August 31, 2011

In Garlate with Friends Antonio & Mari

We arrived here in Garlate Lecco on Monday, August 29, with gracious transportation by Oriana and Filippo from Olgiate Molgora, only a few kilometers away. They stayed for lunch which was delicious rice and mixed vegetables along with ham and prosciutto and melon and, ....well, all good things! In  the afternoon, we went to visit the marvelous new home under construction for Allessandro and Laura, Antonio and Mari's son and daughter-in-law. The home is wonderfully designed with three levels, as most homes are on hillsides here in Garlate. When finished, it will be absolutely fantastic with a clean, modern design, superb construction and finish work with magnificent windows and doors baths and cucina. They will be very happy when they are finally able to move in later this Fall.

In the evening Mari cooked ravioli with other fixings and Antonio opened a nice white wine. Then we learned a little bit how to play briscola, a card game with a special deck of cards that is lots of fun with trumps and no need to follow suit.
Yesterday, we awoke to a traditional Italian breakfast with cappuccino, bread, jams, juice and rolls. Later in the morning we went to Monte Barro Park,

 the mountain that dominates Garlate and the surrounding area on the west side of Garlate. It offering magnificent views of Lago Leco and several smaller lakes to the south of the mountain. We were joined by Luigi and Edda, good friends of Antonio and Mari. We had lunch at the mountain top restaurant, Eremo. More delicious food!

Then we drove part way down the mountain to a very old refuge building that is owned by 6 people  (Edda is one), apparently passing down from generation to generation. The stone building is stocked with water, beer, wine, soft drinks and lounges, chairs and tables a full kitchen and a bathroom. People come on weekends  or weekdays to escape the heat and enjoy the fresh mountain breezes.

Carol's description of our evening meal at Il Ronco Azienda Agricola - Agriturismo follows. A superb meal that was, well, wonderfully Italian. [we'll diet when we get home :-)]

Dinner in Garlate...
You would have loved the place we had dinner at tonight! The road up to the place is so narrow that a normal car can't fit. We had to change cars at the bottom of the hill to go up - in a tiny, narrow van!
The restaurant is part of an agriturismo with all organic food from it's own farm. We walked in the garden with fruit trees, olive trees, veges etc. The figs, ripe and right from the tree were SO sweet, I had to restrain myself to only a few.

Mari picked some for breakfast, though, so I'll get another taste.
The farmhouse is 300 years old, all beautifully restored, with 4 rooms to rent. We must have had  10 courses in the antique dining room, starting with a diced mix of veges, barley, wheat berries and fresh herbs, then a plate of salamis and lardo with a fresh fig, then tempura with fresh vegetables and herbs like salvia leaves, then a spinach quiche with a raddicio-walnut-grape salad, then a chopped-vege crepe with a wonderful cheese sauce with poppy seeds, then risotto with a filet of local fish, then porchetta with roasted potatoes, ending with gelato with fresh raspberry sauce! Only some of us could even fit a coffee!
Of course, you must add the wines that flowed as well. :-)

August 29, 2011

Beautiful Mountains and Spectacular Lake Como

(August 28, 2011) With our friends Roberto and Oriana we rode the cable car to Piani di Bobbio, high above the town of Barzio and meandered in the ski bowl with hundreds of hikers, sun-bathers, mountain bikers and others enjoying the bright sun and mild breezes.

We had lunch consisting of traditional mountain cooking including pizzoccheri, (a mix of mountain greens, coarse pasta and cheese), polenta with stag and gravy and cold beer and wine at a restaurant on the mountain.  Several para-gliders were wafting above in the mountain updrafts, while a large herd of dairy cows, guided by a cowherd and his dog, were roaming the piani  with their bells resounding in the clear mountain air.

In mid-afternoon, we visited the castle at Vezio with commanding views of Lake Como and the dozens of boats on it. Next, a short ferry ride from Varenna, just below Vezio, to Bellagio where we were joined by Filippo and his girl friend, Claudia, for drinks on the Bellagio waterfront as the sun set.  Then a dinner a short drive to the southwest for dinner just outside Bellagio at Ristorante Ittiturismo (da Abate pesce fresco a palate) where fresh fish from lake Como is served in several marvelous ways both as antipasti and primi/secundi. It was a delicious meal! Roberto drove home and we slept soundly after a Moscato grappa.

Tomorrow, Filippo and Oriana will drive us to Antonio and Maria's home in Garlate where we will stay for a few days. Life is good among friends in Italy!

August 26, 2011

It's the Litttle Things that Matter!

8/26/11 (post by Carol) Years ago, European toilet paper was a topic of derision: too hard, too scratchy. Not so now. Compared to the ultra-soft, squishy American stuff that dissoves in your hand if you manipulate it too much, or which won't even tear off when you want it to, this stuff here in Abruzzo is perfected! Just the right amount of hardness that eliminates all scratchiess, holds together perfectly, and tears off with ease at the perforations! I have no idea how gracious it is to the environment, but it's my preferred product by a long shot !! (See what hapens when you have time on your hands - when you have chosen the inconvience of schedues using public transportation versus the freedom of using your own car!)

The Wedding in Campo di Giove and Pescara Reception

The Wedding: Ilaria/Carlo 8/25/11 (Posted by Carol)

How can I include everything in the description of the wedding we came to Italy to attend?

Festivities began at the bride's house. About an hour before the ceremony, guests arrived to a house replete with every kind of good thing to eat -   finger foods both savory and sweet. When it was time to leave, the bride appeared from upstairs with her father, and greetings and kisses followed with everyone. A line began to form behind them as they went outside where a group of village children waited expectantly for a barage of confetti candy (white sugar-coated almonds) and coins (the favored treat these days) to be showered on the bride from the house by her mother and friends.

In this case, Dora, the bride's mother, tossed out only confetti 3 or 4 times to the disappointed children before showering them with 80 euro coins! It was then the scramble began!

As the bride and her entourage began the walk to the ceremony through the streets of the town, others joined in.

Ilaria, the bride, met up with the groom, Carlo, at the Town Hall where the ceremony was held. They ascended the marble staircase of the Comune (Town Hall) to the balcony overlooking the piazza (square) with as many guests as could fit in the small space, where they were officially married.

Greeted with cheers, the throwing of rice and a toast-for-two, the couple made their way through an obstacle course prepared by their friends (for a joke) and then left for the reception in a black Porsche convertible decorated with flowers.

The guests then boarded the 2 privately-rented pullmans and headed out down 12 miles of  mountain roads to the main road to the reception 1 1/2 hours away at the Regis Hotel just outside Pescara near the Adriatic coast.

The reception was elegant, both the ambiance and the food. Appetizers and desserts were served in the enclosed garden by a lighted fountain. The several white table-clothed serving tables formed the center of the garden, sharing space with a stringed band. Each table was adorned with several large balls of white roses and lit up by either candle light or small white electric lights.

Appetizers and desserts were served in this lovely garden, but the main courseS were served indoors by candlelight: boiled lobster with spaghetti, risotto, fish (called "coda di rospo," rolled in on huge platters, replicating the real fish with a huge mouth and teeth that looked like a barracuda!), and finishing with a salad. The appetizers and desserts were too numerous and too creative to even begin to describe!

Dancing began shortly before the "early" pullman returned guests to Campo di Giove at 2am. I never found out when the "late" pullman left!

As you can imagine, the event in itself was memorable enough, but the remewed connections with my Italian relatives put the "topping" on my own personal "wedding cake." :-)

August 25, 2011

(from Carol 08/25/11...)
After a cool night's sleep in the dry mountain air, the day begins with the sun rising over the mountain just outside our balcony, shedding its morning warmth across our bed. :-) A nice wake-up call from "the Office!"

Bad news from the real "office," however. We may not be able to leave Campo di Giove as planned! With the rail-system's reservation center having been on hold due to technical problems, and because it is the end of Italian vacation time for those vacationing in the South wanting to head back home in the North, all the trains from Pescara to Milan are already full with no reservations left! Add to that, the phone service from our portable cuts off every 3-4 minutes of time, so we're going to spend the better part of today (before the wedding) trying to sort out our departure!

I'm glad we woke up to the sun!! :-)

August 24, 2011

August 24 Second Day in Italy

We had a quiet day today. In the morning we walked to the town center to visit Sergio and Dora until noon, then returned to the hotel. It was good to catch up with them before their daughter is married tomorrow here in Campo diGiove, after which two chartered buses will take all the Campo diGiove attendees to Pescara for the reception.

Then, I spent far too long on the phone with the British company from whom I rented a WiFi hotspot that will enable us to get on the internet while traveling without incurring the exorbitant Verizon data roaming charges. The tech support person walked me through re-programming the device for use in Italy. They had  mistakenly shipped me a device programmed to work in the UK.

Carol spent time at the pool in the sun on another beautiful day while I attempted, unsuccessfully, to make reservations on the high speed train from Pescara to Milan on Saturday. It seems it's not possible to make reservations and pay online, which is a peculiar situation.  After several calls to the overloaded Trenitalia call center and when I got through a couple of times they said they would call me back because "the system is down," which means they must have a massive backup of calls. I will try again later. In hindsight, I should have made the reservations at Rome's Termini.

I walked a bit in the late afternoon to do some shopping and shake off the 'technology woes,' then had a nice nap before dinner.

Dinner was again plain and simply delicious. Many delicious contorni, then penne pasta, cabbage soup, followed by rosemary-seasoned pork and fried cheese with tomato sauce. 
i really like this simple food because the tastes of the food are so much enhanced, not overwhelmed, by the spices.

Tomorrow we meet at 4:00 pm for the wedding ceremony, then board the bus to Pescara.

August 24 in Campo diGiove

 Our Delta flight from JFK to Rome was late leaving by an hour, but the pilot made up about half the time on the flight. It was a bit bumpy at times, but we survived OK.

We took the regional train to Tiburtina Station, rather than the DaVinci Express to Termini Station. It turns out the train was rerouted a few weeks ago due to a fire or construction or...who knows? S we took the metro to Termini. just a 10 minute ride.

The train WAS on time and 2.5 hours later we were met by Carol's cousin who whisked us the 20 km up the mountain to Campo diGiove. Weather and food are both wonderful at Hotel Abbruzzo. This morning, the sun is about to rise over the Majella mountains, which we can see from our hotel room, surrounding the town.

For dinner we had very simple, but delicios Abbruzzo food. pasta and oil with crushed red pepper, an Abbruzzo folk specialty (Carol's dad always loved it.), veal with a special sauce for secondi and an assortment of local cheeses and fresh fruit, a bottle of Montepulciano and fresh fruit. All  this was accompanied by a delicious buffet selection of contorni...yum! We hadn't eaten since breakfast on the plane.

Will explore Campo diGiove today  on footand generally meander.

Sun's up. Time for breakfast!

August 20, 2011

Obama in the Valley -

No, Mr. Blow, America does not need Barack Obama as President because he and his team have been shown inept and incapable of the leadership and policies that the country now requires. The last thing we need is for him to crank into campaign mode, but that seems exactly what he's doing with his pre-Marthas Vineyard Midwest bus trip.

Your 'pep talk' stimulating him to'shape up' is a nice try, but he does not have what it takes to pull the country out of the economic distress. Americans increasingly believe his policies have failed the country.

Meanwhile, Congress has also performing poorly. They must step up to the plate and fulfill its responsibilities for realistic budgeting and spending. The nation's need an infusion of confidence. That's best done not with words, but with deeds.

"The country needs the president to rise to this crisis in word, spirit and deed. We need him to reach out of his nature and into the nation’s need. We are on the precipice. There’s growing concern that we may slip into a second, more painful recession. There is little optimism that the housing crisis will loosen its grip on the economy anytime soon. The unspeakable truth is that we may well be on the leading edge of a prolonged period of national stagnation, if not decline.

A robotic Sustainer-in-Chief with an eerie inhumanity will not satisfy. At this moment, we need less valley and more mountaintop."

August 19, 2011

Confidence in Obama, and in the Economy, Declines -

Hat Tip to the NY Times 538 blog for this graphic. As the red and black lines have crossed on this graphic, I surmise TeamObama's bus trips were devised in an attempt to prevent furtehr deterioration in his ratings. If this keeps up, he''ll be challenging the low ratings for Congress.

August 18, 2011

Exxon, U.S. Government Duel Over Huge Oil Find -

What a wonderful saga this will be in in the 2012 political campaign. TeamObama against 'big oil.' This will be tasty fodder for the talking heads in the coming months.

Here's the compromise: The Exxon part of the Julia field discovery becomes part of the Strategic Oil Reserve and TeamObama takes credit for the millions of tons of carbon dioxide sequestered that will mitigate global warming <grin>.

"The massive Gulf of Mexico discovery contains an estimated one billion barrels of recoverable oil, the company says. The Interior Department, which regulates offshore drilling, says Exxon's leases have expired and the company hasn't met the requirements for an extension. Exxon has sued to retain the leases.

The court battle is playing out at a time in which the Obama administration has made an issue of unused leases, which deprive the Treasury of valuable taxes. It also comes as regulators are being careful not to be seen as lax in their dealings with large energy companies in the wake of last year's BP PLC spill.

The stakes are high: Under federal law, the leases—and all the oil underneath—could revert to the government if Exxon doesn't win in court."

August 16, 2011

Verizon Accuses Strikers of Equipment Sabotage -

Verizon Accuses Strikers of Equipment Sabotage -

Attacks or sabotage of critical infrastructure are usually considered terrorist acts under Federal law. Is the sabotage, long a fixture of Verizon/NYNEX/NY Telephone strikes, considered acts of terrorism? Would the perpetrators, if found, be charged as terrorists?

August 15, 2011

Google to Buy Motorola Mobility for $12.5 Billion -

Wow, few pundits and analysts didn't see this one coming! Now Apple has a fierce competitor in Google for both hardware and its Android operating system. Seems like a very strategic move to me. Meanwhile, Microsoft is stuck trying to pull Nokia out of the mud.

"The deal, which comes just eight months after the split of Motorola Inc., would give Google control of Motorola Mobility's attractive patent portfolio after the Internet giant recently missed out on a bid for Nortel Networks Corp.'s portfolio. Google, which owns the fast-growing Android operating system used in millions of mobile phones, has a thin portfolio of wireless and telecommunications patents."

August 14, 2011

The Political Machine is Grinding Away to Shape Public Opinion

The political machines are ramping up their rhetoric in the midst of the economic turmoil playing the blame game for what's caused the country to go off track. Here are but two examples, one from the WSJ and the other from the NY Times in the last couple of days.

It's a long road to November 2012 and if these two examples are indicative of the type of storyline we can expect from the very far left and right, we have a tough and brutal slog ahead.

Meanwhile, the ball is in the hands of 12 Senators and Representatives (the Super-Committee, a Jedi Council?) to wrestle spending to ground while bombarded from both sides wit calls for far less and far more spending. How have we grown so far apart when the welfare of the country rests in the balance?

What Happened to Obama? Absolutely Nothing. 

(Norman Podhoretz, WSJ 8/13/11)

He is still the same anti-American leftist he was before becoming our president.

..."But I emphatically agree with Messrs. Limbaugh and Sowell about this president's attitude toward America as it exists and as the Founding Fathers intended it. That is why my own answer to the question, "What Happened to Obama?" is that nothing happened to him. He is still the same anti-American leftist he was before becoming our president, and it is this rather than inexperience or incompetence or weakness or stupidity that accounts for the richly deserved failure both at home and abroad of the policies stemming from that reprehensible cast of mind."

Genuflecting to the Tea Party

(Charles Blow, NYT  8/12/11)

..."What we are witnessing is an extension and acceleration of the G.O.P.’s obscene genuflection to Tea Party tenets: give no ground; take no prisoners; accept no deal."
..."David Axelrod, the Obama campaign strategist, said the candidates at the debate were “essentially pledging allegiance to the Tea Party, instead of resolving the problems of this country.”

August 12, 2011

Grover Norquist: Happy Cost of Government Day! You Worked for It -

Whether you agree or not with the agenda or ideology of Grover Norquist, one fact is immutable: Government has become a massive part of the American economy and the tax burden to pay for it falls far short. Agree or not with 'no new taxes,' the growth and size of government at all levels pervades our lives. I'm persuaded that's not a 'good thing' nor what our founders expected when they adopted our Constitution.

"Yet focusing on the deficit understates the true cost of government. In fact, this year's deficit of $1.5 trillion is 'only' 40% of federal spending. And while federal spending has jumped to $3.8 trillion in 2011 from $2.9 trillion in 2008—a 31% increase—that does not include state and local spending, which is estimated to total $1.6 trillion in 2011, according to new report from the Americans for Tax Reform Foundation (ATRF). Nor do these numbers include the cost of individuals and businesses complying with federal regulations: The total cost of such compliance is estimated to be $1.8 trillion."

Pelham: Cut the budget baloney

Vermont's Tom Pelham cuts through the rhetoric and soundbites with a numbers-based reality check on Washington's excesses. Well worth a read.

"Both sides hold shaded self-serving positions. Democrats look back at the surpluses in the Clinton years and blame the “Bush Tax Cuts,” code words for tax breaks given the wealthy. But the facts are, the “Bush Tax Cuts” were for everybody, not just the wealthy. The U.S. Treasury values the “Bush Tax Cuts” at $3.6 trillion over the next decade, with only $700 billion, or 19 percent, going to “the wealthy” and $2.9 trillion going to the rest of us. In 2000, the effective federal income tax rate on the bottom 50 percent of filers was 4.6 percent. In 2008, the last year for which numbers are available, their effective rate was down to 2.59 percent. With these lower rates, 46.9 percent of all federal income tax filers in 2009 paid no federal income tax. Comparatively, for the top 5 percent of filers, the effective rate dropped from 24.4 percent to 20.7 percent by 2008."

August 11, 2011

Digitally Fatigued, Networkers Try New Sites, but Strategize to Avoid Burnout -

So many online activities vying for our time and attention...what's a person to do? Will Google+ come out on top so that we only need one social network?

"The relentless pressure to partake of the newest networks was underscored in June with the debut of Google+, Google’s social networking site. According to Nielsen, social networking is now the most popular online activity, ahead of sending e-mails, searching the Internet and playing games.

Put another way: one in every four-and-a-half minutes spent on the Web is spent on a social networking site or blog. And last year the average visitor spent 66 percent more time on such sites than in 2009, when early adopters were already feeling digitally fatigued."

August 10, 2011

Paul Ryan: Where's Your Budget, Mr. President? -

Rep. Paul Ryan's budget proposals may not be perfect, but the alternative (oops, to date there is no viable alternative) from TeamObama creates ever increasing taxes in a dismal economy. That's a failing recipe for the Democrats at the polls and for the country. We deserve better from Washington leaders.

I hope Ryan is appointed to the 'Super-Committee" that must recommend another $1.5 trillion ($1,500,000,000,000)

"Since then [February 2011] he has offered a lot of rhetoric but no real plan to avoid a spending-driven debt crisis. His speeches and press conferences are no substitutes for actual budgets with specific numbers and independently verified projections of future deficits and debt. Meanwhile, it has been over two years since the Democrat-controlled Senate passed any budget at all. This is a historic failure to fulfill one of the most basic responsibilities of governing.

This leadership deficit has thrown the federal budget process into chaos at the worst possible time. Even though Congress has cut spending by a significant amount, it still hasn't dealt with the drivers of our debt—primarily federal spending on health care."

August 9, 2011

Democrats Break With Obama on Medicaid Lawsuits -

This is one of those 'very big deal' lawsuits that will have enormous implications for healthcare costs whichever way SCOTUS decides. Another example of the massive messy situation created by the escalating costs of healthcare and the inability of governments to pay for it.

"The Democratic leaders said Medicaid beneficiaries must be allowed to file suit to enforce their right to care — and to challenge Medicaid cuts being made by states around the country.

The Obama administration maintains that beneficiaries and health care providers cannot sue state officials to challenge cuts in Medicaid payment rates, even if such cuts compromise access to care for the poor."

August 8, 2011

Education Needs a Digital-Age Upgrade -

Where does this fundamental change need to begin? In Vermont's core curriculum standards? In the tests that students take to measure outcomes? In the minds of teachers/parents? In the ubiquitous deployment of broadband Internet access? I believe Cathy Davidson is absolutely on-target with her recommendations. The massive behemoth that is public education needs an overhaul for today's kids to be ready for tomorrow.

"As Ms. Davidson puts it: “Pundits may be asking if the Internet is bad for our children’s mental development, but the better question is whether the form of learning and knowledge-making we are instilling in our children is useful to their future.”"

Corporate, junk bonds weaken after U.S. downgrade - MarketWatch

This simple quote captures the real problem with Congress and the Administration (story by Deborah Levine; quote from Ken Jacques, credit and derivatives manager at Informa Global Markets ...whatever expertise he may have.)

"The problem is that S&P's downgrade isn't about the 'lack of faith in the ability of the US to pay its debts, but with the lack of faith in the leadership of this country and where that may lead us,' Jaques wrote in a note. 'And where that will lead us is into another recession.'"

August 7, 2011

What We Must Do to get our Country Back on Track

I have read two pieces recently that seem to express most of what I think is reasonable and necessary. The first is by Thomas Friedman, somewhat middle-left in his outlook, but a pragmatist for the most part. The other is an interview with  Rep. Eric Cantor by the WSJ.

The Harvard economist in the Friedman piece has it right. The U.S., its people and other countries of the world are armpit-deep in debt and economies will 'brake' until that debt is worked down, We simply cannot go on spending what we do not have.

August 6, 2011

Digital devices divide -- and connect -- Vermont communities

A fascinating discussion on Vermont Digger about the use of electronic devices in public meetings. Jim Condos, Secretary of State, entered the discussion with this comment and a quote from Vermont's Open Meeting Law.

"It has been the position of this office with my predecessor and is now with me, that if you have a legislative body with a quorum discussing or doing the business under its control, then it is a public meeting and needs to be warned and minutes taken. It does not matter if its a work session or regular meeting."

Public officials and Town committee persons should take care to heed this warning (below). I had never thought of it before.

Whenever a quorum (a majority) of a public body meets to discuss the business of the board or to take action, the open meeting law will apply.
This means that if a majority of a board find themselves together at a social function they must take care not to discuss the business of the board!

August 5, 2011

Public Views Congress as Top Culprit in Debt Debate, Poll Finds -

While much of the media attaches the spending binge to our Presidents, Congress is the culprit. Under our Constitution, they have the responsibility to authorize spending. They have failed the country in their quest for power and reelection.
However, in the final analysis, we, the American people, have encouraged the deficit and debt binge by our entitlement mentality. It's beyond time for us to change the Washington dynamic by electing fiscal conservatives who will move the country to a sustainable future. Moreover, we must not allow the U.S. to slip into the socialist camp as Sen Sanders and too many others in Washington would lead us.
"A record 82 percent of Americans now disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job — the most since The Times first began asking the question in 1977, and even more than after another political stalemate led to a shutdown of the federal government in 1995."

August 2, 2011

Somalis Starve as Shabab Militants Bar Escape From Famine -

A horrendous tragedy spawned by drought and famine that is made so much worse by radical Islamists. These violent, ignorant, evil people will cause the death of many thousands that could otherwise be helped by foreign assistance.

"MOGADISHU, Somalia — The Shabab Islamist insurgent group, which controls much of southern Somalia, is blocking starving people from fleeing the country and setting up a cantonment camp where it is imprisoning displaced people who were trying to escape Shabab territory."