Friday, July 30, 2010

San Diego – October 20th – 25th, 2009

It was another beautiful day in San Diego when we flew in from dreary, rainy Atlanta! I read once that the weather-people in San Diego always have the highest percentage of accurate forecasts because it is just “one *&%$# beautiful day after another”! While we were there, the locals complained about how hot it was – 80’s in the day and 60’s at night with low humidity! Yeah, that’s hot all right! Just ask any of us from Texas, Arizona OR the South East! We did get a foggy morning or two, but that burned off by mid morning. It was really paradise-style weather!

The hotel where we stayed was The Hacienda in the beautiful Old Town district of San Diego. The hotel was charming with beautiful courtyards and incredibly maintained gardens and flowers. They also provided a free shuttle from the Airport, which was most appreciated! After we arrived and found our room, we joined the Reception planned by our gracious Reunion Hosts, Mike Hansen and Linda Kazarian. It was fun to reunite with those attending the reunion event and to enjoy the Mexican Cocktail Buffet. We were on a roof-top patio overlooking San Diego Bay and Point Loma, while being serenaded and treated to a vibrant sunset and the tiniest sliver of a new moon.

We got an early start on Monday and met our bus around 8:45. We took a tour of the “Island” of Coronado (actually a peninsula!), saw the house where the Wizard of Oz was written, and the unique architecture and tiny lots in Coronado. We were given free time at the beautiful, historic Coronado Hotel, where we accidentally received an insider’s tour of the ballroom from a lovely gentleman who had been working there for 25 years and, as he said, was still as charmed and excited about the Coronado (and particularly the Ballroom) as he had been 25 years ago. Just the week before we got there, Tony Curtis had been there with his daughter, Jaime Lee Curtis, to join in a huge celebration of the 50th Anniversary of “Some Like it Hot”. Apparently, it drew quite a crowd!

Many of us then perused the gift shops and strolled the beautiful beach. Leaving there, the bus gave us more of a tour of Coronado and the unique homes, driving back over the dramatic Coronado Bridge to San Diego. The bridge was not built in a straight line; it curves its way across the bay so that it became longer than 2 miles long, which made it eligible for Federal Funds. Guess things never change! Ronald Reagan was governor when it was built, and he and Nancy made the first “official” trip over the bridge. We continued on a driving tour of Balboa Park, The Gaslamp district and Little Italy on the way to Seaport Village.

We were given time at Seaport Village, a delightful collection of cute shops and restaurants on the bay. Lynn and Ben found a beautiful Murano Glass Sculpture (on driftwood) to give Mike and Linda in thanks for organizing this splendid event. It was presented to them at the Farewell Dinner on Thursday night and we all hope it will become an integral part of the new back garden they are currently building at their house!

Lunch was at Tom Ham’s Lighthouse Restaurant, overlooking the San Diego Bay. While we were enjoying the incredible weather and postcard perfect views from the restaurant, we got the news that Atlanta was flooding, and it was not too far from our house! It turned out that our house was fine, but there was a bit of worry at that time! After lunch, we drove through the former Naval Training Center, which has been converted quite beautifully for civilian use. It is considered a model of what can be done when bases are closed.

The day was completed with a Spanish Theme Dinner in a private dining room at the hotel. Many people wore Mexican attire and almost everyone won a door prize, even if it was only one of the table decorations! I, personally, brought home one of the piƱatas and presented it to Amelia, our granddaughter who is now 3 ½ ! As usual, the Hospitality Room set up by Linda and Mike was open before and after the dinner!

On Tuesday, our bus delivered us to tour an active duty Frigate, the USS Vandergrift. We were divided into groups of about 6 or 8 and assigned one of the personnel to give us the tour. We were guided by a young Ensign (my, my, they are getting younger all the time!) who gave a very informative and entertaining guided tour, including the mess for both officer and enlisted, the sleeping quarters, the command deck and communications room, among many other things. We all climbed those ladders between levels of the ship and most of us had sore arms the next day! I think many of the people in our group left feeling that they (or their spouses!) had all made a really good decision to go into the Air Force! Following the tour of the Frigate, we drove around many sites on the bay, including the Midway (a stationary, inactive ship that is available for group tours) and the statue of “The Kiss”, from the photo in Time Square taken at the end of World War II.

We then headed up to the north end of the Bay to an area called Shelter Island to have lunch at the Bali Hai. They had prepared a beautiful outdoor area for us to have lunch overlooking the gorgeous north end of the San Diego Harbor. The views were absolutely spectacular. It is there that we took the group photo. When we returned to the hotel after lunch, we had free time to explore on our own. There were so many options: Little Italy, Old Town, and more. Dinner was on our own, so Tom and I (with others!) headed to “Jack & Giulio’s”, an Italian restaurant in Old Town. Others took the trolley to Little Italy and got to practice their Italian! Of course, most everyone met back at the fantastic Hospitality Room set up by the Hansens to report on their individual adventures!

If it is Wednesday, it must be the San Diego Zoo – and it WAS! We had passes that included the bus tour as well as the tram. Some folks who did not want to do too much walking took the bus tour at least 2 times. Since they had different guides each time, they said it made for a great time. We went on the train and the tram and checked out the polar bears as well. For lunch, we chose Alfred’s Restaurant (one of the restaurants at the zoo), where we could sit and have lunch in the AC. Guess we have been converted to the West Coast mentality and now think that 85 degrees is HOT! Even with the heat, the zoo lived up to our expectations! It was a lovely day! We had free time in Old Town again that afternoon and dinner on our own. We strolled through Old Town and picked up exciting souvenirs like Mexican Jumping Beans and things like that. For dinner, the group again spread out all over town for many types of fare from Mexicana to Italian! Again, most gathered back at the Hospitality Room to compare notes!

Thursday dawned as another gorgeous day and we headed to La Jolla via the incredible Mt. Soledad, overlooking all of La Jolla and the surrounding area. It was like being on top of the world on a clear day, and we did feel like we could see forever! After spending a short time absorbing the views, we went to the San Diego Aquarium. The setting for the Aquarium is beyond comparison, peering out over the vast Pacific Ocean. Since it is attached to the Scripp’s Institute, it really is more of a teaching facility than a showy aquarium, but was a beautiful addition to our visit to San Diego … AND, Tom got a great T shirt on sale for $9!!

Next stop: La Jolla! Tom and I chose to go to George’s at the Cove for lunch to enjoy their outdoor views. Who cares what food they served?! After strolling around La Jolla, we all headed back to the hotel to get ready for the Farewell Dinner, which was superb! We cruised on a dinner ship around San Diego Bay in a lovely private dining room. A thick fog rolled in about half way through the dinner and added an element of mystery to the evening! Dinner was delicious and the company was delightful! It was a terrific finale to a spectacular event.

Thanks, again to Linda and Mike!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

My personal introduction to "bomb sites"

People in Aviano were SO helpful We had new friends helping us look for homes. We were all tired around 3 pm, so we stopped at a bar somewhere in Roveredo. It had been a trying day, so I asked for an “aqua minerale”. I had already learned to love the tiny bubbles of the Italian bubbly water! I also had to relieve myself, so I asked where the “toilettes” were. They directed me to a room in the back where many men were playing pool in a small room (certainly not with regulation pool table dimensions!).

When I arrived at the room, I again asked about where the “toilette” was. I am pretty sure that all I said was "Toilette?". It is, of course, a universal word! All the men moved aside so I could work my way around the table. They motioned to a wall on the far side of the room that had a series of louvered doors that were one step up from the main floor. Since I REALLY had to go, I smiled and followed their instructions. Point of interest: smiling goes a long way in making yourself understood in a new language!. One of the men opened a door to one of the closets in the middle of the room, so I accepted his invitation and stepped up into the room.

Once I was in the room, I found myself in what we learned to call a “bomb site”. NOW what do I do, I asked myself. Since the entire room around the pool table had gone silent, I decided that I would not give them the satisfaction of having me leave without doing my business. I had on slacks, so first I had to figure out where to put my pants. Hmmm. So I lowered my pants and squatted with my feet on the footprints on the “bomb site”. I am still not sure if I was facing “forwards” or “backwards”. I figured the tinkle would just go down into the bomb site and not get my pants wet. Everything went very smoothly and all the tinkle went where it was supposed to go. (We later learned to appreciate the bomb sites since you knew it was going to be sanitary. You would not be touching ANYthing!)

The room outside was still silent. Creepy. Louvered doors. They could hear everything! Imagine! I was beginning to feel this was a real “set up”. The next problem was how to flush this thing. I saw a chain on a water container near the ceiling. As I stood up, I pulled the chain near the ceiling to flush the bomb site. Before I chose to pull up my slacks, the water came into the “bomb site” toilet and over the top of the bomb site and got the bottom of my slacks VERY wet. The water continued flowing past the bomb site, under the door and into the pool room, getting the entire floor of the pool room wet. Now, I was SURE it had been a set up!

I later learned to not only pull my pants down, but to also roll my pants UP! Still, no sound was heard from the men in the pool room. There I was, with the bottom two-thirds of my slacks as wet as could be. I just pulled them up, buttoned up, took a deep breath and stood tall as I exited the bomb site closet and stepped down into the pool room. As I did so, one of the men held the door for me. The men in the pool room were still silent as they stepped aside while I moved around the pool table to leave the room.

When I returned to the bar, everyone asked what had happened to my pants. I refused to answer, but decided that a Vino Rosso was much more appropriate than Aqua Minerale for that moment.

Again, isn't Italy wonderful?

Learning about houses in Italy

During the first week in Italy, we got temporary transportation and began looking for housing. At first, new friends would go with us to help find homes and tell us more about the area. Before we had left for Italy, the Military had sent us an “introductory memo” of some kind that informed us that we needed to show up with at least $600 (or more!) in extra cash to purchase things like closets and storage cabinets (and that was a lot of money for a young lieutenant!). They weren’t kidding! The military was shipping all our furniture to Italy, but most Americans did not already own closets or kitchen cabinets!

The Italian houses (aka, villas, meaning detached homes) were quite different than our American homes. The first thing we had to do was to get acquainted with what to expect when looking at houses. The Italians bought houses with nothing except the bathrooms intact (which, BTW, were usually beautiful!). The kitchens had the plumbing sticking out of the walls, but they expected to purchase all their cabinets as well as their sink and faucets. As for the bedrooms, they were just empty rooms with no built-in closets. That was why we needed to bring money! If the Italian owners listed the house for rent on the base, they had to agree to install a sink and a faucet in the kitchen. Everything else was up to us.

The other real difference was what materials were used and what colors were on the outside. Where Americans might expect carpet or hardwood floors, the Italians used tiles. And I mean, they used tiles everywhere and they seldom matched from room to room. We had marble tile on the treads of the stairs, tile on the porch, different tiles in every room and tiles on the entire bathroom. The bathrooms were usually beautiful and had everything included, even a bidet. We used our bidet to bathe the girls in when they were little. Other friends of ours put a pretty fern or a decorative plant in theirs. After we had lived there a while, we learned to use the bidets as designed, but it took a while!

As for the outside colors, their idea of what made a beautiful home was also different from Americans, especially with the "newer" homes. Once we found our house and moved in, our landlord, for example, was still painting the exterior of the home. He painted the front of the house a lovely moss green, and the side of the home a cream color. Then he started painting the wrought iron railings on the porch. He started painting the outside railings black. That seemed nice, even though we had two colors on the outside of the house. Then he returned and started painting part of the decorative parts of the railings in white. He later came back and painted the other decorative parts blue.

As he was painting the last of the railings, he asked me if I liked it. I was a bit flustered on how to answer and not upset him. I told him that in America, we did not use as many colors. He asked what I thought. I told him it seemed a bit like a "carnivale" to me (Remember, my language skills were still VERY limited!). He laughed. He told me that the various colors showed that the owner had really cared about what colors went on the house and was a sign of "prestige". Remember, we were living in a small village next to the mountains. I feel certain that the people in Milan or Rome may not have felt the same way.

The Italian homes also usually had "persianas" or "rolladens" (built-in moving exterior shutters that went up and down; forgive me for probably not spelling those names correctly; one name is supposedly Italian and the other is supposedly German... we were in the Alpine area of Italy where both languages often merged). The shutters were great for hail storms, but did nothing to keep out bugs during the summer months. The homes did not include screens. As a result, many of us Americans went to the base woodwork shop and made screens that we could pressure into the marble frames of the windows outside the persianas. Our landlord thought they were absolutely unnecessary and laughed about them.

About 30 years later, we visited the home when we returned to Italy on a "Reunion Trip" with the Aviano Reunion Association. The landlord has since passed away, but his son (who was about my girls' age) was now living there with his wife and two girls. As we were talking with them, I noticed that the screens were still there, but now painted and well tended! The wife commented on how wonderful they were and that the children did not get bug bites. I told her (quite proudly) that we made them! It was a really fun moment. She had really thought they were marvelous.

As an example of how all this affected our looking for houses, I offer this funny experience. One day, Tom and I were out by ourselves looking for a home in a borrowed car. Our babies were being looked after by a lovely American family with five children, the Girards. We had heard about an interesting home somewhere near Porcia that was available for rent. The “padrone” (landlord) was not “registered” with the base, so there were NO cabinets anywhere. I had my handy-dandy dictionary with me and we pantomimed most all of the conversation. Things like “Is this the ‘camera’?” (which means bedroom OR room) and he kept saying “si”. Yep, they were all “rooms”! All rooms were basically vacant and the whole house (including the garage) had beautifully tiled floors. The man was very nice, but we could tell the house would never work for us.

As we were trying to back up after saying “Grazie” and “Buona Sera” and “Ciao” many times, we had trouble figuring out how to put the car in reverse. As we were finally backing up, the man kept waving “ciao” (with his hands waving in a way that looked to us like “come here”). “On, no!”, we said to each other. “He wants us to come back!” We kept smiling though our teeth, but made a special effort to get the car back into “forward”. As we did so, you could see him waving almost frantically for us to ignore what he had “waved”! He started waving “NOOOOO”. I am sure he was more delighted than we were as we continued on our way.

Isn't Italy wonderful??!!

First morning in Italy

I woke up the next morning feeling much more confident since my sickness had gone away. Since Tom had gone to work again, I was left there without transportation and with two little babies. No TV, no radio, no telephone. It was like stepping back in time. Cell phones were not invented yet, and I think back and wonder how we did without them!

I decided to go down to the bar and get coffee and some kind of coffee cake. That sounded easy. So once the girls were sleeping, I went downstairs and saw an older man at the bar. Later I would learn that he was the father of the owner. I thought “I can do this. I took Spanish in high school. Italian can't be that different than Spanish.”

I asked the man for “caffe” and he seemed to understand, so he made me a cup of coffee. I LOVE cold milk in the morning, so I also asked him for “latte”, and that worked too. Then he asked me if I wanted my “latte” caldo or freddo. I thought a second and decided that “caldo” sounded more like cold, so I asked for it “caldo”. He smiled and did that for me. Then I asked for something to eat (probably in sign language) and he gave me something that was in a plastic covering. I think I was expecting some kind of Sara Lee cake. It looked decent, so I smiled again and added it to my tray that held my exciting first breakfast in Italy. Money never came up (thank goodness) so I took my trey and went back up to see about the girls and have my breakfast.

Well, as I am sure you can imagine, things were not going to meet my expectations. First, I took a taste of the coffee. He had made me a beautiful cup of expresso that I did NOT appreciate. The milk was hot… again, not to my expectations. And, finally, the pastry in the plastic container was absolutely dry and uninteresting. At that point, both girls started bawling, and I just sat there and joined them! Amidst all our tears, an angel named Nancy Beckwith showed up with American towels, soft American TP and I don’t even remember what else. She packed me and the girls up and took us down to the base and drove me places I don’t even remember!

We lived in Italy for over four years and learned to love Italy and all the nuances that made it special for our family, but it humors me to remember our experiences as we became enculturated.

Arriving in Italy from California with twin babies

My husband, Tom, and I had twin girls in November of 1972 and we left California for Italy in February, 1973. The logistics of maneuvering twin babies across the country was interesting in itself. A friend who had been a stewardess/flight attendant (Nancy Glaser) had given us “airline carrier infant beds” (basically two long, shallow banker-boxes into which we put a bassinette mattress).

Sometimes we put the girls in little plastic “seats” that were used in the car or on a table. Today we would be arrested for child abuse! We spent a month driving between California and New York before leaving for Italy. We visited many friends across the country, and then shipped our car from Bayonne, New Jersey and left for Italy from New York City.

We flew into Milan on a plane that was not full at all and they let us put those “airline beds” on the plane’s floor and let Tom and I both have three seats each to lay down and sleep. As a result, the flight across the pond was quite uneventful. Then we landed in Milan where we changed planes to go to Venice.

This was our first experience on how “gemelli” (twins) were going to get special attention in Italy. As we changed planes, we saw many policemen (who we learned were Carabinieri). They were quite intimidating since we had never seen armed policemen with huge guns strapped across their bodies in the United States! When we put the girls down in those little plastic seats, those policemen came over and with those big guns on their bodies, just leaned down and picked up each girl and babbled something that was probably “Que bella! Gemelli! Bravo!” We had NO idea what any of that meant but we were certain that we were not going to argue with them!

The policemen showed the girls off to other police-friends, and then gently put them back into their seats as their guns fell onto the girls and then patted us on the back, continuing to say “Bravo!”. We smiled and then kept walking to get on the plane to Venice. So much for keeping people from picking up the kids so they would not get colds!

The plane to Venice was a small plane and a very short flight. The airport was VERY tiny at the time and I remember changing the girls’ diapers on a baggage conveyor belt in a covered, outdoor area. We were met by Bob Burnett (another officer in Tom unit, the 2187th Communications Squadron), who piled all of us into his car (with our baggage) and we headed to Aviano! He took us to the Hotel Royal. It was a brand NEW hotel between Aviano and Giais, up against the mountain. They took us to a nice, clean, simple room that had a balcony and overlooked the valley. They had put a crib in the room and we actually had a private bathroom. I put both kids in the one crib and separated them with towels. Then, amazingly, they told Tom that he had to go to work! WHAT??!! Oh, well. Guess we had to go with the flow.

Tom left me alone with the girls. I don’t even remember dinner that night (I think we ate at the hotel), but I was pretty sure I was getting sick. I ended up at the “hospital” (actually a 10 bed mini-hospital/clinic). I told the emergency room tech that I was really sick. He asked how long I had been in Italy and I told him I had been there less than 24 hours. He told me that I had “it”. I quickly informed him that what I had was NOT “it” and that my sickness was special and that I was probably dying. He told me I was wrong and that I would be better in approximately 24 hours. Damned if I was not better in almost exactly 24 hours. Go figure.