16 oct 11 angry busts (with captions & update!)

This photo just seems to be begging for a contest to write a caption. These two sour faces were displayed at an antiques market that winds through the piazzas and narrow streets of Lucca every 3rd Sunday. Perusing Italian antiques broadens the cultural experience of being in an old, old country.

So anyway, if you want to suggest a caption, comment please!

More of my photos from Lucca, a beautiful walled city in Tuscany, are posted on Picasa.

oct 11 lost under the tuscan sun


In the Garfagnana region of Tuscany, we found that the saying about a man with two watches also applies to trail maps; to paraphrase - "a man with one map always knows where he is; a man with two is never sure." Paul had bought a map for the area around the town of Barga on our last trip there 6 years ago, and this time we picked up a map of the roads, trails, and sites in the region from the Barga tourist office. Unfortunately, the two maps don't always agree and sometimes neither one is right. But the consequences of getting lost here are somewhat minor - no lunch and, even worse, no gelato in the middle of the afternoon!

Paul, his sister Mary and her husband Gerry and I had hiked to Barga our first day, following one of the many trails maintained by the Italian Alpine Club. That route was well-marked with red-and-white striped blazes and directional signs with the estimated time to the next destination. One of our maps and some arrows on the street just down the hill from our rental house made us think that we could pick up another trail just down the road that would lead to Sommocolonia, the picturesque village farther up the hill. We knew that we could get the trail at the end of the road further up the hill but we wanted to make a loop out of it. We did make a loop, but it took 3 times as long and we didn't reach Sommocolonia.
Paul and Mary check the maps; Gerry admits we don't know

After 20 minutes of walking through woods and around farms and vineyards, we came to a wide paved road, somewhat unusual in this part of Tuscany. We couldn't figure out where we were from the maps so we decided to walk up the steep road to find some landmarks or maybe a person to ask. After a kilometer we reached a sports center and talked to a man in the restaurant. First he said we couldn't get to Sommocolonia from there, but then he said we could but it would be 10 - 15 kilometers. That estimate seemed odd given that it was only supposed to be an hour's walk from the house, but the day was pleasant so we pressed on with his hand-written directions.

Gerry shook apple trees to provision our trek.

We got off track once when a dry streambed looked like the shortcut he mentioned, but were soon back on the road. We were starting to think about our time limit for turning around, when a car came along (the first in an hour). The two women spoke broken English with Scottish brogues and confirmed the man's directions and landmarks ahead. Twenty minutes later we reached the old car and yellow gate and thought we really were going to reach Sommocolonia that day. Less then a kilometer later, however, the trail forked and we were uncertain which way to go. We could see a hilltop village but it didn't look like the picture of Sommocolonia on the tourist map. It was also on the other side of a deep valley, several kilometers away yet. The time was already 4:00, with sunset just after 6:00. We'd been hiking for over 3 hours so we decided to go back the way we had come instead of venturing further on unknown trails.

The old car and yellow gate (to the left) that marked the route

We also decided not to take the first section of trail that we'd started on but to continue down the road a little further because the map indicated that we could turn off to the village near the house. Maybe gelato was not totally out of the question for the day. Sadly, the map was wrong. We found out that we had spent most of the afetrnoon hiking up and down a private road for a huge resort, and that the only entrance, other than the trail we'd arrivd on, was at the very bottom of the Serchio valley. We searched for footpaths over to the village, parts of which we could see, but nothing seemed to cross the deep ravine between the resort and the village. So down we went to the valley bottom, and then climbed several hundred feet back up to the house.

The sunset just as we returned to the house from our first attempt to hike to Sommocolonia

Two days later we tried to reach Sommocolonia again. This time we hiked up to the end of our road where the trail started. In an hour we were entering the village on a cobble walk. Sommocolonia has a small war museum and memorial to soldiers who died during a nearby battle during World War II. The museum was closed and the town was very quiet on a fall weekday. There was no cafe serving coffee or gelato.

Two trails met at Sommocolonia. We could have hiked to Barga or continued further into the mountains to a pass.

The view from Sommocolonia.

We hiked down to Cartagnana, another small quiet village, and out the other side through some vineyards. We managed to get lost one more time when we missed a turn in the trail. Two dogs that joined us at one of the farms tried to lead us the right way, but when we chose the wrong, they stayed with us. Our mistake became obvious as the trail became a footpath and then disappeared just before dropping into a ravine. We climbed back up and found that the trail passed close to a house and soon returned us to the trail we'd taken to Sommocolonia. The entire outing took less than 3 hours and we returned to the house while the sun was still high and warm in the sky.

Gerry and Mary ready to dine on caprese salad, olives, rustic bread, and prosciutto.

I've posted more photos of our wanderings in the Garfagnana on Picasa.

18 nov 11 for the 99%

We saw James McMurtry in concert at The Latitude 62 last night in Talkeetna. He wrote this song in 2004. Sadly, it's still relevant for a lot of people in our country today. You can read all the lyrics at his website, even download the song for free if you show a little love for the Occupy movement.

We Can't Make It Here Anymore*

Some have maxed out all their credit cards
Some are working two jobs and living in cars
Minimum wage won't pay for a roof, won't pay for a drink
If you gotta have proof just try it yourself Mr. CEO
See how far 5.15 an hour will go
Take a part time job at one of your stores
Bet you can't make it here anymore

High school girl with a bourgeois dream
Just like the pictures in the magazine
She found on the floor of the laundromat
A woman with kids can forget all that
If she comes up pregnant what'll she do
Forget the career, forget about school
Can she live on faith? live on hope?
High on Jesus or hooked on dope
When it's way too late to just say no
You can't make it here anymore

Now I'm stocking shirts in the Wal-Mart store
Just like the ones we made before
'Cept this one came from Singapore
I guess we can't make it here anymore

Should I hate a people for the shade of their skin
Or the shape of their eyes or the shape I'm in
Should I hate 'em for having our jobs today
No I hate the men sent the jobs away
I can see them all now, they haunt my dreams
All lily white and squeaky clean
They've never known want, they'll never know need
Their sh@# don't stink and their kids won't bleed
Their kids won't bleed in the da$% little war
And we can't make it here anymore

Will work for food
Will die for oil
Will kill for power and to us the spoils
The billionaires get to pay less tax
The working poor get to fall through the cracks
Let 'em eat jellybeans let 'em eat cake
Let 'em eat sh$%, whatever it takes
They can join the Air Force, or join the Corps
If they can't make it here anymore

And that's how it is
That's what we got
If the president wants to admit it or not
You can read it in the paper
Read it on the wall
Hear it on the wind
If you're listening at all
Get out of that limo
Look us in the eye
Call us on the cell phone
Tell us all why

In Dayton, Ohio
Or Portland, Maine
Or a cotton gin out on the great high plains
That's done closed down along with the school
And the hospital and the swimming pool
Dust devils dance in the noonday heat
There's rats in the alley
And trash in the street
Gang graffiti on a boxcar door
We can't make it here anymore

This song took me back to my hometown. I grew up in a small factory town. The Smith-Corona typewriter factory was by far the largest building on Main Street. My grandfather and an uncle made their careers there. My mom worked there part-time as a young woman. My neighbor was the plant nurse. When I was in elementary school my grandparents spent a year in Singapore to help open a factory there. A few years later, another factory opened in Mexico. The factory on Main Street closed while I finished high school and sat empty for years until the site pollution could be dealt with. All the kids in town spent the hot humid summer days at the town pool. Many of my friends were life guards as their first jobs.

Thanksgiving is only a few days away. I'm grateful to still have a good job for an organization that strives to make a difference in the world. May I remember that not everyone in our country is so lucky these days to be bringing home a paycheck that covers the bills.

*Music and lyrics © 2004 by James McMurtry