Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thanksgiving with the Bechis in Asciano

As I was going through some photographs I took some years ago in Italy, I came across a short series of images from Thanksgiving of 2005. Susie and I were living in Siena and had been invited to join Patti and Roberto Bechi and a few of their friends for Thanksgiving at a home of another of theirs in Asciano, just south of Siena.

That's Patti above.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving in Douglas 2009

Dick and Dorothy generously (and once again) opened their home to family and friends -- but they did much more and fixed virtually the entire meal as well! (Photo above: Susie, Joyce, Mary and Dick.)

Our friends Andrea and her mother Barbara met Susie and me at our place and the four of us convoyed north up Route 146 heading for the wilds of Douglas, MA. Thirty minutes later we were pulling into the driveway off of Linden Street and hauling sparkling wine, fresh-baked provolone bread and a massive pear-almond-cherry tart into the house.

Andrea and Barbara had brought a scrumptious cheese plate, which was the focus of attention for the next hour or so as we all caught up on the latest news.

Uncle Frank and Cathy as well as Joyce, Carl and Jonathan (all three back in civilization briefly from the north woods of Maine) were already there and Mary and Mallory arrived soon after we did.

In addition to Susie's desserts we also had a couple of pies compliments of the Quincy, MA, contingent. (Sadly, Mieke was hung up in NYC and couldn't join us this year.) Mary decorated the table and Dorothy and Dick laid on the traditional T'Day meal: an incredibly moist (read perfectly brined) turkey with all the trimmings, mashed potatoes and gravy, whipped sweet potato casserole, little carrots done to perfection, and tasty green beans (I swear Dorothy has a sixth sense about picking exceptional beans at the grocery store).

We lingered at the table, chatted about one thing or another but mainly enjoyed being together. So many have so little and no one to share even that little with. We are fortunate indeed.

Joyce showing her latest quilt project:

Andrea and her mother Barbara:


Uncle Frank:


Gathered together (again), Susie, Joyce, Carl and Uncle Frank:

Some smiles just can't be beat:

Oh, and for more photos check out Dick's slideshow on Picasa.

Have a wonderful holiday season!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Paying our respects to Coach and the Concord Four

Fall is still hanging on here, although most will agree winter is inevitable and that such arboreal tenacity is futile, but nonetheless fascinating and rewarding to the eye.

Work is going well for both of us -- you'll be pleased to know that I now style myself an "image library designer." Just think of the pretentiousness that entails. (Still, it is difficult organizations to put their images in one place and make them accessible. That's where I come in. The question is, where do I go out?)

Susie, on the other hand, continues to make incredible desserts and has just come up with her own multi-layered version of a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. Ummmmmmm Good!

The end of the week brought a relaxing dinner at one of our favorite neighborhood eateries: Broadway Bistro. The place was filling up -- it's not terribly large to begin with -- so we sat a the bar. Susie had the salmon and I had Pat's turkey meat loaf. His food is not only what we have come to style as "comfort" but scrumptious and filling at the same time. Good value as well.

I suppose the highlight of our week -- maybe the whole month -- was a trip we took this last Sunday to Cranston, RI and Concord, MA. Susie and I wanted to say thanks to Nick "the Coach" Colasanto who, even though he's been gone for many years now, still manages to make us laugh every time we see him on "Cheers."

The day began a little blustery but sunny as we headed off just the couple of miles or so from our house to St. Anne's cemetery in Cranston and conveniently arrived just as church was letting out. We parked the car, found the entrance in this huge burial complex wedged between St. Anne's and St. Mary's churches on Cranston Street, and with our handy guide set off on foot to find the Coach. We passed section after section of stones bearing Italian names, along with some wonderful epitaphs. (One thing New Englanders can be justly proud of is there tendency toward remembering their better sides in death.)

Using the directions out of Tod Benoit’s Where are They Buried we soon found the small, flat stone in section 31 that marked the final resting place of “the Coach.”

Thanks Coach.

As we returned to the car the clouds began rolling in and by the time we were scooting up I-95 north toward Boston the day turned overcast.

A quick hour’s drive and Susie and I pulled into the wonderful little town of Concord, MA. We were in search of Sleepy Hollow Cemetery and had little difficulty finding it since it was within earshot of the town center. Our objective was to find four of the greatest writers in American literature: Henry Thoreau, Ralph “The Waldo” Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Louisa May Alcott. Buried along the spine of what the locals call “Author’s Ridge,” the locations is well marked and quite easy to find.

With a few minutes we stood atop the tiny ridge amidst a cluster of family plots that demarcated the final resting place of so many great wordsmiths in such a small space.

Like Emerson:

. . . and Hawthorne:

. . . and Louisa:

. . . and the man from Walden Pond himself:

After paying our respects to the Concord Four we wandered around the cemetery for a few minutes, amazed at some of the incredible (and incredibly detailed) epitaphs these men and women from so long ago left behind (to amaze us I suppose). We also spent a little time in concord and plan on a return visit in early December. Yes, it is really that kind of a place, one that you want to return to.

The last bit of news from us here in Providence (motto: “Amorality is our middle name”) is that we said good-bye to our little red Mini Cooper.

Goodbye to Go-Kart handling and 40 mpg (highway, your experience may vary), but also an overdue good-bye to tiny tires, and an inability to deal with the incredibly bad streets (or what passes for streets) in the "Creative Capital" -- creative used here as only an adjective to describe how the city comes up with ideas to extort cash from its citizens.

But as with the closing of one door, you always open a new one and we said hello to an old friend: an Audi A4, one of the best winter vehicles there is. (Susan was fearless in our old A4, tearing up and down that back road that claimed to be a driveway in our home in Chittenden. After all, it's not many folks who can claim their driveway could easily substitute for the slalom course in the winter Olympics.) It’s gray and seems 40 feet long compared to our old Mini. But I feel less stressed driving around town in Providence.

Life is full of tradeoffs.

Have a wonderful thanksgiving. Turkey, generous Indians and pilgrims with funny-looking hats aside, remember the men and women, boys and girls who, right now, are far from their loved ones, in the service of their country.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Providence jury duty cometh and goeth away

I, along with a hundred other common folk from Rhode Island, had to return to the superior court house in Providence at 9:30am Thursday to await the "call" to serve. We were among a select few to sit in judgment on another human being and spent the morning sequestered in a series of rooms on the 4th floor. Many were reading, some watching television, a few of us had brought laptops and were working.

But no call came and about 11:45am our head "drover" called us together to inform us that the two civil cases then underway had been settled out of court and the two criminal cases pending had been postponed until next week.

We were free to go.

We had served our time and were good for the next three years. I walked the 10 minutes or so it took me to get to Davol Square and back to work as if nothing had happened.

And of course that was it precisely: nothing happened.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Jury duty in the land of plantations

As most of you are probably already know, the official title for the "Ocean State" (motto: "Roads? What roads?") is, or rather was, "Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. " The whole plantations thing has been officially dropped -- so you can see what our elected officials spend their time doing: arguing about the state name.

Anyway, I began my tour as a "petit" (small or little) juror yesterday in the "new" state of Rhode Island, in Providence, the new "creative capital" of the state. (Another tagline our city officials have spent God-knows how much time and money coming up with: the "creative capital" of what I have no idea.)

Like nearly a hundred other folks I spent the morning sitting around, watching the orientation video, listening to the orientation lecture by a guy in a dress sitting up high at the front of the room who pretty much read the same spiel that we had just seen on the video. The one thing "the judge" wanted to know was if any of us prospective jurors had any problems that might hinder our ability to serve as the lynchpins of our democracy to speak up. Specifically he asked if anyone had difficulty in seeing him or hearing what he was talking about, if so we were to inform one of the nearby juror "drovers" (the guys that herd us like so much cattle) so that they could learn more about our specific needs.

The short of it was no one raised their hands, no one tried to wheedle out of their service to the community -- after all, we had just been harangued several times over about how the future of our democratic way of life hinged upon us doing our duty.

So we stood up took the oath and sat down. (Actually we stood up and sat down several times in short order as the judge came in, lectured, when we took the oath and when the judge left; rather like being in church.)

After we we were sworn in the drovers herded us back down stairs, where we sat around until about noon. Instead of being given time off for lunch, we were informed that there was no need for us for the rest of the day and so we were free to go. We were warned, however, that we had to be back at 9:30am Thursday when there was a good chance some of us were going to be selected for upcoming trials.

One could just feel the electricity of excitement in the room.

Still, not bad for fifteen bucks ($15) a day.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

A weekend aboard Amtrak, the return

After a fashionably late dinner of pot roast, whipped butternut squash, roasted root vegetables and homemade berry pie (with ice cream of course), Susie and I hit the sheets tired but happy to be in northern Virginia. I suspect I rambled on about Mary Heistand during the course of the meal but it was, as always, so much fun to be around those kids. We looked forward to seeing Miss K at breakfast.

Fortunately we had a leisurely morning compliments of daylight savings time -- and after showering and steeling ourselves for the day we popped upstairs to breakfast. Miss K and Glen joined us and soon afterwards so did Christina.

Susie had to be at the hotel in Washington by half past eight so we said our goodbyes to Christina, piled into their van and Glen (with Miss K directing from the backseat) drove us into the city.

The rain continued to fall with an obstinate persistence, skewering my plans for a leisurely stroll through Arlington National Cemetery, looking for Mary Heistand and her husband Henry. So I rode all the way to the hotel said goodbye to my pastry queen (photo above). Glen then drove me to Union Station where I grabbed a bagel and sat and read until time to board the train.

The return trip kept to its schedule -- still a little over seven hours is a long time to stay cooped up on a train. At NYC's Penn Station we picked up several hundred additional passengers heading back north at the end of the weekend -- but this particular line on Amtrak always seems packed. But there's plenty of room to stretch out, lots of great scenery to see (assuming you are on the water side of the train) and it does lack the stress of driving I-95 or flying.

Life is, as they say, full of trade-offs.

So now I'm back in Providence where autumn continues to hang on to the bitter end -- warm temperatures and leaves still clutching on for dear life.

Susie returns later today -- Wednesday -- as for me, well I have to report for jury duty this morning. I suppose that's what geezers get for registering to vote. . .

Monday, November 02, 2009

Halloween, Washington and a weekend aboard Amtrak

It certainly was a fascinating Halloween weekend here along the Atlantic Seaboard. I spent nearly the entire weekend traveling back and forth between Providence and Washington, DC aboard one of Amtrak's less-than-stellar Northeast Regional trains. The upside was that for at least half that trip Susie and I were together.

After a fairly typical week of work for both of us, Susie and I left Providence by train and headed south to Washington, DC. The plan was (and, in fact, still is) for her to attend the national conference of “Women chefs and Restaurateurs” in Washington. I would turn right around for Providence after a quick stop at Arlington National Cemetery. As a bonus we hoped to pop over to Northern Virginia and see Glen and Christina and Miss K.

It was a fine autumn Saturday morning when we left our apartment for the train station in Providence. The plan was simple: take the train to Washington, the Metro to Virginia, spend the night with Glen and Christina, Metro back into the city early Sunday, I get off at Arlington National Cemetery to look for Mary Heistand's grave, Susie continues on into the city to check in for the conference.

A simple plan complicated by the vagaries of human nature and mechanical failure.

The train departed on time but twelve miles outside of Providence, in the middle of rural Rhode Island, we came to a complete stop. We had to pull alongside an earlier New York-bound train, which had broken down, and off-load their passengers onto our train. Naturally this made for a full house and we were just getting started. And now we were late by nearly an hour.

Still, it was a stress-free ride through the Connecticut countryside, and one couldn't help but admire the gorgeous fall colors still lingering just about everywhere along our route.

The train cruised into the Big Apple and came to a halt in the bowels of the old Penn Station. Several thousand people (exaggeration alert) got off and very few got on -- most importantly, though, the conductors failed to get on and so we sat for something approaching an hour before we learned that there was no crew aboard our train. At last Amtrak rounded up a handful of conductors, who, it seemed, had no idea what was going on and in fact gave the impression of just having recently passed their English as a Second Language test.

Off we went to Washington passing through Newark (two stops) Philadelphia, Baltimore and eventually pulling into Washington's Union Station at 8pm (20:00 hours), nearly two and a half hours late.

We headed straight for the Metro, bought our "Farecards" at one of the automated kiosks and headed for the Red Line. We got off at Metro Center and connected to the Blue Line headed in the direction of Franconia-Springfield -- indeed, we took it to the very end of the line.

The one highpoint of the metro leg of our trip was that since it was Halloween evening, nearly everyone under 25 in Washington was dressed up (or down) in one sort of costume or another – although in this day and age it’s often difficult to distinguish what is a ‘costume” and what is simply normally clothing for some people. One thing did stand out though: it seemed that most of the young women were vying for top “Halloween Slut Award.”

But it was fun and made the trip out to northern Virginia zip by.

Glen met us at the entrance to the Metro station and a few minutes later we were in their warm home, sitting around a table of delicious food, enjoying a glass of wine and lively conversation.

Not a bad way to end out a long day of train travel and train snafus. Not bad at all.

Next: Susie stays, I return and Amtrak lives up (or down) to its reputation.