Saturday, February 28, 2015

HUB Away from Home

In Oakland I am a member of the Impact Hub, a co-working space that attracts forward-thinkers to gather and network and galvanize new ways to bring positive change. There are Hubs all over the world, and I was eager to visit my "office abroad" while I was in the neighborhood.

Before I left, I hosted a Pencil Party where some fun people from HubOakland celebrated the power of the pencil and wrote greetings to Italia. 

The kind people at HubRoma agreed to host a corresponding Pencil Party while I was there. My trip being what it was, things fell apart. But Alexa and I did get to visit... and work. I finally was able to interview Alexa, the quintessential DecoBelle (ta-dah), for my book

We found it!
A whimsical workspace for creative collaboration.
Like Facebook...with clothespins. Charming!

Galleries where members
show their work

Some wonderful crafts and fashions by members. Love this
cool purse made from re-purposed safety belts.

HubRoma has a full bar. (For evening events...)
During the day, coffee donations, just like home! 
But cups are microscopic.
Pizza picnic
The tables are made of recycled cardboard! Brilliant.

The beauty of re-fab
A week after my return, I finally got back to HubOakland. This guy sits down at the table across from me and accidentally knocks the power out of my computer, which has suffered on this trip. I complement his sticker, and he starts talking to me...with that lovely Italian accent I now miss so much. Guess who he is? Dario Carrera, founder of HubRoma!

I had one of those speechless moments where I wished I could think of the right words. Somewhere between It sure is a small world, isn't it? and Vacation never ends, it just changes location, there was a through-the-rabbit-hole feeling that suggested my life would never be the same after this month.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Driving While Italian

A typical street scene in early-morning Rome.
My son is famous for being a little car-obsessed. Often our vacations will include what we like to call a "Ferrari Safari," in which we go take pictures of rich people's toys. When he knew I was going to the headwaters of Lamborghinis and Ferraris, he naturally told me to take lots of pictures.

This one looks like Big Hero 6.

"I've got bad news for you," I texted him the first day there. There are more sports cars in Oakland than in Rome. Waaaay more. This is the land of computer mice, mechanical hamsters, cars so small you could almost put them in your pocket. This is where you find free-range Fiats and Smart Cars.

Traffic here is nothing short of adorable.

The only sports cars I saw were in captivity.

The ubiquitous car here is the Fiat Seicento, (Italian for 600). Although we, in the US, joke that Fiat stands for "Fix It Again, Tony," there are thousands of these indestructible cars from the 1980s still clinging to the cobblestoned curves.

Courting rituals of the Smart Car?

One night we found the ORIGINAL Fiat 500, which has grown up to be the sexiest car in America. It's so small you could park it under the stairs. So cute you want to snuggle up. Inside, you'd have to.

Ah, the land of romance.

That same night we found an Axiam—a car so small you don't need a license to drive it! For a size comparison, that's a modern Fiat 500 in front of it, and a Smart Car around the corner.

The ugliest car: Fiat Multi-pleagh

There are reasons cars here are small. Partly because they are agile and steer more cleverly around potholes. Partly because the streets are small because the buildings have been there for hundreds or even thousands of years since the roads were traveled by chariots...and you can't make them bigger. And partly because gas costs what it should. Traveling to Europe, one feels keenly the loss of America's oil subsidies—gas costs about three dollars a gallon more.

Two sets of keys,
two ignitions...
cooler than a Club!

The cars may be engineered for economy, but driving is decidedly a sport no matter where you go.

If you've been here, you know it seems as if traffic laws are just suggestions. Stop signs don't mean stop, but yield signs do. On one road, four lanes abruptly became three, then four again. No wonder stripes are generally ignored. Driving with a local is a thrill ride worth the plane ticket. If you've never been here, maybe you've seen videos of the famous crazy intersection in Rome, a modern wonder of the world.

The upfront Polizia keep their blue lights on all the time.

Learning to feel my way through Italy.
With all the zigging and zagging, diving our way into streams of traffic, and darting around trouble, it seemed to me the difference between Italian and American driving styles is in the US we rely on other people obeying laws; in Italy each person is responsible for getting where they want, and for not getting hurt.

I polled all of my drivers on whether there were a lot of traffic accidents and they all said no. Later, I checked the statistics, sure enough, Italy has about half as many per-capita deaths per car. (This could also be that when a car hits you, it's not an SUV.)

I think a Fiat could be the best souvenir.

Just for fun, here is Alexa's favorite detour.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Veni, Vidi, Vici Vesuvius

The next day I decided to pop the 20 Euro for the 2-hour crater shuttle, then spend the afternoon visiting Pompeii.

In the shuttle office, there was a phone call confirming that the road was open. I loaded my overnight backpack into the van and we headed up past the views and the heads.  I had read that from the top parking lot it is about a half-hour hike to the crater. The travel writer had seen women walk up it in heels.

A little ways past where the road had been blocked yesterday, someone flagged the shuttle down to say the road was too icy to pass. The driver, who had given us zero information about the mountain, told us we could walk from there. It would take just a little longer, but he would wait. (The couple from Indiana grumbled that these people just don't know how to drive on snow.)

Even though I teach fitness, I am a pretty slow hiker. Soon the group (from Australia and London as well as Indiana) had all gone around the bend and I was alone.

For good, though I did not know it at the time.

Just before I arrived at the lava flow we'd ridden to yesterday, there was a fork in the road. 

A random lady came out of nowhere and told me the left fork went up to the crater. This is a national park, but there weren't any of the informative brown signs we are accustomed to here. 

In Italy, you have to kind of feel your way.

I was getting tired of finding another curve around every curve. My hips were getting sore. The top seemed so close. He said it was just an extra half-hour

Another turn in the road, and another, and another.  The mountaintop still loomed.

It was awfully quiet. I finally remembered I had my iPod in my satchel. The first song that came on was my friend Daniel Finnamore playing the strange and magnificent "Study for Opposing Sonorities" by Debussy, which seemed an appropriate commentary on the strange divergences my life had been taking lately, then "Prelude: Hills of Anacapri."

"Your battery is low," my iPod announced, which is weird; it never talks to me.

I should probably go back, I thought.

What, after coming all this way? I'm halfway around the world! What it took to get here!!!!

When will I get a chance to do this again?

What if the shuttle went back without me? I weighed my options, did a mental accounting of the contents of my overnight pack. Mostly clothes. And that giant pasta I bought in Ercolaneo. 

I have everything I really need. 

I need to let go of things anyway. 

Alone with my thoughts, I felt like I was touching the edges of my mind. I could slip and fall into the crater. I could get space madness and throw myself over the edge, a sacrifice to the goddess. Perhaps there would be a spaceship, like the one that was calling all those people to Devil's Tower in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Another fork in the road. No signs, no random ladies. Again, I went left.

At last I made it to a staging area.

I've come all this way. They can't lock me out. 

If you zoom in, you'll see a big hole in the fence on the gate.

Here's the map of the crater. No "you are here" marker. No kilometer measurings. Only a forward path.

I'm a Colorado girl. Not afraid of a little snow.

Am I out of my depth?

No one knows I'm here. No cell service.
Are those wolf tracks? Romulus & Remus...

Bruce Springsteen sings Thundercrack. The iPod announces, again, that it is running low on power. 

Tell me about it.

Oh no. I'm that crazy tourist, aren't I? The one who goes hiking on cliffs in Hawaii. 

But damn it, this is not going to be another "almost." Too many of those in my life.

Fence poles, I love you. I can hardly feel my legs. I drag myself from one to the next.  Aerosmith sings Walk This Way. Ha. Ha.

At last I come to a view. I feel like Frodo and Sam, looking across the Misty Mountains. Hey, if they could walk that far, I can do this. I call up the spirit of my girl Maddie to walk in the snow with me a bit.

The top is just around the corner.

The iPod announces it's tired one more time and then quits, halfway through Non Regrette Rien. 

Inside, my heart is soaring. I am so deeply grateful to be here. My heart is still pounding, but to occupy my mind, I start working on my thank-you list, like I've just won an academy award. 

Daniel, Bruce, Aerosmith, Edith, who got me a little farther. Dave, so far across the world. My mom, who made this all so much easier. My dad, who took me up that first volcano. 

I had forgotten how much I cried, going up that mountain when I was seven. My legs are screaming. 

Jenny. Alexa. My girlfriends. My family. My board of directors. Steve Brown. My clients. My friends. My fans. All of my teachers. All the Italians. Everyone who urged me to come. Writers. Poets. Artists. God.

And Fabio, for the antibiotics. I can't believe I'm this alive now.

There's no one to share this with. 

I couldn't linger too long at the views; it was just above freezing and inside my plastic jacket I was soaking wet. 

There was one part that was actually kind of sketchy. A slide of rubble on top of a slide of snow. I didn't stop for a photo... but you can see the white tracks where I stepped carefully and hastily.

The next bend provided me with an uphill stairway. Two German hikers were coming down. I was overjoyed to see other humans on this moonscape. "Noch ein halb-stunde," they said, another half-hour. (Grrr!!!!) 

There was a little shack above, with icicles melting into a tub. I put my lips to the rippling water, glad it was a few degrees above freezing, not below.

Around another corner, another expanse. #$%^@&! Would this never end? I can barely move my legs!

The next hour was fueled almost entirely by anger. Vesuvius is kind of a symbol of that. I swore a blue streak at the wind, at the hill, at the stupid advice I'd been given, at the weather report, at my stupid self for not knowing better what I was getting into, at Mercury, at all the obstacles that continue to show up just when things are going right, about how I seem to do everything the hard way. Later, I would look at Google maps and see that, indeed, there was a much shorter route.

Anger is powerful fuel. The wrath of Achilles and all that. It even helped me have a baby once. That worked out okay.

I somehow made it to the top.

 I practically crawled around the final corner, only to find a rope stretched across the entrance. 

Oh shoot, it's closed, I'd better turn back. 

I mean,


Posted on the shack was some random information about paper. WTF, Italy?

But I was there.

Off the Amalfi Coast lies the island of Capri. On it, the hills of Anacapri.

There was no boiling lava, just some steam. 

But I had achieved my goal.

I wrote my prayers on crumpled paper and tossed them into the crater.

The asshole of Vesuvius blew them back in my face.

It was a long way down.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Cavaliere Della Neve

Mount Vesuvius wears a little veil of snow sometimes, like Mount Fuji... but the snow almost never comes down from the top. When we arrived at the stables, straight out of a spaghetti western, there were little flakes floating in the air. I assumed they were ashes from the volcano, but by the time we came back, the whole sky was a-flurry.

What a charming place. There were horses kicking on doors for attention. Spurs lying on a plastic chair. A cat with no nose. (Um, that wasn't the charming part and no, you don't get to see a photo.)

My companion Emily, who I met in the hostel, reminded me of two of my best friends smushed together. And she lives twenty-five miles away from me! So here we were two California blondes, set for adventure on the other side of the world. 
The ride was more exciting than any trail ride I've ever taken. The horses were strong and sure-footed, climbing some ridiculously difficult terrain up an abandoned railroad line. They had to look carefully for safe places to put their hooves, then lurch up some pretty steep slopes. Sometimes the path was worn so deeply our knees touched the edges of the ravine. The trees were clotted with African ivy along the west side of the mountain, a sign of the times. We rode up to the lava scar left by the 1944 eruption (you can see it running along the top of the aerial view here.)

But our guide was absolutely wonderful. Davide (of Scarpa fame) has worked cattle on ranches in Idaho and Oregon, so he was full of stories and cowboy ACTION! He was able to assess our abilities, challenging me to ride more daringly and helping green (that's what horsey-types call inexperienced riders) Emily learn the ropes. And when space allowed, he showed off his riding skills, putting his horse through some camera-worthy paces.

We didn't make it all the way to the top, but you could see it from where we were.

Pointing out Naples, below us. I learned that the peak to the north is Monte Somma, the mother of Vesuvius, which was destroyed in 79AD when Vesuvius was formed. We were riding on one of the world's youngest mountains. (See the cool pix about this here.)
I had intended to dress somewhat in style on this trip, but the weather forecast was for 75 degrees that day and my plans were foiled. (Though if there's a contest somewhere for dorkiest cowgirl, I'm in!)

I didn't get a photo of it, but here's a cartoon of the excitement.  Coming down the very steep trail, Emily's horse, Aragorn, decided to take a step straight down. Emily said "Um, what do I do now?" When I tried to figure out what was going on, I noticed her butt was in front of the saddle horn....not a good sign. "My hand was on the ground, and I was staring right into the horse's eye," she said later when we laughed about it. Davide came to the rescue and helped her sort herself out.

Kayla was the sweetest, strongest Pinto pony ever!

After the ride, Davide was kind enough to take us down to Ercolaneo (Herculaneum).

The site was closed, but we had a wonderful meal. It was so cold that the restaurant owner brought a bucket of coals ("Hot Lava") to put under our table to keep us warm.

But the mountain still beckoned. We called Davide and asked him to drive us up to the crater.

Giant statues loomed out at us on the windy trip up the mountainside. Around every corner was a scenic overlook, an abandoned, grafittied restaurant with broken glass (the economy has been bad here), or a dog standing in the road like they owned the place.

Nope, not a ponderosa.
Halfway up, the road was closed due to snow, so we got out for a hike. Emily (also green because she's a botanist,) smelled the trees to figure out what they were. She cried out in delight when she discovered a patch of succulents. The snow was rare and fresh, and the whole forest seemed filled with magic.

A Vesuvian snow angel for Jenny!

Lava fences

When the sun began to set, the snow in the trees looked like fire. 

On the way down, Naples lit up hot in the cold night, a flow of electrical energy around the mountain.

Trust the Italians to teach us how to serve our own food!
Davide took us on a crazy drive through the city and to Piazza Bellini where we ate pasta and polenta and drank Limoncello and told stories of our adventures. I learned about gourmet moonshine and the Facebook antics of American Cowboys and heard stories about Emily's world travels. He ordered something like nachos, but made with bacon and cheese on a bed of potato chips.

Berry says hello, come visit!
Emily and I came back to the hostel full of stories about the best day ever!