Post #30: Will the Next Wyatt Earp Please Stand Up?

It’s an unfortunate reality, but some things that need changing don’t change until something tragic happens. You know, the whole learning from mistakes philosophy that pulls a little something positive out of an otherwise devastating situation. So, when I heard about the shootings in Tucson, Arizona, my sadness was accompanied by the resolve that the tragedy should inspire change that would inevitably lead to a safer America. I mean, people would see the danger of allowing just about anyone to carry a concealed weapon. It was not the first time that an unstable individual walked into the equivalent of a sporting goods store and legally purchased a firearm that would take the lives of innocent civilians. Hopefully, this time, I thought, it would be the last…

But then I started following the debates that transpired in the wake of the chaos. I was nothing short of dumbfounded. I didn’t see the call for harsher gun laws that I was hoping for. Instead, I saw exactly the opposite. Claims that if more people had guns, the crazies with guns would be less inclined to use theirs and, if someone were to open fire, someone else could pull their weapon and take out the shooter. There are two assumptions to these assertions that are, for lack of a better word, ass backwards.

First, they assume that a crazed shooter is actually concerned about his/her own well being in a premeditated attack. Even the 22 year old in this situation left behind what could be regarded as a suicide note. An envelope in a safe saying the assassination was planned. He wasn’t writing that for his sake… if he planned it, then he knew damn well it was planned. That was left behind in case he didn’t survive, an acknowledged possibility that clearly didn’t stop him.

The second assumption behind these claims is that an ordinary citizen carrying a concealed weapon can make a split second decision to pull the said weapon and shoot the shooter without shooting anyone else or getting shot himself by another person who might misjudge his intention. This is a very big, and potentially hazardous train of thought. Even at this attack, there were two people in the crowd with their own guns. One mistook the other for the shooter and neither could take out the real shooter in the time it took him to fire 30 shots. There is a reason why police officers go through such intensive training. It is a tremendous responsibility to carry a gun, and an even bigger responsibility to use it! Though we would all like to think we would be immune to the panic that arises in the line of fire, we are not. And though we may like to imagine that we are secretly harboring innate bad-guy killing skills like the ones we seen in action movies, we are not. Giving me a gun would make me armed, but probably more dangerous to other innocent bystanders than to the crazed shooter.

Since terrorists like the one in Tucson would be more-than-likely undeterred from their attacks by gun-wielding amateurs like myself and since most of us do not instinctively know when and how to operate a firearm, the arguments circulating in support of guns for all are absolutely ludicrous.

As crazy as it seems to advocate for possession of concealed weaponry throughout college campuses and beyond, the most recent shootings call attention to perhaps an even bigger issue: the type of guns that are legally available for purchase. While possessing a concealed firearm arguably falls within the realm of second amendment rights, I find it difficult to accept that anyone can buy a semi-automatic pistol with a 33-bullet clip. What other purpose does a Glock like the one used by the Tucson perpetrator serve than to kill a lot of people? Hunting rifles are for hunting. Handguns, some believe, are for self-protection. Semiautomatic weapons do not have a place in the hands of everyday citizens. Bottom line.

As debates rage on, I can’t help but think that gun control isn’t a place for politics. It’s a place for common sense. The support for weaker gun control laws in response to the Tucson shootings is a disgrace to those who have been killed in demonstrations of mindless violence. Guns don’t kill people. Sure, that's true. But, people kill people with guns! If we make it easier for people to get guns, then we make it easier for people to kill people. For anyone who hasn’t noticed, this isn’t the Wild West. And though you may need a gun to be the bad-guy, you don’t need one to be the hero. So, why aren't we disarming the bad-guys? 


Post #29: O Romeo, Romeo...

Despite what may be implied by the title of this entry, what follows in not a reflection upon some romantic gesture made by my very own Romeo. My sweet husband would have to make a romantic gesture before I could write about it. (This is where you hear the little snare drum/cymbal combo that traditionally follows up a joke.) So, why would I tease a blog-perusing hopeless romantic with a title referencing Shakespeare’s famous love story? Because, after a weekend retreat with Kevin and my parents, I now have the answer to the ageold question of “wherefore art thou Romeo?” Romeo, my friends, is in Verona…

With the arrival of their 30th anniversary in September, my parents decided to celebrate with a trip to Italy. I, of course, was a lead beneficiary to this decision since their January trip would bring them within hugging distance for the first time in five months. As I was planning their eight-day stay in northern Italy, I considered the option of Verona. Nestled in the Italian countryside between Milano and Venezia, the city is only a two-hour drive from the airport where I would be picking up mio genitori. And, being the city that prides itself as the setting for Shakespeare’s most famous love story, it was the perfect destination for an anniversary-celebrating couple! So that’s where we went. Me, Kevin, and my newly-arrived, as in just stepped off the plane, parents.

As I suspected, and as I had hoped for the sake of my parents who were seeing Italy for the first time, Verona had all that I love about Italian towns. The welcoming café bar owners, cute cobblestone streets, endlessly impressive churches with breathtaking interiors, high-reaching clock towers, beautiful piazzas, and charming bridges. And, to our delight, we found Verona to have even more…

For starters, Verona has a medieval castle. I’ve heard all about castles in Italy, but this is the first one I have seen in person. Built by the ruling Scaligeri family in the 14th century, the brick Castelvecchio is accessible via it’s matching bridge over the Adige River. The building is a two-layer museum considering that it’s exterior is as much of a sight as the roomfuls of artwork housed within. With the sight of the castle itself, its views of the river, and it’s collection of renaissance art, the castle certainly proved to be a worthwhile stop in our city exploration.

So, Verona’s got the piazzas, churches, culture, and a castle. But that’s still not all… this little northeastern city also has its own Roman ruins! On the outskirts of the city, on the opposite side of the river, we excitedly sauntered through the remains of a Roman Theater from the first century B.C! The crumbled archways and moss-covered columns were an incredible sight in the foreground of the rest of the city. Behind the theater is an archaeological museum in which Roman artifacts found in Verona are on display.  As I have mentioned before, I was never a history buff. However, seeing coins, statues, and mosaics from unfathomably long ago in the city where they were excavated inspires a whole new appreciation for the subject.

In addition to the remains of the Teatro Romano, Verona is home to one of the world’s largest Roman Arenas. Built in the first century A.D, the arena is extremely well-preserved, seating upwards of 20,000 people and serving as a venue for seasonal opera and music performances. The performers don’t even need microphones thanks to the acoustics afforded by the stadium’s oval design. From the uppermost aisle of the arena, I could hear my father talking in his trademark barroom whisper down below. His quotes from the Godfather trilogy, and the notes from his whistles echoed throughout the arena. As I stood in the center of the arena, I was star-struck by history while I imagined the gladiators who once took in the same view.

In addition to its impressive collection of historically significant architecture, Verona offers supplemental charm to it’s already charming landscape by proclaiming itself the setting of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. As the supposed hometown to the pair of literature’s most famous lovers, several places within the city claim to be important to the story. The biggest draw of them all is Juliet’s house. When we found the landmark spot, we admired the countless inscriptions left by former visitors upon the brick archway. Collectively, these colorful proclamations of love looked like a work of art. Beyond the Pollock-inspired entry-way, a quaint piazza was enclosed by three buildings, the right of which was said to be la casa di Giulietta.

While I’m a sucker for romantic comedies, I’m not especially a fan of mushy, cliché, over-the-top romanticism in real-life. I can’t explain the inconsistency between my love of rom-com storylines and my indifference to contrived real-life romance. But this indifference is the reason I had no desire to take a gondola ride in Venice and why I did not care to share a kiss on Juliet’s balcony. But when in the vicinity of a Roman collosseum, do as the Romans do. And any self-respecting Italy-dweller would probably jump at the opportunity for some PDA! So, Kevin and I walked up the stairs and stepped onto the balcony overlooking a herd of tourists who were there to see Juliet’s house, rub her bronzed statued-boob for good luck, and admire the pleasant little piazza. And we kissed. Twice. The second time wasn’t out of a sudden change-of-heart to being forced into a romantic situation… my mom who was standing below just couldn’t figure out the flash on the camera.

Despite my inability to embrace my inner Shakespeare, I truly enjoyed all the Verona had to offer. With it’s assortment of landmarks from Roman, Medieval, and Renaissance time periods, and its general feel of Italian lifestyle, it was the perfect way to kick-off the week with my parental pair and to add yet another Italian city to my list of adventures.

Walking over the Adige River

Columns by the Teatro Romano

View from the Roman Theater

View from the Archaelogic Museum overlooking the theater

Piazza Delle Erbe

The entry-way to Juliet's House

Walking over to the Castelvecchio

The four of us in the Roman Arena


Post #28: Full of Bologna

One of the wives of one of the Valpe players wanted to go visit her old college roommate who happened to be visiting Italy. This college friend was visiting her medical school friend whose boyfriend lives in Milan but grew up in Modena. The Valpe wife with whom I have become friends asked if I wanted to join her on the journey to Modena where we could meet up with the crew. Since I made a vow to spontaneity this year, I graciously accepted her offer. The next morning we set out on the three hour roadtrip to Modena.

Unlike the rest of the travels I’ve partaken in this hockey season, I did not make any plans relating to this one. Usually, given my current employment status, I have happily accepted the responsibility of planning the adventures I’ve gone on in with Kevin or our guests. I have the time, and so I should dedicate my energies towards something that benefits our little family unit. This same reasoning could also apply to why I should uphold all dish-washing duties, but, for my own sanity, I cannot let it cross into that territory. My abundance of free time is erroneous in consideration of standard household chores. Being a travel planner is one thing, being a prototypical 1950’s housewife another. Anyway, like I was saying, usually before setting out on an Italian getaway whether it be for a day or for four, I have an agenda, a few bagged lunches, and I’ve got a pretty detailed map of the area etched into my mind’s eye from several hours of research about our destination. This time, my fellow Valpe wife and I had little more than a GPS navigation system set to the Modena city center and a backpack full of one to three days of clothing for our unknown escapades during the open-ended visit with her old friend. No tentative itinerary, no prerequisite Tripadvisor review reading, and not so much as a glance at my Frommer’s Italy guide book.

Despite our unpreparedness, we met up with her friend and her friend’s friend and her friend’s friend’s boyfriend without any complications. Modena is a small town (and a beautiful one!) so they were able to find our parked, decal-covered, Valpe-mobile without a problem. From that point on, we were under the guidance of the Italian boyfriend. And he turned out to be a spectacular host!

Lunch in a Modena osteria was followed up with a tour of the quaint Italian town (and hometown to the ever-so-delicious Balsamic Vinegar). Then we headed to, yes, the Ferrari Museum, which even for a non-car enthusiast proved to be a worthwhile stop. And, then, as the sun was setting, we were on our way to a little mountain village where the ever-so-gracious host was hoping to meet up with a couple of his friends at a hotel restaurant. As we followed his BMW in our recently snow-tired (thank goodness!) Ford, I marveled at the fluidity of the day’s events. Already I was thinking, I couldn’t have planned it better myself. And, we even had a free and friendly tour guide in our group!

After an hour of navigating through snowy mountainside switchbacks, we arrived at the Albergo-Ristorante. We were shown to our comfortable rooms and ushered downstairs for the entirely homemade meal. The innkeeper was the fifth generation owner of the establishment. With his mother and father still helping out in the kitchen and his own two daughters playing happily in a TV room adjacent to the dining area, at least three generations of the family were part of the operation.

Upon being seated, we were introduced to our host’s friend, the friend’s fiancé, and the friend’s father. With the exception of the father, all of the dinner guests spoke English. Our host’s friend had been visiting the little family-run restaurant since he was a child himself. He explained that we would be having a typical Italian meal in the sense of the numerous courses and a not so typical Italian meal in the sense that everything was homemade at the hotel from the ravioli shells to the sauces and the breads. The meal commenced with a delicious cheese and spinach tortellini, the pasta so soft that it nearly melted in my mouth. None of the subsequent plates lacked in the deliciousness of the first…

A meat and cheese lasagna, a ravioli soup, chicken in a rich and creamy truffle* sauce, tender flanks of steak with roasted potatoes, and an assortment of desserts. Cheese and wines throughout the feast were all local commodities, and were incorporated into the dinner sequence at appropriate times. A sweet wine to start with the pasta dishes, followed up by a richer, more “oaky” Chianti, and finished off with a selection of grappa, limoncello and other local digestivi drinks. A very sweet parmesan-like cheese that’s indigenous to the region was served in cubes at the end of the meal. Bagna e asciuga, bagna e asciuga explained the Italian-speaking father who sat to my right as he pointed from the wine to the cheese. Wet (wine) and dry (cheese). According to his son, who is also apparently a food and wine connoisseur, the cheese is provided to help finish of the wine. Ideally, you would alternate between a bite of cheese and a sip of wine and both would be gone at the same time.

Throughout the meal, I talked a lot with the host’s friend and his fiancé who are currently living in Brussels. With her being Latvian and his being Italian, English is the second language for both of them. And, as only language they have in common, it is the one they use to communicate with one another. Their English was superb, but even still, it was impressive that they maintained a relationship when they both speak outside their native tongue. I learned a lot from these conversations and was impressed by how well traveled the couple was. He had seen more of the U.S. than I have in addition to the larger portion of Europe. I am beginning to think that traveling is more of a priority for Europeans than Americans. Of course, the at least six weeks of vacation built into their work schedules versus our two might play a role in this discrepancy.

By the end of the night, all of us were pleasantly full and consequently tired. We fell asleep almost immediately upon returning to our modest yet cozy chambers.

After our breakfast the next morning, I shuddered at the thought of our checking out. The meal we had eaten the night before was of the same, if not better, quality as the 80 Euro team dinner we’d been gifted had at the beginning of the season. That, in addition to a room charge would probably wipe me out of my 110 Euro in available funds. Dining and ditching is not in my biological make-up, nor would it be possible in the company of so many new acquaintances whose connections to the hotel managers were strong. How do you say embarrassing in Italian? Thankfully, and surprisingly, the total for full board, meal and room with breakfast included, came out to only 45 Euro a person! It makes sense why Modena residents make the hour long uphill trek to eat there!  At that price and for that quality, it would be worth it for people from my neck of the woods to drive four hours there for dinner!

Relieved that I would have enough dough for another mini excursion, we all headed to Bologna. It was wonderful to spend yet another day under the guidance of someone that was familiar with the area. He offered interesting facts about the city as we walked through its streets, stopping at all important landmarks in our path. He knew where to go for window shopping and brought us to the best aperitivi spot I have been to in Italy up to this point. With a glass of wine, we were given our choice of any and all of at least ten delectable appetizers. When the sky was dark and we were ready to leave, he brought us up to a church, the road to which was lined with an illuminated covered archway. It was beautiful, and a perfect way to finish off the evening.

On our drive back to Torre, I thought about the randomness of my two days of travel in central Italy. I thought back to the dinner I shared with the friends of a boyfriend of a friend of a friend of my friend in practically the middle of nowhere in this foreign country. Then it made me wonder if it was really random at all. How the world is so intricately connected and how two people can cross paths in life in the most unexpected places through such unexpected connections. And how, when that happens, yet another life experience is logged in the diaries of my life. I can’t help but wonder, over the course of a lifetime’s worth of recorded experiences, how many people have an entry in theirs that matches one from my own? Though philosophically-oriented, that question is simply a digression of curiosity. Triggered, of course, by the fact that a spontaneous trip to the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy led to amazing food, friendly new acquaintances, and another memorable Italian adventure.

*I once considered making the trip to Alba for its annual truffle festival in the hopes of finding chocolates. Though it would have proven an educational escapade, I probably would have been disappointed to find that chocolate was not the focus of the event. And far from it. Truffles, or Tartufi, aren’t candies. Rather, they are perhaps the most sought after and expensive mushrooms in the world. The White Truffle, which is especially popular for use in high-end cuisine, grows in the Piedmonte region of Italy. And here’s an interesting fact: they use dogs to sniff out the underground fungi when it’s time for them to be harvested! And though truffles weren’t what I thought they were, I now know they are actually quite delicious in a cream sauce poured over chicken.
The final of three primi dishes at the albergo-ristorante

On the drive down from the albergo


A Piazza in Bologna

Another Piazza in Bologna

The view from a hole in the wall of a Bologna street. They call it "Little Venice"; you can see why.

A fountain in Bologna

Blurry shot, but the illuminate church at the top of the hill.

Archway leading up to the church

Another shot of the archway on the way up....


Post #27: Paris

My brother-in-law, and my only brother of any kind, is visiting us in Italy. He has been here since just after Christmas and he is the one responsible for dragging me kicking and screaming to Paris. Just kidding. I don’t think anyone is dragged to Paris. And certainly not me! Nevertheless, I will be the first to admit that before coming to Europe, the list of places I had ever thought I would visit was slim. And, Paris wasn’t on it. But, he flew out here with three objectives in mind: Paris, Rome, and hockey games. I haven’t had a brother officially until five months ago, but it’s an innate understanding that it would not be very sisterly of me to deny him any of those three modest goals for his European vacation. Nor would I be fulfilling my new role if I were to send him to the City of Lights without some company. I knew it was a big sacrifice on my part, but, I would have to go to Paris with him. I know, poor me.

When we arrived at the Charles De Gaulle airport, we boarded the commuter rail and headed to the Gare du Nord railway station. From there, we switched over to the metro system orange line and got off at the Bastille stop en route to our hotel. I am not a city girl, and so utilizing public transportation successfully throughout our trip was, for me, an accomplishment. And since Paris is such a big city, and since the weather was not completely cooperative during our stay, we had to take advantage of it a lot! We checked into our hotel, an easy-to-find building that was barely deserving of its one-star rating, and we headed onto our first day of Parisian exploration.

Since the forecast called for rain for Thursday and Friday, we spent as much time as possible outside on that first day. This involved a trip to the Eiffel Tower, a boat cruise on the Seine, a visit to the Arc de Triomphe and an evening in Montmarte. When we arrived at the impressive steel tower, we found the line for the elevators was excruciatingly long especially considering the cold temperatures. Rather than spend the rest of the day getting frostbite while waiting to go to the top of the colossal national monument, we moved onto the next item on our agenda… the boat cruise. But first, we needed lunch. We stopped at a little café/patisserie that offered take-away options. While I grabbed perhaps the most delicious almond-covered-honey-glazed confection I’ve ever consumed in my life, my B.I.L opted for a more practical lunch in the form of a chicken sandwich. Both re-energized by our meals, we boarded the boat a few minutes before departure and enjoyed the hour-long tour. It served as a great way to kick-off our stay because it acclimated us to the geography of the city by passing many of its most famous landmarks.

Following the cruise, we ventured beyond the 7th district to the nearby Champs de Elysees street and up to the Arc de Triomph. From there, we took the metro to the Sacre de-Couer cathedral in the Montmarte district. Set up on a hill over-looking Paris, the cathedral proved to be a beautiful spot in the landscape of the city. By this point, the day was giving way to night and a deep purple-blue sky waited behind the white basilica as we made our way up the stairs. Travel blogs and Paris websites had rightfully praised the views from Montmarte. We were thoroughly entranced by the city skyline and developed an immediate understanding of why it’s considered the City of Lights. But what our internet Paris-planning resources neglected to mention was that the network of cobblestone streets expanding behind the cathedral were so beautiful. We spent the rest of the evening walking through the quaint piazzas, past artists working at their easels, and by little boutiques and restaurants that were full of character. We had a delicious dinner and warmed up in one of the restuarants before heading back to the 4th arrondissement and our hotel. When we made it back, we were asleep immediately.

Our second day in Paris started with another pastry or two. And then we were back on the commuter rail, this time in the direction of Versailles. The Palace was indescribable. I walked from room to room in utter astonishment that such a place actually existed. There was not so much as a square inch of the walls and ceilings in the entire Palace that wasn’t adorned with elaborate paintings, chandeliers, candelabras, and gold. And, it is a very large palace! The doors themselves were works of art, along with the rugs, furniture, and drapery. The Hall of Mirrors was more than just what the title implies. Both sides of the hallway were lined with elaborate candelabras and the ceiling was covered with more chandeliers than I could count. And, of course, the paintings weren’t too bad either. The entire building was a work of art and stands as a positive example of the word excessive. We walked outside the palace and through some of its gardens. We did make the trek to Marie Antoinette’s house almost a mile and a half away from the Chateau de Versailles, though we probably wouldn’t suggest it to anyone else. I can’t imagine the King cared much for his queen if he put her up in such a simple domain while he himself dwelled in such an elaborate palace. Had the weather been nicer, it might have made for a at least a pleasant walk, but in our circumstances, it wasn’t worth our energies except for the laugh we shared over our lunch of kebabs about how we walked a 5k for next to nothing.

To finish off our second day, we visited the piazza containing the Louvre and returned to the Eiffel Tower, this time at night. We timed our second visit to the tower perfectly. We saw the light show that illuminates the tower in white sparkles every hour on the hour. And, we walked up the stairs to the second platform without waiting in line for a single minute. The view from up there was breathtaking. And, did I mention that there was an ice-skating rink on the first platform? Well, there was. While we didn’t rent skates, plenty of people did. And, even now, the fact amuses us that, if we had wanted to, we could have skated on the Eiffel Tower.

After a second night of sound sleeping, even sounder sleeping than the first night since we had learned to control the furnace enough that our room was no longer a sauna, we woke up for our final day in Paris. The rain didn’t deter us from venturing to the Notre Dame cathedral, the gothic monstrosity that, though somewhat eerie maintained an indefinable beauty. And then it was off to The Louvre for the B.I.L and some exploration of the lesser-visited streets of Paris for me. I drank some tea and put in an hour of ever-so-amusing people watching. In doing so, I confirmed a suspicion I developed in the previous two days of being in Paris. Mainly, Paris is full of beautiful people. Oftentimes, I had to remind myself that I was walking through a city in France and not the pages of Glamour magazine. While I was battling through the rain in a ski jacket, rainboots, backback and umbrella, women were navigating through cobblestone streets in heels and braving the elements in classic, yet elegant clothing and accessories. How they managed to hold an umbrella, send a text message with their smartphones, and hold an oversized leather purse, all the while looking simply stunning was endlessly impressive. I mentioned to the B.I.L later that the city was full of pretty girls and he looked at me as if I was crazy for only just making that observation… it was a fact he had discovered long ago.

After I finished my tea, the rain miraculously stopped. I spent the rest of the late morning walking through back streets and taking in as much of the Paris scenery as possible in the final hours of our adventure. I picked up a couple Eclairs from a little hole-in-the-wall patisserie so that I would have something to bring back for Kevin. Then I had lunch outside the Louvre and soaked in the little bits of sunshine that made its way through the clouds. At 1:45, as scheduled, we met back up under the designated archway of the museum and made our way back to the airport.

And that about sums up my clearly selfless vacation to France. As I’ve established in the previous paragraphs, I truly endured quite a bit in the midst of completing my sisterly duty. Architectural beauty, art history, and experience with French culture and people. You can give me the Sister-in-Law-of-the-year award later…

Flying Over a Thick Layer of Clouds

The Alps

Under the Eiffel Tower with the long line to your Left

One of my favorite bridges as seen from the cruise

Another cruise shot...

The Arc De Triomphe

Approaching the Sacre de Couer Cathedral in Montemarte

The cathedral is interestingly made of stone that gets whiter and harder with time.

The view from Montemarte

A piazza in Montemarte with artists all around and the church tower in the center

A piece of a ceiling in one of the rooms in the Versailles Palace

Just your average door in the palace

Another chandelier

The Hall of Mirrors

A Puddle Picture as I call it... A Louvre Pyramid and a piece of its reflection

The view from the Palace of the gardens

The Notre Dame Cathedral

A stained glass window in the Notre Dame

A typical Parisian piazza, this one close to the Louvre

The Louvre

Yes, another puddle picture... I can't resist!

The Eiffel Tower during the Lights Show at 9pm

View from the Eiffel Tower of the City of Lights

The skating rink on the Eiffel Tower first platform... in case you needed photo proof

"The Best Picture Ever Taken By a Camera" as taken by the B.I.L from the top of a Notre Dame tower