Sunday, December 26, 2010

Perfect Christmas Snow

Up at Bear Lake we had lovely snow for Christmas.
Driving down Logan Canyon was also very Christmas-y.
The snowmobiles had evidently been out enjoying themselves,
and the plows had huge heaps of snow by the sides of the road--
taller than my parents' heads, as you can see in the photo--
and the trees looked all flocked.
Best, however, were the ice crystals that had formed on the snow surface:

I'm glad I got some pretty Christmas snow at Bear Lake,
because it had been raining down at lower elevations
and the snow was mostly gone except for a patch here and there.
It rained again today.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Spirit Cookies and Holey Bread

I am up at my parents' house for Christmas week.
We had a Solstice Party on the 21st and my brother's family came too.
We stayed up very late and watched the lunar eclipse (as well as we could through the partly cloudy skies) and we made cookies.
Mom had just bought a cookie press from Pampered Chef, to use making "spritz" cookies.
When my dad was little he used to call them "spirit" cookies (because he couldn't pronounce "spritz".) We thought that was very cute.
Here's Mom & Benjamin practicing with the cookie press:

DRAT this thing!!

But the baked cookies look pretty cute after all
(and they taste marvelous.)

Mom also let her bread rise too high during this last baking and we ended up with holey bread. It is perfect for frying an egg inside, though, which is what I had for breakfast today!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Airport Candid

This was so charming-
a candid view from the Oklahoma City airport.
The Amish gentleman was on my flight, too.
He was flying first class. (!)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Rethinking Snow White

I have always been fascinated by the "glass coffin" style of reliquary,
especially the kind that shows the whole body of the saint.
(I expect that they are really wax effigies,
but who knows-- maybe they are the real deal.)
I wonder if the story of Snow White was inspired by these reliquary coffins.
Or vice versa?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Pink Cobras and Little Glass Fruits

You can find all sorts of weird glass knicknacks in Venice.
I was on the hunt for glass frogs,
as Ethan had asked me to buy him a glass frog.
I found one, almost as nice as the ones in the photo here,
but for a MUCH less horrifying price.
These photos were taken from the shops around the Piazza San Marco,
where the prices go up to about triple what they ask over at, say, the Ponte Rialto area.
However, I do have to say that the stuff at the Piazza San Marco area is of the highest quality and other areas the quality, like the prices, are much more mixed.
One has to shop carefully.
Anyway, about the weird things for sale.
Who on earth would buy a pink and white glass cobra???
(Well, considering some of the things *I* bought,
maybe it's not so outlandish...)

Meals in Venice

Hot chocolate in Italy is amazing.
It's made with milk, not the water-and-powder variety that passes for cocoa in America.
I had a couple of hot chocolates in museum cafes,
while I was trying to rest my feet and absorb things in my brain.
They were mighty expensive, of course.
(4 Euro-- that's about $6-- a cup.)
I also had lunch both days in a museum cafe
(it was just easiest, seeing as I was there)
and here is what I had at the Doge's Palace museum:
octopus salad!
(It was very tender and delicious.)

Then there were all sorts of shops selling sweets and cakes
(like this one):

Plus quick pizza and sandwich places
(some of them pretty good):

Food is expensive in Venice, though.
The standard rate for bottled water is 1.5 Euro per half liter.
(I think the wine is cheaper!)
Drinking at least a liter of water a day begins to add up
(and there aren't lots of nice free fountains like there are in Siena, alas).

My Favorite Thing About Venice (True Confessions)

Venice is a shoppers' paradise.
I love to shop for souvenirs,
and I have always had a weakness for glass jewelry,
and for Venetian-style masks,
and table cloths,
and, and, and...
So I bought a few things for me,
then I decided to buy some Christmas presents,
and then a few more presents,
and a couple of more things for me.
Oh, my poor pocketbook!
But I had great fun.
My sister helped me unpack it all when I got home
(because I couldn't remember what was in what package)
and then wrap them up again,
with the recipient's name on the package.
I have never been able to belong to the school of
Just Buy One Nice Thing.
I am actually happier with lots of small little things.
This is why I did not buy a handmade linen tablecloth,
but instead opted for five papier mache masks
(they all survived the suitcase trip just fine--
though the suitcase broke a wheel!)

Problems with Water

Rain and flooding had swamped part of the Piazza San Marco.
Even part of the church floor was awash.
But this is Venice. They are used to dealing with water.
They had put up boardwalks and we tourists traipsed around on them.
It certainly kept us from going places we weren't allowed.
(There were a lot of them in San Marco.
Entrance to the church is free but all of the 'incidental' areas require paid tickets,
like the treasury-- which I did go to.
Lots of dingy bones in undusted, unpolished reliquaries.
I like bones-- I am a ghoul--
but these were dismal even for me.)

Views of Venice

Venice was overcast and I saw the sun for maybe five minutes,
but that was just as I was crossing the Accademia bridge and happened to look out on a Very Romantic Venetian Scene of gondolas.
I did not ride in a gondola (boring, by myself!) but I had a great deal of fun, despite the gloomy weather.
My main reason to go there was to traverse miles of museum corridors and to select pictures and concepts to use in my study abroad program next year.
But I also took some time in the museum cafes to have hot chocolate, key in my notes in my iPhone, and read bits of Mark Twain's acerbic comments about the said miles of museum corridors.
I also went out walking a lot, and saw a lot of wonderful things.

For instance, a few streets away from a Major Church of Great Importance
I happened on this ingenious street musician,
who was playing water glasses.
The piece was from Vivaldi's Four Seasons,
and he played it quite well, the applause of a small audience.
I gave him a Euro.
I like street musicians.

I also sought out what is probably my favorite monument in Venice:
the Tetrarchs.
I love these four caesars, for some reason.
A kind passing British tourist took this photo for me.
There were a lot of tourists in Venice, despite the late season and rotten weather.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Cooking Class views

Here's the chef making soup,
followed by students making cookies.

The center picture includes the younger brother of a good friend of mine--
I had no idea he was on study abroad here.
The world is a small place!

Cooking Class Lunch

For today's lunch I joined the cooking class.
State of the art kitchen,
a chef in charge,
and we got to eat what was made.
It was a four course meal.
First there were appetizers (which we ate on the spot and I didn't get a photo)
of toasted bread topped with a soft gorgonzola/ ricotta spread and spiced pears (!)
and then there was this soup.
I've forgotten the name of it but it was a wonderful hearty bean and vegetable soup
(not minnestrone-- it had a different name,
and it featured "black cabbage", rather like American kale).

Then we had ossa bucco fiorentino,
veal slices cooked in an amazing tomato sauce:

Dessert was simple:
a kind of cookie flavored with anise and walnuts and candied citron.

I am REALLY looking forward to next year when I can join the cooking class full time!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Today's Lunch

Proscuitto with melon
(crenshaw melon!)
and a "torta della nonna."
I'm not sure what was in the "grandma cake"--
some kind of fruit.

Italian Supermarket

Various photos from"Conad", the local supermarket chain.
(For my sister, who loves European grocery stores.)

Monday, November 1, 2010

No Flash, No Tripod

Almost everywhere in Siena,
there are signs that read
"No flash no tripod."
(While this is moderately irksome,
the signs that read 'no photo' are worse--
and they are in a lot of the shops, too,
because apparently the sellers of knicknacks
don't want people taking home souvenirs unless they pay for them.)
Anyway, thankfully, most places are also fairly well lit,
so I can get moderately decent quality teaching photos.
(One of the things I hate about the 'no photo' policy
is when I see a perfect example of some iconographic scene
and would love to show it to my classes
but cannot take a photo
and of course they don't sell one, because the scene is too obscure,
and even if they did, it would be a poor quality postcard anyway.)
Thankfully, Wikimedia Commons has good files
that can be used for free
on many of the Really Big Stuff
like Duccio's "Maesta" or the Lorenzetti government frescoes.
And I have been able in many museums
to take some good details without flash or tripod.
Here are the Baptistery Font,
a Pieta by Vecchietta
and a detail of the Annunciation from the San Bernardino oratory.

Siena in the Rain

Like any city, Siena is less attractive in the rain.
However, the rain does provide some interesting alternate views.
I like this view of the Via di Diacetto,
complete with umbrella.
(There were lots of umbrellas out that day,
including mine--
I was very grateful I'd packed one!!)

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Night Scenes of Siena

Above, the church of San Francesco
(very spacious and impressive).
Below, the main Sienese bank
(formerly a Renaissance palace):

And then there's me, on the Campo,
with the Palazzo Pubblico behind me.
The Campo slants, which is why I look so small in comparison.
It was a rainy Sunday, not very pleasant to be out,
but by about 6 pm the rain had mostly trickled off,
and lots of people were out and about for their Sunday 'passegiata' or stroll.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Tuscan Countryside

These are not the best pictures,
taken from a moving bus
with cloudy light,
but you can get a sense of the quality of the countryside.
It is very hilly, of course,
but I had envisioned vines everywhere.
Not so: mostly cereals are grown
(our guide said maize corn, primarily)
and the fields have been plowed for winter,
giving them a very stark look.
The roads wind across the tops of the hills,
following the old Etruscan road systems
(the Romans built in straight lines, up and over hills regardless).
Along the way there are many former farm houses
with long driveways lined by tall cypresses.
Apparently the more cypresses one has,
the greater prestige of the property:

This last picture was taken near the restaurant where we stopped for lunch,
so it is of somewhat better quality.
It shows the "crete", the dry rough terrain around Siena,
that is very hard to farm.
There are ravines and ruggednesses
that remind me of the South Dakota badlands.
Apparently the "crete" shows up a lot in art landscapes.
You can see it beneath the little town crowning the hillside.