06 November 2005

At the Mouth of the Columbia River

Growing up, Astoria had three landmarks: the Astoria-Megler Bridge, the Astoria Column, and the Home Bakery. There may have been others, but those were the ones that counted to a young child. I knew we had almost made it to the ocean when we reached the small town of Astoria at the mouth of the Columbia River.

Now many years later, not much has changed for me as I travel to Astoria once or twice a year. I still gaze in amazement at the expansive length of the bridge that connects Oregon and Washington, hope for a clear day to enjoy the views from the Astoria Column, and stop in at the bakery for a maple bar or chocolate ├ęclair.

Sure, Astoria also has a growing number of trendy eateries, a riverfront trolley, and a maritime museum. There are ornate Victorian mansions perched on the sloping hills, and a rich Scandinavian history in the area as well. But what draws me back again and again are the familiar sights and smells of the three landmarks from my childhood.

15 October 2005

Hood River Harvest Bounty

Hood River Harvest Fest
Originally uploaded by Katherine H.
Every October, when the third weekend of the month rolls around, Hood River County celebrates its harvest bounty of apples and pears. Each year as the Hood River Valley Harvest Festival has grown larger, smaller events have also sprung up to entice visitors to journey off the beaten path and explore the surrounding orchards at the base of Mt. Hood.

The harvest festival is the perfect catalyst for setting out on a day-long driving trip. Exit 64 along I-84 east will deposit you at the festival grounds. After enjoying the handmade crafts and purchasing a bag or two of local fruit, you can follow what is known as the "fruit loop." This jaunt will take you through the rural communities of Odell, Parkdale, and Pine Grove. While your objective may be to handpick some apples or enjoy a hayride, you'll also be rewarded with the sight of changing leaves from vibrant ochre, deep red, and even vivid yellow as the elevation climbs.

Two particularly fine stops along the route are the Apple Valley Country Store where you can enjoy fresh huckleberry shakes and outdoor barbeque, and the Mt. View Orchards Fruit Stand which offers thirty apple and pear varieties along with cider, jams, and pear fudge.

24 September 2005

All Things Polish

Polish food
Originally uploaded by Katherine H.
My affection for Polish food began in Salt Lake City, when a co-worker would prepare traditional dishes each year as Easter neared for our entire office. When I discovered that Portland holds a Polish Festival each September, I had to go in order to satiate my cravings.

Early Polish immigrants to Oregon settled in the Overlook District of North Portland. By 1892 they had formed their own Polish National Alliance chapter, and in 1907 built the St. Stanislaus Roman Catholic Church. In 1911, the Polish Library Hall was erected just south of the church. For the past 12 years North Failing Street, which runs between the two buildings, has been cordoned off and the festival is held on these historic grounds.

To ease the congestion of long lines, the festival employs the use of tokens for the purchase of food and drink. For nine tokens, I was served a plate with kielbasa sausage, golabki (a cabbage roll stuffed with rice and ground pork), two pierogis, a spoonful of hunter’s stew, and a soft roll. Also available were potato pancakes, kapusta, traditional desserts and coffee, and Polish beer.

Along with the food court, a fairway with vendors selling everything from traditional Polish pottery to literature lines the adjacent parking lot.

The entertainment stage is full of activity throughout the festival with singers and dance groups. Particularly enthralling is the local dance troupe Sobotka , comprised of three age groups ranging from 5 years to over 50. With their brightly colored costumes and quick-stepping footwork, they embody the festival spirit of culture and celebration that draws attendees back year after year. Next year, I will have to make sure I don’t miss the polka contest and the Oregon Polka Beats performance!

17 September 2005

What's a little chalk dust?

Originally uploaded by Katherine H.
My curiosity was piqued by a small clip in a local newspaper last week. It stated that Forest Grove would be holding its 15th Annual Sidewalk Chalk Art Festival, and anyone was welcome to come and participate. For only $10, you were assigned a 3 x 3 sidewalk block and given a tray of colorful chalk. The rest of the creation was up to the individual.

The ambitious arrived at 9am, although it appeared that a number of participants had just started not too long before I arrived around one o’clock. Some came prepared with sketches or books to guide their illustrations. Others seemed to employ a freestyle approach to the content of their squares. For several, it was a family affair. A number of the participants were students at neighboring Pacific University.

Some pieces conveyed a political or personal belief, while others expressed whimsy with their bright colors beaming up from the sidewalk. A variety of techniques were also evident among the artists. Carpet placed over completed sections of the collage would protect it from smudging, while allowing the artist to sit on top of it to finish hard-to-reach places. Spray bottles and brushes gave wet chalk a new patina. One piece even had a dusting of glitter to enhance its eye-catching appeal.

Drawings were to be finished by 3 pm, and following by an evening Italian-styled passegiata from 4-8 pm during which visitors and community members could stroll along and enjoy the artwork created earlier in the day.

03 September 2005

A Ramble through Portland's Park Blocks

Peppers and eggplants
Originally uploaded by Katherine H.
Since I gave so much love to the Farmer’s Market in Salt Lake City last week, I decided I should visit one a little closer to home. I have been hearing good things about the market held on the North Park Blocks in Portland, so my early morning foray began there.

A sign of a good market is the bustling activity. And the advantage of a community market is the opportunity to hand select the best of the local bounty and chat up the providers of such delicious fare. It is evident by the rapport between the vendors and the customers that this market is a weekly staple for many of the attendees.

On this particular Saturday, the market is also hosting the annual Tomato Festival. Long tables with bite-sized portions of succulent tomatoes are beckoning to be tasted. From the amusing to the exotic, names like Fantastic, Taxi, Tennessee Halo, Purple Russian, Principe Borghese, and Thessoloniki signal that these growers take their tomatoes seriously. Taste-testers were encouraged to take notes and vote for their favorite one. Free recipe booklets outlined the endless possibilities for preparing these tasty hybrids.

Best piece of advice: bring an expandable bag! I managed to make my escape with two pluots, one asian pear, a pint of blackberries, and some cilantro lime pesto.

Labor Day Weekend is the time of year when the South Park Blocks host Art in the Pearl. I attended the festival on a whim last year, and was eager to experience its vibrancy once again. Juried artists from around the country display their wares in a multitude of mediums. A performance tent is set up at one end of the festival, and food booths are given their space as well.

What lends this festival a unique feel is its location among an active, dynamic park. Neighborhood competitors join in a game of bocce at one end of the park. Parents are pushing toddlers in swings and keeping a watchful eye on their progress up the jungle gym. One has the sense that these activities are just as much a draw to the shaded park blocks as the well organized festival.

21 August 2005

A Summer Saturday in Salt Lake City

The Farmers Market is one of my favorite stops on a Saturday morning in Salt Lake City. For five hours each Saturday from June until early October, Pioneer Park in downtown is full of activity between vendors and eager customers.

On this particular Saturday, I’ve come to peruse the goods of the season with my friend Tricia, who is selecting a few fresh vegetables to take home. After previewing the array of produce, fresh bread, and specialty food items like salsa and basil pesto, we decide to share a basket of fresh peaches from Brigham City.

Two years ago, the market expanded to include not only food and produce vendors, but local artisans as well. Handmade jewelry, original photography, and garden sculptures are just a few of the many unique items on display around the perimeter of the park.
Later in the day, I meet Heather and Karin to enjoy the sights and smells of the third annual Italian Street Fair (ferragosto). The best treat? Mango and black cherry Italian ice! It was the inaugural festival two years ago that acted as the catalyst for my trip to Sicily to better understand some of my heritage. It was a fitting way to spend the afternoon in the company of two friends who also have a passion for Italy.

02 June 2005

Giovaninfesta in Marsala

Today is a holiday, the day when Italy celebrates the country’s unification in 1871. Earlier in the week, I had noticed posters advertising special events in Marsala today, so I decided to go see what was happening. Marsala was founded as a Carthaginian colony in 379 BC, and is probably most famous for the cooking and dessert wine which bears the same name.

I found street parking a couple of blocks from the Piazza della Repubblica, which is the main center of town. On one side of the piazza is the Palazzo Senatorio, and adjacent to that is the cathedral dedicated to St. Thomas of Canterbury. Earlier in the week I discovered that the steps in front of the Palazzo were perfect for perching on and people-watching. I knew the piazza would once again be the hub of activity today.

Since services were not being held in the cathedral at the time I was there, I was able to step inside and admire the architectural details and duomo of the cathedral. Another, smaller, cathedral a few blocks away has been renovated and transformed into a cultural arts center. During my first visit, there was a contemporary Christian rock band practicing there. They were loud, but the acoustics of the building aren’t well suited for electric guitars and the like without giving off a lot of reverberation.

Today, the cultural center is filled with hundreds of students from the surrounding areas. The tiring audience of teens, all dressed in their coordinating colors and matching uniforms, is twittering with small talk as the featured speaker carries on about historical and political issues in Italy. Earlier, there had been a special mass, and the day will end with concerts back at the piazza.

After walking through the narrow streets and stopping in a local bookstore, I decide to return to Fontanasalsa for lunch and to begin packing for a very early flight to Rome.

31 May 2005

An Island in the Sun

Originally uploaded by Katherine H.
My time in Sicily is winding down, and I decided that today would be the day for a trip to Favignana, the largest of the three Egadi Islands that sit off the coast near Trapani. About 600,000 years ago the islands were connected to the mainland. As the sea level gradually rose, the connections were submerged, and they became an archipelago in the Mediterranean Sea.

I packed a towel, a memoir by Jill Ker Conway, my word searches, snacks for lunch, and headed off to find parking at the port in Trapani. The meter readers were on my side today. On the return trip, the ferry was over an hour late. Subsequently, the time on my prepaid ticket stub had expired before I returned, but fortunately no ticket! I even watched one meter reader check the window of my car as I was standing on the deck waiting for the traghetto to dock.

Favignana is a great island for biking. I, however, decided to walk, so I was grateful for a gentle breeze. En route to a beach on the other side of the island I stopped to schmear sunblock on my face and neck, but didn’t put it on my arms until I reached the beach. So, yes, I did get a bit of a sunburn – but at least I got it from sunbathing along the Mediterranean!

I was a bit surprised when I reached the first beach at how small it was. Part of it was very rocky, and the rest was a combination of sand and material that looked like finely shredded tree bark shavings. I never did figure out what it was or where it came from (there isn’t a lot of vegetation on the island), but it was soft to walk on. The water was stunningly clear, and I couldn’t resist getting my feet wet.

I wanted to get more than my feet wet, however, so I went in search of a less populated and more private sport further from curious eyes. I found a great spot with enough room to put my towel at the water’s edge. The surrounding rock created a little cove, and no one else was there when I first arrived. This would change later on, but for the first hour or so, it was all mine. I rock-hopped around out to deeper water, and for a while just stood there submerged in the water, swaying with the current.

On my way back to the port, I wandered through part of the town and saw some old medieval ruins. School was in session, and as I walked through the streets I could hear the students reciting and singing their lessons. By this time, my energy was quite drained from the early summer sun, and I was ready to be back at Fontanasalsa for another delicious dinner.

30 May 2005

Day trip: The star of Gibellina

Originally uploaded by Katherine H.
I decided on a short driving trip this morning to Segesta, Gibellina, and Santa Ninfa. The majestic Doric temple at Segesta remains surprisingly intact. It was here that I first encountered busloads of tourists. Luckily, I was there in between the buses. I just know that for right now, that kind of touring is not for me. I would feel like I was on a perpetual field trip being herded from tourist point to tourist point.

After the short hike up the hill to see the temple, I drove through Salemi, Gibellina, and Santa Ninfa. Gibellina and Santa Ninfa do not feel like Italian towns! Vacant streets, no visible town centers. They were hastily rebuilt after the earthquake in 1968. No sense of history there, but they do have wide streets.

28 May 2005

Exchanging the Countryside for the Coastline

Baglio Fontanasalsa
Originally uploaded by Katherine H.
My last breakfast at San Giovannello! I’ll be leaving the countryside for the western coastline near Trapani today. Tuddi has brought three tasty cornetti filled with chocolate and custard for me to enjoy on my journey.

The La Placa family is busy with preparations for a cultural event that will take place today and tomorrow. Essentially, it is a convention where young computer enthusiasts from around the island convene at San Giovannello and share their knowledge and passion for computers. They are expecting around 70 people today, and up to 100 tomorrow. They’ll fill the rooms of the azienda agrituristica, the reception hall, and camp out on the hillside. So, although I am a bit reluctant to be leaving this area, I am glad that I was able to enjoy it without all of the commotion the convention will bring.

It takes me five hours of nonstop driving to reach Baglio Fontanasalsa, the azienda agrituristica I will be staying at for the remainder of my trip. Admittedly, I did go through a bit of a runaround trying to find the new place with only Italian directions.

Before dinner at the Baglio, I decide to get my bearings and explore some of the surrounding roads. I discover the Museo delle Saline (Salt Museum), and walk around some of the salt marshes. The power generated from the large windmills is used to drain water from the salt basins. Salt crystals are shoveled into huge mounds along the sides of the basins, covered with terra cotta roofing tiles, and left to dry and cure in the Sicilian sun.

Dinner was an appetizing four course meal that introduced me to some of the regional fare in this part of Sicily. The antipasta included sundried tomatoes, white cheese, olives, cold marinated potatoes, couscous with red peppers, and fava beans. Fava beans and mint were the predominant flavors for the pasta course. The secondi course consisted of several different cuts of meat, and dessert was ricotta-stuffed cannoli with pistachios.

At dinner I met a nice Dutch couple from Holland, Herman and Sophie Witte, who had also arrived earlier in the day. They invited me to join them, and we spent the next two hours conversing about our various journeys in Sicily as well as learning more about our two different countries. It was the longest period of time I had spoken English for in over a week! Throughout my stay at Baglio Fontanasalsa, we would cross paths at breakfast and discuss what adventures we had planned for the day.

27 May 2005

Of Mausoleums and Monuments

Villarosa cemetery steps
Originally uploaded by Katherine H.
For those unfamiliar with Italian burial practices, it is commonplace to construct a family mausoleum where family members will be laid to rest for as long as someone pays the rent. Old tombs that are not maintained will be emptied, the remains transferred to a potter’s field, and the mausoleum rented to another family.

I found the two cemeteries I walked through in Villarosa and Santa Catarina Villarmosa fascinating. Some of the mausoleums are quite elaborate, and look like miniature chapels. I was often struck by the contrast between new and old, and I always wondered what the story was behind some of the oldest monuments.

Another common practice is to place a photo of the deceased relative directly onto their headstone. At first I thought this a bit odd, but grew to like the personal aspect this lends each mausoleum. There is a wealth of historical and family history information to be found in Italian cemeteries, although you shouldn’t expect to find many graves prior to the late 1800’s unless the family has remained in the area and maintained the tomb.

Later in the day I returned to San Giovannello for the lunch hours, and noticed accumulating clouds. The storm was expectant, but slow to break. First loud rumblings echoed throughout the valley. I kept listening and watching. Finally, the rain arrived. Mild at first, as the terra cotta tiles became spotted than soaked in the downpour. The valley misted over, losing all distinction of the mountains encircling it. Finally, lightning and crackling thunder. I had a grand location for watching the storm, and the fresh smell such a rain leaves behind.

26 May 2005

Day trip: Ceramic shopping in Caltagirone

La scala di Santa Maria
Originally uploaded by Katherine H.
Today was another sightseeing day for me. I decided to go to Caltagirone, and if I had time, I would also stop at either Piazza Armerina or Morgantina on my way back to San Giovannello.

Caltagirone is known for it hand-painted ceramics. In particular, I wanted to see La Scala di Santa Maria, a staircase that has different patterned majolica tiles on each of its 142 steps. Unknowingly, I wandered up a side street that opened up near the top of the staircase, and I had great view of the steps and the city spreading out below my feet.

Partway down the steps, I stopped to look in a craftsman’s workshop, and admired a large plate decorated with lemons in the traditional colors of yellow and blue. I knew there were many more shops to explore, so I continued on. After looking many places, I hadn’t found anything that compared to the first piece that had caught my attention. So, after lunch, I returned to the small shop off the staircase and purchased the plate as my signature piece of Sicily to bring home with me. It is now hanging on the wall in my dining room, and every time I look at it I have fond memories of my trip.

I had spent more time in Caltagirone than I had thought I would, so decided to focus only on the ruins of Morgantina on my way back. Morgantina was founded by the Morgeti, who settled there around 1000 BC. In the centuries that followed, it was occupied by the Greeks and then the Romans.

It was, at one point, an entire walled city with a gymnasium, market, sanctuary, outdoor theatre with seating for 1000, and many more buildings. I spent about an hour simply wandering and enjoying the countryside setting as much as envisioning the civilizations that one inhabited the area.

25 May 2005

The Day of the Animals

Cows on road
Originally uploaded by Katherine H.
Today was the day of the animals. I first encountered a cow and calf on the road between Villarosa and Enna. As I explored Sperlinga, stray cats were abundant all over the cliff. Next, a group of goats was being herded on the road to Alimena. And finally, on my way home in the dark I came upon a rather large herd of cows headed home on the north side of Villapriolo. Fortunately, I had slowed down in reaction to cars that had stopped on the opposite side of the road. It wasn’t until I was practically in the middle of the herd that I even saw them. This stop-and-go process continued for nearly 1 km, and I had to laugh to myself when the last herdsman I saw was prodding his cattle along while talking on his cell phone. I guess there are only so many ways to make cows move, but technology sure has advanced!

As I walked up the hill from breakfast to my room this morning, I noticed that Tuddi had arrived with company. I meet his daughter, Maria Concetta, and his granddaughter who is not quite yet two years old. They live in Villapriola, a frazione of Villarosa just 4 km away.

This morning Tuddi accompanies me to the photography shop of Salvatore Seminatore on the main street in Villarosa before I continue on to Enna. We stop and talk for a few moments, and I learn that his grandparents are Salvatore and Guiseppa Seminatore. They also emigrated to the United States. He does, however, share a popular birthdate: 25 November (his, mine, and my biological great-grandfather’s).

I met with much success at the Archivio di Stato this morning. The gentlemen employed there were very helpful and explanatory. Between my English and Spanish, and their Italian and French, we figured out what we needed to. We were able to verify five Seminatore children born in Villarosa, along with Salvatore and Angela Marie’s births. Additionally, I learned that Salvatore’s mother’s surname was Marchione. I now have approximate years of birth for both of his parents based on their ages recorded at the time of his birth. With this information, we then went in search of their marriage records, which would have the names of their parents. Unfortunately, we did not find it during the years we thought that we would. The Archivio di Stato doesn’t have any civil records for Villarosa prior to 1824.

This means one of two things: (1) A search of the records of the chiesa madre (church) in Villarosa or the Municipio (town hall) may turn up something, or (2) Maddalena Marchione was born in another neighboring town and they were married there as was the predominant custom at the time. With this knowledge, when I return to the United States, I will search the records of Santa Caterina Villarmosa, a small town about 15 km from Villarosa that also has had a high concentration of Seminatores in the past.

I return to San Giovannello to rest, eat lunch, and plan my afternoon. I decide to explore the small mountain towns of Sperlinga and Nicosia. As it was, I missed one turnoff, so ended up taking the “scenic route” that also took me through Alimena and Gangi. I didn’t mind though, as the hills were saturated with wildflowers in vibrant hues.

One of Sperlinga’s unique features is the giant sandstone cliff around which it is built. Many cave dwellings have been carved out of the surface, and some are still inhabited. Visitors are welcome to walk around and explore several of the old dwellings which have been filled with items that would have been used by their inhabitants many years ago. I also wanted to see the Norman castle that is perched at the top of the cliff, but was unsuccessful at finding the road that would take me there. I tried several, but decided to continue on because I wanted to reach Nicosia.

Nicosia turned into a bit of a frustrating experience for me. All those narrow streets and alleys running up and down the hills really tried my patience. I’ve decided all these maze-like towns remind me of clusters of barnacles clinging to the mountaintop. I had wanted to see the painted ceiling of the cathedral, but soon tired of the search. I found a place to park my car, and walked some of the streets for a while, but ultimately ended up heading back to San Giovannello for the night.

24 May 2005

The Rhythm of Spring

Man with cigar
Originally uploaded by Katherine H.
Today I awoke to the sights and sounds of spring. The valley below was dappled with early morning sunlight. An adjacent hillside was being mown for hay. The neighbor’s cattle are once again standing atop a nearby hill. They must also like the view because the hilltop is barren, with only grass on the lower slopes for grazing. Each morning when I awake I can hear the clanging of the bell wrapped around one of their necks, and track their progress up the hill by its sound. It’s quite an intricate footpath they follow with many switchbacks to reach their perch overlooking the valley. Each night they retrace their steps as they are herded back to the valley floor.

The groundskeeper, Tuddi, is cutting the long grass on the slope just below my room. He pauses for a moment when I return from breakfast. He wants to know if I slept well. Si, bene. He tells me the cacti below my walkway will bear fruit in September. In November, the olive groves will be harvested and pressed for oil. He has been working on the estate virtually his entire life, since 1947.

After breakfast, Marcella comes by to show me how the key to my room works again. She pops it right out of the lock and I feel foolish. I didn’t want to admit that I had had to leave it in the door all night long because I couldn’t figure it out!
She asks about my family names, and I share my pedigree charts. She calls Tuddi over to share this information since his family has lived in the Villarosa area for over 50 years. He has never heard of Seminatores, although he knows a lot of Seminaras. He has heard of Alimentatos, and a few Zitos still live in town. He will ask around and see what he finds out.

Another neighbor’s goats are being shorn today. Just yesterday I was thinking how miserable they must be with their thick, scraggy coats. Marcella wants me to meet their owner. I ask if I may take a few photos, and the owner gives his consent. Two men are busy with electric clippers, quickly sluicing off the long coats to reveal the soft, buttery hair beneath. One man works with the stub of a cigar in his mouth, while the owner looks on proudly. We part after a few moments with the promise to send copies of the photographs I took.

I decide to try and conquer the maze of streets that comprise the city of Enna. It is a foreign concept to me to pick the highest mountaintop and build a city on it. I suppose if my country had been invaded and occupied as many times over the centuries as Sicily has, the logic would make sense.

I find parking near the Castello di Lombardia, and decide to eat my picnic lunch on a bench under a nearby tree. I watch the fellow who is doing a fair amount of trade at the public toilets near the castle by handing out toilet paper and setting out a basket for donations. He has even made a neatly penned sign with arrows to indicate which side is for men and which is for women. I sit and watch and plan my afternoon.

My primary objective is to locate the Archivio di Stato di Enna. So I set out, knowing that it will be a tedious task since so few of the streets are clearly marked. I had mapped out the address online before I arrived in Sicily, and these directions proved to be invaluable as I never would have found it otherwise. Two hours later…success! I will return tomorrow when they are open to see if they have any records they will allow me to search.

I stop in Villarosa on my way to San Giovannello for the night. I want to see if I can locate two addresses: one on Corso Garibaldi, and the other on Via Berengario. I find Salvatore Seminatore’s photography shop, but no luck with the other street. I will have to return another day.

23 May 2005

Journey to the Navel of Sicily

Road to San Gio
Originally uploaded by Katherine H.
Today I left the noise and the compact living of city life for the mountains and valleys of the province of Enna. Enna is known as l'ombelico della Sicilia, or the belly button of Sicily. In particular, I was headed for San Giovannello, an azienda agrituristica situated about 3 kilometers outside of Villarosa.

I found the location (amazingly!) without any backtracking, but the buildings were shuttered and the farm seemed to be deserted. After wandering up the hill and down the road a ways, I found the owners busy weeding part of their garden. Fortunately, I had the foresight to bring a copy of our prior e-mail correspondence, and Marcella reacted as though they had been awaiting my arrival.

The room I was given was aptly named La Stanza Bellavista. The location was truly stunning, hugging the mountainside with a panoramic view of the valley with its fields of wheat and groves of olive trees. For the time I was there, it was my own little piece of solitude. Other boarders did not arrive until my last night there at the end of the week.

I selected San Giovannello as my base in that region because of it’s proximity to Villarosa, the small town where my biological great-grandparents once lived before emigrating to Pennsylvania in 1908. I simply wanted to gain a better understanding of the environment and the life they would have had, and left behind, in search of better economic prospects in the United States.

Although I could have had three meals a day provided for me at San Giovannello, I knew I would be taking day trips around the region, and opted only for breakfast. Each morning I would walk down the hill to the dining hall, and there would be a table set and waiting for me. This is where I became enraptured with fresh ricotta. Marcella purchased it from a neighbor who produced it himself from his own flock. My favorite breakfast became grapefruit juice, fresh ricotta spread on bread with a smidgen of honey on top, and a couple slices of prosciutto crudo on the side.

22 May 2005

At the Piazza

The Giardino Garibaldi in the center of Piazza Marina is a small garden square near my hotel. I discovered it the first day I was Palermo, and from then forward stopped there once or twice a day to rest my feet or simply to watch the activities of the city around me.

The first time I visited the piazza I observed a small wedding party posing for professional photographs. Several hours later, I returned to sit and eat my gelato and noticed that the same group was still busy posing, pointing, and clicking away!

The garden of the piazza is home to several massive ficus magnolioides trees. The roots are exposed above the ground, and new starts dangle from the existing branches resembling rope-like tendrils waiting to reach the ground and begin growing into the earth.

One afternoon, I watched a sister and a brother playing kickball with the giant tree in the center of the piazza. One would punt the ball into the tangled mass and wait to see if it would be returned. If it was, the process would be repeated.

On Sundays, vendors set up tables around the gated perimeter of the piazza. Trinkets, old furniture and lighting fixtures, maps, and coins are among some of the things one can find at the flea market.

This particular Sunday was prima comunione for many of the local boys and girls. At least twelve different groups had replaced the wedding party of the day before and were busy capturing the moment on film and video. Anywhere one looked around the piazza would be a young girl in a white dress, or a young boy in a suit with a white armband and a medallion pinned to his lapel. Awaiting nearby would be a mother wearing a black dress and the rest of the family waiting to step in for group shots.

20 May 2005

A continent, one ocean...and 38 hours later!

Fontana Pretoria
Originally uploaded by Katherine H.
Or to be more precise: one continent, an ocean, two seas, three planes, a taxi, a shuttle, a bus…and 38 hours later I arrived at my final destination in Palermo, Sicily.

In the interim, I was too exhausted and weary by the time I figured out the domestic flight situation to take the train in to Rome. Neither was Air One the model of efficiency on that particular day--I feared missing my connection. Since my layover was whittled down from 7 hours to about 4, Rome will have to wait until another trip!

The bus from the airport deposited us at the main train station in the historic quarter of the city. A gentleman from Australia was also in search of his hotel, so we set out together in hopes of finding our information adequate and our sense of direction accurate. He had just flown in from London to spend a week sailing around Sicily with friends. After that, he was off to Norway. This, of course, left me curious as to what circumstances allow him time for all of that travel.

After checking in to the Hotel Letizia, I found a shop around the corner that was open and ordered a panino with prosciutto and mozzarella to consume before gratefully collapsing into bed.

May 21st was my first full day in Palermo, and I discovered what was to become one of my favorite items to eat--arancine. Basically, they are sticky rice balls that are stuffed with different things and lightly fried. Some I ate had mozzarella and prosciutto in the middle; others had meat in red sauce with peas nestled in the center.

I spent the rest of the morning wandering the neighboring streets, and happened upon the Archivio di Stato di Palermo. Since I was planning on visiting the state archives in Enna, I was particularly interested to see how this one was organized as a precursor to what I might expect to find later. In the reading room, there were five or six individuals intently searching through old volumes of civil records. Adjacent rooms had steel shelves packed with old manuscripts and record indices from the floor to nearly the ceiling. In fact, a rolling ladder seemed to be the only way to reach the upper shelves approximately 12-14 feet above ground level.

After the requisite nap and lunch, I spent the afternoon exploring Via Maqueda. I stopped by the Fontana Pretoria, a fountain designed by a Tuscan sculptor named Francesco Camilliani. Apparently, it has been known as the “fountain of shame” because of the nude statues that stand as sentinels around the base of each level.

I continued on window shopping, wandering through part of the Capo Market, successfully bartering for a small painted cat (made out of wood), and ultimately ended up on the steps in front of the Teatro Massimo. This is a place I would return to more than once to rest my feet and watch the people passing in their evening ritual of enjoying the passeggiata.

31 March 2005

Urban Oasis: Portland Classical Chinese Garden

Chinatown lampposts
Originally uploaded by Katherine H.
I first discovered the Classical Chinese Garden during November. Even then, it stood out as an oasis amidst all of it's concrete surroundings. I knew it would be a place to return to in all seasons.

Today I attended an event in downtown Portland on behalf of the foundation I work for. Since the weather was clear and dry, I decided to walk through Chinatown to see what was in bloom.

Inhabiting a single city block, the Ming-style Chinese Garden is an urban garden built around it's unifying center, Zither Lake. Over 500 tons of stone were shipped to Portland from Suzhou, China. One of my favorite features is the pebble mosaic courtyards and walkways which provide a visual connection throughout the garden.

21 March 2005

Urban Exploration: Seattle

Lock is full
Originally uploaded by Katherine H.
After two consecutive nights in my own house, I was feeling the itch to expand beyond the circuit I normally travel. In the back of my mind was the memory of alder-smoked halibut and chocolate chip cinnamon rolls, so I grabbed my duffel bag and was on the road for Seattle.

This time, I wanted to explore some of the neighborhoods beyond downtown and the waterfront. First stop, the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks in Ballard. It was interesting to watch the process of conveying boats between the salt water of the Puget Sound and the fresh water of the canal leading to Lake Union and Lake Washington.

The residential area of Fremont captured my attention in the afternoon. After popping in and out of several small shops, I stopped for some Greek food and to rest my feet before heading home.