Rows of attached, double houses line one side of the street. These are built for lower income families. Affordable, with a tiny front yard and chain-linked fences around backyards. A front porch where one could squeeze a chair or maybe even two. Directly across the street are the “better homes” for the middle income. Those who work as managers or foremen at the steel mill, rather than the laborers. These are single family homes with extensive yards – front, side, and back. Their lawns are manicured, although porches for those with more money, are relegated to the back of the houses.
Our “half a double” is foggy in my memory. There is not much of the inside I recall and if I do, it is in bits and pieces: the color and pattern of the kitchen linoleum, and the hot and cold water pipes that ran from the basement through the rooms’ floors and ceilings to the upstairs bathroom.
We lived here when I was very young. I would ride my dark red tricycle ferociously up and down, over and over, bumping along the concrete sidewalk. There was an empty field at the end of our row homes where we would play tag, baseball, build snowmen, outside in all kinds of weather. A dirt alley ran behind all of our houses. A dog chased us through it once. I fell and was terrified, but it never did hurt me.
When I was six years old, an older boy on Frankfurt Street cornered me inside a garage that wasn’t ours. I remember the damp smell of the dirt floor and the darkness with only one window pane letting in some light. I was more terrified then, than when the dog chased me. I don’t remember what happened.
We moved from that street within the year to a house less than a mile away. We had less yard, but a garage. It was a “better” neighborhood. Yet, throughout my growing up I wondered about this move. Often.
Decades later my sisters affirmed my “feeling” that something happened in that garage so long ago. All they knew was that my mother said she never told my father about the incident because “he would have killed that boy.” And so for years my therapist and I delved into my fears of being chased and cornered – exploring triggers, my actions and reactions. Sometimes these sessions evoked tears and anger, and other times, laughter.
All this is to say, this one experience on Frankfurt Street, although vague in memory, is strong in feeling and compelled me to know myself better. While I may be afraid of “dogs who chase me” or “boys who corner me,” I fight back.
This post is specific to the cities we visited and the accomodations we booked. It reflects our preference of travel style, ad hoc, with personal likes and dislikes. There is nothing prosaic here! Our goal for the second week, was to keep the cost of hotels under $100 per night, and train costs low staying in 2nd class.
Flying Economy class with Lufthansa from D.C. to Munich then on a smaller plane with Air Dolomite to Firenze, I will admit that I never ate so much food in such a short amount of time. The flights were uneventful, thank goodness. We got there and back without a hitch.
FIRENZE @SANTA CROCE
In Firenze for the week, we were joined by our family. I had not realized this week was a major holiday – Pasqua – when we booked our trip. Not only is Sunday important, but Monday is a holiday and most things are closed…but not all. Anyway, we rented an appartamento through VRBO in the heart of Santa Croce. It was a classic Italian abode. Just beautiful with easy walking access to historic sites and markets galore, both inside and outdoor. Our hostess, fluent in English, was kind to meet us and show us how things work:the quirkiness of the keys, turning the gas stove off and on; using the washing machine, and sharing her recommendations. It was extremely clean and comfortable; when we left there at the end of the week, I felt as if I was leaving home. So bittersweet.
It is important to have cell phone access 24/7. By day 2 of our visit, went to a Vodafone store and bought a SIM card for 35 Euros. It was money well spent!
The night before we departed from Firenze, I booked our train tickets online to Bologna and found hotel room for one night through Booking.com. The Italian train system is fantastic and easy. Booking ahead with your cell phone allows you to board immediately and skip the need to have your ticket stamped twice. The Italian conductors check tickets sometimes, as it is really an honor system. Beware, though, if you do not have your ticket or the second stamp for the paper one. The fine is hefty and they brook no argument, as I heard with my own ears!
Bologna is a university city; not too touristy and managable in size. We walked from the train station to our apartment which has an elevator, at Residenza Ariosto. A bit apprehensive at first, we had no idea where we were headed, the place turned out to be fantastic as well as the staff! Since we arrived mid-afternoon, we decided to stay two days because it was so clean and near everything. They accomodated us immediately, thus giving us time to explore this city which has so much to offer. Despite light rain, we walked to restaurants (Osteria Dell’Orsa is outstanding and down-to-earth), museums, even a public library which has its own caffe with food, wine and beer! I love this city!
VICENZA & VERONA
Vicenza was our next stop. Having made a reservation at Casa Lilli, again the night before. We arrived by train mid-afternoon and walked to the apartment. Our host met us and quickly explained the rules – another guest would be spending the night in the other room. Fortunately, we each had our own bathroom, and shared only the kitchen and living space. It was so spanking clean and only two flights up. On the outskirts of the historic area, it was an easy walk past the walled city with its’ Palladian buildings, where we spent the remainder of the day among the upscale shops, tourists, and amazing Palladian architecture. Staying two nights allowed us a day trip by 15 minute train ride to Verona. Luck would have it that this was ANOTHER Italian holiday – Liberation Day. The celebration in this town was wonderful with speeches, historic dress and accompanying vehicles (the hub was thrilled!). We met a young Italian writer, Giovanni Sulla, who was hawking his book on the history of Verona during the WWII and subsequent liberation. If I could have squeezed one more thing in my suitcase, I would have purchased it there and then!
PADOVA & Venezia
The night before we left from Vicenza for Padova (or Padua), I booked a room at the B&B Hotel Padova strictly based on reviews of price and cleanliness. Getting there from the train station, however, was the challenge. We walk. Always. This route took us through the industrial parts of car dealerships and on/off ramps to highways. In Italy roundabouts abound and are often not pedestrian friendly. Eventually we made to an area of small houses, and there before us was the behemoth hotel looming. This was our first official chain-hotel experience. We were not disappointed. The staff is outstanding in welcoming you and accomodating the least request. The rooms have bare essentials, but very clean with hot water, TV, and bedside lamps that actually give you enough light to read! We declined the “breakfast” portion of the stay, preferring to get our lattes and croissants at the tabacchi shop, a few blocks away, where we could also purchase our bus tickets into Padova. The hotel has a caffe machine in the lobby which gives great coffee, but the size of an American shot glass. We were missing our American mugs-0-coffee!
Going into Padova for the day turned out to be a real treat for the hub and his motor enthusiasm!
On our second day we took the bus to the train station (we did NOT attempt walking this route again) so we could visit Venezia for the day. It is a short trip by rail and there are multiple trains constantly running between these cities, so finding a time and a seat are not a problem. Our 2nd class tickets on the Regional train, round trip cost us close to 12€.
Even in late April it is crowded, and while there are signs directing you to Piazza San Marco, it is a challenge to get back! Since the building are tall and allow no visual point of reference when you are walking along the narrow “calles,” it is easy to loose your sense of direction. GPS is often not available either as all is blocked out but for the sky above you. Having circled the same paths at least three times, it was time to stop and eat…I have learned to just go with what happens. With no agenda, I must say we delighted in Venice for our day trip but looked forward to returning to our highway hotel with a portable dinner in hand for later.
Firenze @Santa MARIA Novella
By the fourteenth day, I will admit that we were getting tired of scheelping to and from train stations to accomodations. However, even with Firenze being a huge tourist destination, we were able to find a lovely Airbnb, Trilocale near the station within our price range. While it is a three bedroom apartment we had the place to ourselves which included a master bedroom and bath, and fully functioning kitchen including espresso and the espresso maker. Finally, a mug of latte! A ground floor place, it was within a shared building in a nice neighborhood and walking distance to down-home restaurants. At Il Contadino Firenze the basic minestrone soup and Italian lasagne were satisfying, along with some dolci, of course. By the end of the night we were ready to fall into our clean beds, both sated and exhausted.
E, eravamo pronti per tornare a casa.
Gandolfi, A. (cur), David Mori, and Giovanni Sulla. Foxholes and Footsteps1945. The U.S. 10th Mountain Division in Italy. Then and now. 2nd ed. Il Trebbo Montese Libri, 2019. Print.
When I chose this book I was expecting a pleasingly predictable mystery set in New York City during the late 1800s, known as the Gilded Age. This is not the first of its genre to feature a working class woman as the heroine who saves the hide of the “upper crust” employer. I refer to The “Molly Murphy” series by Rhys Bowen which I thoroughly enjoy. Even with the “Gaslight Mysteries” by Victoria Thompson, we have a midwife working with a NYC police sergeant.
What is undeniable with many of these series is that the history incorporated into the novels by these writers is well researched. We not only enjoy a relaxing read, but learn about the limited expectations for women, the precarious lifestyles many were forced into for financial and family reasons, and their general powerlessness. These fictional heroines rally against all this rising, to meet the mettle of any man from any class within the stories.
Lindsey’s novel completely took me by surprise. Within the first few chapters, she takes a quick swerve from the usual setting or plot and into the realm of the paranormal. Not a fan of science fiction, I stuck with it; this is out of the realm of the ordinray, in itself.
It has the flavor of steampunk seen in many Young Adult novels (which I do love) combined with the roller-coaster ride of harrowing events reminiscent of that favorite film, Ghostbusters. Moreover, the author includes a diversity of ethnic characters that fall into place seemlessly and will undoubtedly be central to the subsequent titles.
“Maybe one day you’ll tell me your story and I’ll tell you mine. For now, I think we understand each other well enough.”
It is a quick read with solid historical research; she takes the reader down a slightly back street, perhaps a NYC alley. All good fun!
Lindsey, Erin. Murder On Millionaires’ Row: a Mystery. Minotaur Books, 2018. Print.
A long time. It has taken me months to read this book. I am not sure if I was not in the mood, or if I found the pathos too much, especially during this time in our American history. (Let’s NOT go there, dear readers!)
Regardless, I did finish it. If you are not already acquainted with this storyline, it is a fictionalized account of the real-life Margaret Fishback, a woman advertising genius working for R.H. Macy’s; she’s at the top of her game and the store, their fame. You follow her professional career, its exchange for marriage and motherhood, her breakdown, the divorce, and regaining her footing, and subsequent aging – beginning in the late 1920s followed by decades wedded to the City.
At times, the writing seems contrived in plot and character development; more of a vehicle for this new author to make “her statement,” rather than hearing Lillian’s voice. Yet, there are dialogue and soliloquies that make my heart ache, inform me with interesting tidbits, and give me good laughs.
“A motto favored by the ancients was solvitur ambulando. It is solved by walking. Sometimes, I might add, by walking out. I like to imagine that that irascible tub dweller Diogenes would have approved of my exit…”
Anyone who loves New York City or has grown up shopping at the big department stores will enjoy this recent historical novel; those who appreciate acerbic wit will undoubtedly welcome Lillian into their lives, and those who have experienced the painful doubt of the self, will empathize. Lastly, travelers who meander for miles from sheer pleasure, whether they be city blocks or back country paths, will find solace in the one-day pilgrimage as they accompany this indomitable New Yorker along her ten miles.
Rooney, Kathleen. Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk. St Martin’s Press. 2017. e-Book.
I panicked when this question was put to a group of us during a writing workshop,* months ago.
“What is the truest thing you know?”
I know that “I know little of life”, but this answer, standing alone, seemed too trite, too thought-less.
“Ahh,” I thought to myself, “There are too many truths to know the “est” of them.” When stumped, I begin to make a list – it is the librarian in me.
The truest thing I know is that I know little of life, except the small one I am living: Italian and Slovak families with pasta and pierogis served at church dinners, and with bear hugs & ciaos and loud voices in foreign tongues from dozens of relatives; I know my stalwart spouse with rugby football and engines in cars, and his tender heart; my sons who make me smile and sigh as I reminisce about scraped knees and the endless rounds of sports seasons, and now, with open arms towards the women in their lives; I know my two sisters who share DNA and prosecco, and our cheap rings from a museum gift shop, and with a treasured history that eternally binds us.
The core of it all – the truest thing I know is this:
” I feel deeply about this small and wonderful world of mine.”
AUTHOR, BETH KEPHART AND THE “WONDERFUL WOMEN” from the SEEDLINGS workshop who CONTINUE TO BE AN INSPIRATION FOR THIS SOLITARY, INTROVERTED ARTIST.