Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Around Our House

I think I used up all of my energy in our first two months here. A friend invited me to her house for dinner last night, and while we were discussing living in Italy, I realized that we've now lived in our house for two weeks. In that time, my excursions to explore our neighborhood have consisted of three dinners out (including the Chinese restaurant!), one short drive to a little beach area called Capo Miseno, and a visit to the Baia Archeological Park, which I did on Sunday. That's it. I have not gone out for gelato (horror of horrors), I have not walked around the nearby lake, I have not gone to the supermercato (grocery store), I have not walked around the shopping area in the next village over, I have not explored any of the great ruins we have within a 5-10 minute drive from our house, other than my Sunday excursion. It's shameful, really. But I wanted to write just a little about our area.

We live in the area of Campi Flegrei (in English, called the Phlegraean Fields). It's home to thousand years old ruins, volcanic craters, a place where myths were born and the Sybils offered up their oracles. Amazing wines grow on it's hills, and those hills abound with Greek and Roman ruins, the oldest of which pre-dates Christ by about five more centuries. We don't really live in a village. I call it a roundabout (a traffic circle) because really, we're located in between two smart looking, seaside villages. Our little roundabout hosts a gelateria, a newspaper stand, a salumeria (fancy 7-11), macelleria (butcher), tabacchi (guess what that is), and several restaurants. Oh, and my favorite, a "beauty farm." The roundabout and these lovely places are on a small lake which was once a hotspot among the wealthy Romans. Many of their villas are either long gone or under the sea...which leads to some disturbing information. We live on the slopes of a place called Monte Nuovo (new mountain), so called because the entire mountain appeared in one week in 1538! This is not a joke. A volcano erupted, and in the ensuing aftermath, this mountain was formed. Nathan finds it "cool" that witnesses actually watched a mountain form 500 years ago; I find it terrifying. Also nearby is what I hope will become a favorite: Terme Stufe di Nerone. Thermal baths. In the 1960s, two brothers re-discovered thermal baths and grottos located among some Roman ruins on land they inherited from their mother. They created a modern complex to "take the waters," have massages, etc. I look forward to trying it out!

The Archeological Park of Baia is a lovely area with lots of ruins to explore. In places, columns and pedastals are just sort of toppled over. One of my favorite things was the most unassuming - as I walked down a dirt path and found about five rows of mosaic tiles poking up from the dirt, the remains of an old floor taking its last gasp before time covers it completely. One of the men working at the site was generous enough to share tidbits of info with me, which increased my enjoyment of the site immensely. Especially because we conversed in Italian. His sentences were long and fluid, while mine were punctuated with lots of pauses and the vocabulary of a two year old, but still, it's progress. He showed me a little area I would have completely missed, which is an itty, bitty room that used to be a sauna. A culvert in the floor allowed the steaming water to pass through, and the ceiling still had the carvings of the Romans decorating it.

There is also a huge, domed structure, called a temple, but what I've learned is that a few hundred years back, when lots of these sorts of things were "found," folks labeled anything they weren't sure about a temple. Nowadays, there are a few more ideas about the varying purposes of structures, but the temple names have stuck. So the Temple of Mercury is built just as the Pantheon in Rome was built (Thomas Jefferson based his design of UVA's Rotunda on the Pantheon), only this one in Baia was built 100 years earlier. It is eerie to visit because you enter through a short, stone tunnel, and step out onto a metal walkway. After you've stepped out, you realize there is water about 2 inches below this metal walkway - I'm a child of the 70s/80s, so I just can't help but say this - it was a "Goonies" moment. As with so many fascinating ruins here, they are edged with modern (sort of) buildings edging them. What sorts of treasures and history lie beneath these apartment buildings and houses?

Can you make out the remains of the frescoes?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


I'm at the base today using WiFi, so I can finally upload some photos of our house.

Living Room
Kitchen with our huge stove on loan from Housing

Lower Terrace - the white frame is for large awnings that roll out
View from roof terrace
Scully's Yard
Other side of the garden - the area on the right has a humongous water fountain in it that we found when we started clearing away brush. Nathan calls it our "Lost" garden with ruins that just crop up.

The "glass house" on the roof that will eventually have furniture in it.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Eating Out

Last night, we ate at a Chinese restaurant. We do see the irony in living in a country with some of the best food in the world, yet paying good money for Chinese food; however, since we arrived here, at least eight people have said some version of, “There’s a great Chinese restaurant in Arco Felice. You’ll be living near it.” Eight people! That’s one for every week we’ve lived in Italy. The kicker was when a perfect stranger who came to pick up some of our moving boxes called me back later in the day yesterday to say, “Since you just arrived here, you may not realize you have a great Chinese restaurant down the street.” Not only have people volunteered it as a great restaurant, but they use it as a landmark when trying to tell us where other places are. We decided we needed to check it out earlier rather than later, and it did not disappoint.  Food was excellent, and it was fun to see a Chinese menu arranged Italian style.

I may have already written about this, and if so, my apologies, but in Italy, meals come in courses. In medium to nicer restaurants, you order each course after finishing the first. First is your antipasti, just like an American appetizer menu. Next is primi (first) of pasta (or…if you’re at the Chinese restaurant, rice/noodles), next is secondo and is your meat and/or seafood plate. This does not come with sides. Your veggies are a separate course, which can be ordered with the secondo. If you choose a salad rather than veggies, the salad is ordered after the secondo. Next up is the best part…dolci (dessert). After all of this, the waiter brings two bottles to your table – grappa and limoncello. These are complimentary, and you sit and drink a cup or two of your digestivo. In Italian restaurants, you always pay a “coperto,” which is a cover charge for sitting down. Think of this as the tip for the busboys. It’s generally 1-2 euro per person. Meal tipping is 5-10%. 

Another little note about eating out in Italy…there are lots of “bars.” Every block has one or two. A bar in Italy is completely different. It’s the coffee shop. So it’s a completely different connotation to arrange a meeting at a bar. Some (many) have only counters as you must pay extra for a table, even in a coffee or gelato shop. You decide what you want and pay the cashier. Grab the receipt and present it to the barista, telling him/her what you want to drink and which pastry you ordered. In some very busy bars, the barista ignores you until you put your .10 tip next to your receipt. But in most cases, after drinking your coffee while standing at the bar, you can leave your little coin next to the empty cup. Coffee is not some large cup of what the Italians call “brown water,” which you sit in a Central Perk type place and sip for hours while visiting with friends. Coffee is small cups of espresso, which have less caffeine than a cup of American coffee, and you enjoy them while standing at the bar socializing or down it in a couple of drinks and head off to face the rest of your day. There are strict rules for what type of coffee to drink depending on the time of day. I follow none of them. I like my cappuccino and order it all the time, even after 11am! The horror! For those who are really interested in the health benefits of coffee and Italy’s coffee culture, this is a great blog post by another blogger here in Naples: The Espresso Break: Drink Coffee, It's Good For Your Health

Another observation on life here in Naples was brought home last night in the Chinese restaurant. It’s a small place, only about 12 tables. I’d noticed this table of three young boys who looked to be about 10 years old. After half an hour or so, I realized there was no adult with them, not even one at a nearby table. They were active and clearly having a fun time together, but were behaving appropriately for a restaurant. They sat down, ordered, were drinking their Cokes out of wine glasses, sharing food, and looked for all the world like a group of elderly men enjoying an evening out. That merging of time in which I suddenly see the same scene in the past or future happens so often here, in this place where the ancient world is such a part of modern life. Nathan said he imagined these three kids sitting around playing X-box, when one of them says, “Hey, want to go out for some Chinese,” and off they go to a nearby restaurant at 9:00pm. Age 10!

Friday, November 5, 2010


I am writing this post as I sit in the rooftop solarium. Today is a beautiful, Mediterranean day with a cloudless, blue sky, a temperature warm enough for a T-shirt, but not stifling hot, a gentle breeze blows through the walls of open windows, the island of Ischia is rising out of a haze in the distance, and the sea is calm and filled with fishermen and ferries traveling about. Before your irritation starts at this seeming lap of luxury, this moment is earned after seven straight days of 13+ hours of unpacking, organizing, sorting, cabinet stocking, trash hauling, and so on. Most days, lunch was a sandwich at the kitchen counter while planning my afternoon assault on the house. I’ve come up to the solarium exactly twice – once to figure out which keys worked for the lock and the second to bring a load of stuff that goes up here.

We still have pictures to hang on the walls and kitchen cupboards to line with non-skid, but those are the last projects for the inside of the house. The solarium is another story. We’ve searched a few stores here for some decent outdoor furniture, but we haven’t found what we want. Since we intend for this to be an everyday, living space, we’re looking for comfortable furniture that can handle the sun and the greenhouse effect. And Nathan wants some Meyer lemon trees.

Speaking of which, I’ve just found what I think is a lemon tree in our yard. Scully has this favorite area in the yard which is a small, grassy ledge that overlooks the back patio. He loves hanging about in the grass up there watching over his domain. I noticed some sort of stone structure up there and went to investigate, finding a citrus tree in the process. We also have an out of control eucalyptus tree which grabs at our legs when walking up to the side yard (aka, Scully’s bathroom). Conveniently, Scully has selected the area right beside our outdoor kitchen as his toilet. He is continuing to enjoy his yard, and is living up to his Crazy Dog moniker. This morning, he was watching me sweep the patio when all of a sudden, he galloped off in some sort of odd fit, raced around and around, the whole time growling at himself. I think he’s been getting into some sort of yard berries I don’t know about.

Our first couple of days here were a challenge with a few unhappy surprises, but as the week has continued and we’ve become more settled, we’re both growing to love the house. Here are the things I love so far:  we have a street sweeper who cleans our street once per week (there is a trash crisis going on right now, so I’m thankful to live on a street where there is not trash piled outside the doors), we have dumpsters and recycling bins just half a block away (no curbside service here, so it’s great to have something in walking distance!), the garden is so beautiful with plants, statuary, and planters everywhere, our bathroom (it’s small, but has great storage and water pressure), metal shutters that close up the house (I never knew how much ambient light affected my sleep in the U.S.), large doors and windows that open up for indoor/outdoor living, a garage so I don’t stay awake at night and wonder if our cars that don’t have theft insurance coverage are being stolen, that from a certain spot on the roof terrace, we can see the ruins of a medieval castle jutting out on a cliff, and our 6-burner, gas stove the Navy loans us.

Well I’m off now to grab the camera and take some pics. I’ll try to upload them soon…on my way downstairs to post this, I found a big, basil plant! I can’t wait to really explore the yard and planters to see what we have!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Moving In

Friday was a whirlwind with three sets of movers - household goods, express shipment, and the Housing Department delivery of our loaner appliances and furniture (stove, fridge, washer/dryer, kitchen hutch, electrical transformers, and three wardrobes). We'd hoped the three would be staggered, but they were all there at the same time. On top of the 11 movers, our landlord and his mother were there with various workmen all day. I have no idea what the purpose of the inspections done by the housing department was since the house was not at all ready for move-in. In addition, at least two of the items that were on the first two failed inspections had not been repaired, so how did the house pass the third inspection? The new city gas resulted in the hot water heater needing replacement and some sort of replacement fixtures on the gas stove connection. The house had not been cleaned at all, the landlord still had all sorts of personal items in the garage and wine cellar, and the garage door, alarm system, and video surveillance system didn't work. BUT...with us moving in, the landlord had workmen on the problems all day Friday and Saturday. The only things left are the alarm and video systems, and I have an appointment with "The Electric Man" on Wednesday to work on those. It's frustrating to me not that we moved in when the house wasn't ready, but that we were delayed for so long for nothing.
Scully is loving his yard. He gallops around it, and paces on this tall wall and grassy area that overlook the back patio. We inherited two cats, and Scully loves just sitting in the grass and staring up at the wall they use as their dog escape hatch. He comes into the house looking like some sort of jungle dog with flowers, leaves and branches sticking out of his hair.

We've been so focused on getting unpacked quickly that we've yet to explore the area. We did go to dinner at a nearby trattoria on Sunday night. The food was delicious, but I was surprised at how expensive it was. We've generally found restaurants to be very reasonable in cost. We'll have to keep exploring. Nathan has a coworker who lives nearby, and she just told him about some great places that are also within walking distance of our house. We're looking forward to the exploring!