"We're looking for our seats. Is this the train to Geneva?"

"Geneva? No...this train goes to Genoa"


"Off! Off! Off! It's the wrong train!" Jess is shouting.

We hit the platform dragging our bags and desperately attempting to strap them back together so we can roll them. But we're in a little dilemma. We have to run the 100 yards to the front of the platform so we can find what track our train is on. I am running far ahead and my mom is behind me. Jess is further back.

I get to the platform and scan the board desperately for something that looks like Geneva. The train to Genevre is on Track 22. Track 22?! It's at the other end of the station!! And then 100 yards down! I scream to Jess that we have to go to the other end. Then I hear in Italian, "Last call for Geneva. All aboard." Running as quickly as we could through the very crowded station, we're dragging our 80 lbs. of luggage each. The wheels leave the ground and the bag topples over. Shit. Put it back together, keep running.

The train's staff is boarding. A single crew member stands outside the train, urging people aboard. We can see this but we are at the head of the platform and have to run our 100 yards to the train. Jess is about 100 yards behind us. Jess is carrying the tickets for all three of us.

I wave wildly to the crew member outside the car, who gestures firmly for us to hurry up and get on. It's hot and we're dripping. Our car is in the middle of the train, so we run even further. We heave the luggage onto the train. There isn't a luggage compartment, luggage goes with us to our seats. Great. The train bell starts ringing. We can't see Jess. Did he make it? Is he still on the platform? What do we do if he didn't make it on? We have no tickets!! I try to go back to the door to look out, but I am stopped by a crew member.

The train crew is urging us to get to our seats. The train starts moving. We still have no Jess. We don't know what seats we're in, only the car number.

To be continued...