Friday, September 3, 2010

Italy Part 5: Nature's War & Peace - We head south to Pompeii & Sorrento

The last time I was in Italy (2007) I stayed in the north part of the country visiting Venice, Rome, Florence and Pisa. This morning would be my first visit south of the capital city of Rome towards two drastically different locations - Pompeii and Sorrento.

We awoke around 6:30 and had breakfast around 7 a.m. This was our first day together as an entire 48-person traveling group and if I learned anything on my last bus tour, this was when our various links would bond to form friendships that could last to the many corners of the world once we left Italy and our holiday behind. We loaded up the bus with our bags on time at 7:30 and headed out of Rome around 8am. Just after we departed Rome proper, our tour guide, Angie, began to explain a bit more about Italy, its culture and what we were in for during the next two weeks. Each person was then invited up to the front of the bus on the microphone to introduce themselves. This lasted until 9:30 when we stopped at our first Autogrill (the best highway truckstop I've ever been to which are located all over Italy).

The Autogrill is unlike American pitstops. Enter any Autogrill and head up to the 2nd floor. Everything is a one-way direction so everyone enters into the first area which is comprised of a sandwich shop/coffee shop with fresh sandwiches which you purchase first then bring your ticket to pick up your sandwich. There is no order involved here. The plan is essentially get to the front of the counter if you can and then hand your ticket over, hoping some of the pushier Italian women don't butt in before you can make the pass. It is a free for all, especially if it is nearing lunch time. If you don't want the coffee or sandwich, you can continue in the one-way direction to the mini-grocery store. Following the single aisle, much like in a haunted house, you walk past the crackers, cookies and other snacks, then the varieties of meats and fresh cheeses followed by books, toys and other goods that would keep people occupied on their travels. Should none of this satisfy you, the 3rd floor is a cafeteria style restaurant with all sorts of Italian meals and desserts. It is more expensive up here and much more tempting to over-eat so I tend to stick to the sandwiches and waters located on the 2nd floor.

Halfway between Rome and Pompeii we passed the famous abbey of Monte Cassino, originally built by St. Benedict who founded the Benedictine Order. It is set on a high hill overlooking a lower valley where the highway now lay and was the sight of a vicious battle during the Second World War. We continued south after our 1/2 hour lunch stop and eventually reached Pompeii.

I don't know that I'd ever seen pictures of Pompeii that showed the area around it. I knew about Mt. Vesuvius but I don't think I realized how near to the Sea Pompeii and the volcano lay. Had I not known our first destination, I would have expected the entire area to be resort towns (which many of them are). Yet if you look away from the beautiful Mediterranean beckoning from one side and face inland, the entire area resides beneath the slumbering volcano which scientists say is overdue for another big eruption.

We pulled into the parking lot of Pompeii to find tons of vendors and a restaurant along with a store selling Limoncello, a popular lemon-based alcohol from the region. Lemons grow everywhere in this tropical region. Everyone headed upstairs past the vendors to stand in line to use the "magic room," our code word for bathroom on the tour. During the next 2 weeks we'd hear, "I need magic" or "Angie, where is magic here?" which was extremely amusing.

We then gathered to pick up our audio devices and meet our tour guide, a man in his 50's or 60's who spoke with a definite Italian accent in English and over enunciated a lot when he spoke. He explained how the entrance to the town had two doorways - one was for people and was smaller with stairs. The other, the one now used by visitors, served as a path for carts and animals and had a very large slope up into the town. All around the entrance were gorgeous, vibrant pink flowers which stood in marked contrast to this town which was left in a state of death still being uncovered from the ashes. What had been saved however was breathtaking. The frescoes on the walls were still vibrant and I could only imagine how much brighter they would have been when new.

We walked through temples, neighborhoods and past meeting places, bars, bakeries and even the Red Light district. I learned a lot about old Italy in Pompeii. First of all, there are no street names. If you wanted to describe where you lived or set a meeting point, you either picked "the bar" or said, "turn left at the goat-head fountain." Large, square water fountains exist every couple of intersections and were the key meeting points for people. Also, in ancient times, stepping stones actually had a significance. (This is cool.) Streets in Pompeii had sidewalks and streets. People used the sidewalks and animals and carts used the street. Stepping stones were placed 2 or 3 side by side so people could cross the street without stepping in anything unsavory that may lay in the street deposited by animals. A street with 2 stepping stones meant it was a one-way street. Streets with 3 stepping stones meant it was wider and thus a 2-way street!

We concluded our time in Pompeii with a quick lunch (I had cantaloupe and salad) along with a visit to the vendors outside and a free sample of limoncello (Bitter and sweet...and potent!) I bought a few postcards and a city patch, which I collect. At 2:15, it was then time to head a few minutes further south along the winding coastal road to Sorrento.

Sorrento reminded me a lot of Nice, France. It lays on the Mediterranean and is built on cliffs overlooking the Sea. There is a ton of shopping. The nicer stores line the main street but if you wander down any alley, there is a maze of streets selling all sorts of goods and knock-offs. And lots of gelato shops! The alleyways were where to go. Flags hung all over the walls that lined these streets. It was a festival-like atmosphere and people were everywhere day and night. Medieval churches also could be found in these back alleys which seemed weird but I saw them more as sentries over the revelry that had continued throughout time.

We had dinner that night at one of the backstreet restaurants. Pizza was the meal of the night along with the best caprese salad I've ever had with buffalo mozzarella, arugula and tomatoes. The wine was flowing freely and our table called out "Salute!" over and over again. The sights of tropical Sorrento and the food made for an incredible evening. That wasn't the end of our night, however. It concluded at an Irish bar, in Italy where the owner and his wife greeted us by blasting Italian music. This guy was constantly leading us in rousing renditions of popular Italian songs and contemporary ones. This was definitely La dolce vita - the good life.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Warning: Good Days Not Guaranteed

Today was one of those days that just never seemed to go right. We all have them. We don't always know they are coming. But they come no matter how prepared we are.

I woke up this morning to the sound and light show of a pre-dawn thunderstorm. I absolutely love rain, especially at night because I sleep really well. It also helps with my allergies by washing pollen out of the air. Anyway, this was the first night I'd slept the entire time in weeks. Pollen counts have been high for a while and last night was bliss.

I slowly pulled myself out of bed around 6:10. Normally I'm up and at it around 5:50 and in the shower and dressed before 6:15. Not so today. It didn't matter. I know how to quicken parts of my routine should the slow starts occur. Less Weather Channel and news watching tends to do the trick!

It was still pouring when I left my front door at 7:05. I had prepared the day before by putting my umbrella in my car should I get caught in the rain. I hadn't pulled the umbrella back inside last night and so I did the 10 yard dash to my car and climbed in, just a few drops gracing my clothes.

I made copies of a quiz for 1st period when I got to school then settled into my classroom. Made sure I had enough copies of my quiz for 2nd hour and looked back over my plan of "attack" for 3rd hour's Law class. All in order. Good.

The morning flowed quite nicely. Quiz grades were pretty good all around. I had secured another job for a student the day before, which is always good. It's amazing how many times I've called an employer when a student was in my office and got them an interview right then and there. So far each has been hired. Miracles).

And then 4th hour happened. 4th hour is study hall. I have 23 kids plus kids who are in there form other classes that aren't on my roster and kids sent down from their dean for the period. Study Hall is what broke me today. I received an email that morning saying athletes would be let out of their P.E. classes today and placed in study hall today. I opened the excel file attached to the email and it contained over 20 names for 4th hour. TWENTY MORE KIDS???? And this is supposed to be a "prep" hour (or so I've heard)??

Now, to rewind the clock a few days, I requested additional chairs in the Study Hall room last week, knowing athletes were coming eventually and that I probably didn't have enough. But the 5 extra chairs that were added didn't cut it. It took nearly the entire period to get these kids to adjust to the new rules of study hall, for me to get names on my seating chart and then check them against the list that I had received. There were not enough desks which caused quite a commotion and more talking than I would have liked. I was not pleased that there was so little heads up about how many kids to expect. I said as much to the assistant principal in an email.

Finally the bell for 5th hour came. My blood pressure was elevated and I was frustrated and worn out. It is my humble opinion that a single teacher should not be responsible for over 50 kids in a room. But, I'm a non-tenured teacher and not supposed to rock the boat - not yet. I had a lot more I could have written in that email to the asst. principal but that's not the kind of person I am and I also don't want to chop the waters.

I worked on a few things during 5th hour and then began to eat lunch. I ate and worked during 6th period, calling a few employers and then headed down to the guidance office to settle a few unanswered questions about students I have without jobs.

I checked my mailbox after that and inside was the summary of my first observation of the year by the principal. It didn't read so hot, although there were a few positive things mentioned. I had asked her to focus on classroom management when she observed me. Apparently I shouldn't be overlooking the side whispers that have always occurred in the classroom. I was told that while I student taught that was a strength I had. I didn't let those things distract me and only when they seemed to be a true problem to the students involved in the talking or those around them to interfere. That's how I was taught. That's what I do. Oh geez.

So I'm dreading tomorrow's meeting. I'll update you all when I get a chance tomorrow. Send me those happy thoughts!

Meanwhile I'll be thinking about the bigger picture. My glass is half full =)