Friday, July 27, 2007

Lost Journey...

I neglected to write yesterday about one of the most powerful trips I have ever taken. I had to use vacation days or lose them, so I took an unplaned trip to Rome, Naples and Pompeii.

My trip started out with reservation problems in Rome. I am low on cash, so I opted to rebook at the least expensive hostel I could find. The hostel was central, relatively clean, and had no curfew. I went immediately to get food for a picnic and took the subway to Circus Maximus. When I reached the street, I gazed in awe at the ancient stadium, now a bare valley with a mound where the median of the stadium used to be. This small field between the Palatine and Aventine hills was the no-man's land in the mythical conflict between Romulus and Remus that established the ancient city and its earliest administration. The day was sunny and warm with a light breeze. After lunch, I walked to the nearby Piazza de Rocca and fell asleep in the cool grass under a pine tree. I awoke after an hour to a classical concert nearby, listened for awhile, and then walked to the Isola Tiberina and strolled, thinking, along the Tiber. I decided to wait for the next day to tour Rome. I would simply enjoy my books (Collapse, by Jared Diamond and Travels by Michael Chricton) and experience Rome. I looked at the cobblestone streets, the businesses, the schools and the alleys. I went to an internet cafe to do some work and then went to dinner. After dinner, I went to the Giovanni cathedral and read in a cafe, enjoying espresso and ginger cookies.

How expensive Rome is! But the food is so good, I had to enjoy a fine dinner. I am a decent cook, but they use such fresh and good spices in the bistro I went to that I couldn't come close to reproducing the auromas and flavors in their pasta sauce. Their bread was good too, and I ate as if I hadn't eaten for days. I think that is the best thing about Italian food: spice and freshness. The wine was full of flavor and had a good aftertaste. I couldn't afford to go go out for most of my trip, but I was determined to try good Italian cuisine at least one night. Man, was it worth it!

The second day I walked all around ancient Rome, starting in the Forum. The arches, pillars, frescoes, mosaics, and foundations all once used to be part of the largest and most important city in the western world, and I marvelled at the pieces of history and culture that remain. I read and ate lunch amongst the ruins, sitting on foundations that supported city baths and palaces. I climbed the Palatine hill and walked passages once reserved for the most powerful and influential people in Ancient Roman history. The view was spactacular and the day partly cloudy. The strong Italian sun was again tempered by the clouds and the breeze which rustled the leaves and pine needles of the trees in the gardens. The museum atop the hill displays artifacts from the prehistoric Urnfield culture found beneath the forum to late Imperial Rome. The foundations and support holes for huts were found on the Aventine side of the hill, dated to the 8th century BC. The museum pushes the theory that this was the site of Romulus' city and the first Roman kingdom. It is nice to think about, anyway.

I entered the Colosseum in the early afternoon and took hours studying and absorbing the architecture, scale, and complexity of the building. How impressive it is! I'm glad it was voted one of the 7 modern wonders (though I don't really support that contest or idea). It is such a beautiful, powerful building its presence is inspiring. I have seen it is pictures and on television all my life, but seeing it in person was a fully different experience. If it were built in the United States today, in the same scale, it would be impressive. With the artistry and detail, and considering the common scale of other man-made structures, it must have been other-worldly. The gallery inside the Colosseum had an exhibit of Eros artwork from the ancient world. I had a good time hearing American tourists realize what they were looking at in some of the mosaics/pottery on disply. "Oh my goodness, would you look at that! Do you know what that is!?" "That is disgusting!" "They were perverted!" "Let's go kids. Let's see the Forum. Who wants Ice Cream?" It was hilarious to see people's reactions to the explicit artwork.

I am off to a children's summer camp right now. I will retun to Stara Zagora in about a week, where I'll continue this story and write about recent experiences. Have a good week everyone!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Times Flies by...

It has been nearly two years since I arrived in Bulgaria for the first time. I am having a hard time contemplating departing for life elsewhere, and I'm beginning to prepare myself for the transition. The last 2 months have been packed with activity and responsibility. I have been running around establishing networks for kids and the Roma community, working in Plovdiv as a day camp counselor for an under-privilaged community, helping edit and subtitle a children's film, I directed a group discussion/powerpoint lecture on Geology and Geomorphology in Bulgaria, I briefly met President Bush on his visit to Sofia, attended a conference for departing volunteers in Bulgaria, met and spent time with my Parents and friends visiting me in Bulgaria, and so much more.

I have hit, however, a lull in my work brought on by the extremely high temperatures in Stara Zagora (up to a humid 107 F in the last week). Nobody wants to work or even be outside/in places without air conditioning. Many people have headed to the beach or the pools around the city. My air-conditioning does not work, so I take cold showers. I have indeed kept up running, though a few days ago in 100+ heat, I hit a wall and my legs refused to keep going. I knew I had to keep walking, so I walked the mile or so back to the river and shade to cool off gradually.

Due to the heat, I have found an lost a passion in the past 2 weeks - watermellon. I have bought three and consumed them in rapid succession. I find that it is best to chill them for a day in the refrigerator before cracking and eating them. I suppose I have eaten about 9 Kg or so of watermellon (the mellons are about 5Kg, sweet, and crisp-perfect), and I am taking a break. I'm returning for the meantime to fruit juice and tea (iced tea). I found a place that serves chilled coffee with iced cream floating on top, which might become my pep drink of choice.

I am beginning to plan my way home, figuring out a route and determining the costs. I may need to live lightly on the road, though there are things that I will not skimp on. I have my shots and stocking up on meds. I need to buy a mosquito net and some good boots before I go. Hope everyone is well. Margaret is finishing up her CA Bar exam today, and deserves everyone's congratulations. She has worked so long and hard through law school, it is time for a break before work. She'll come to visit Bulgaria in late August, and I'm looking forward to seeing her.