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It’s been a very long time since I’ve written a post on this blog. One of the things I discovered over the past two years is that, the longer you wait, the harder it is to write a post. Every time I thought about posting, I found another reason not to. And, the more this happened, the more hesitant I became about posting. I got into a cycle of guilt about not posting that became stronger the more time that went by.

I also realized that blogging is not my favorite form of social media. Neither is Facebook. Instead, I’ve come to prefer Instagram, and I have been posting regularly there for some months. I love the visual nature of Instagram and the ease of being able to upload pictures without having to spend a lot of time editing them. I also like the fact that you can post pictures without needing to add a lot of words.

Therefore, I invite my blog readers to follow me on Instagram if you want. You can find me there at https://www.instagram.com/diane.franklin/. Meanwhile, for those who enjoyed my previous blog posts, thank you for reading them. I hope they were interesting and inspiring.

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As a lifelong New Englander, I ought be used to snow. Snow is a fact of life here, an unwelcome guest every winter. When I was a child, snow was magic. When I was a young mother, snow was an occasion to send my child outside and delight in his reaction as he found many ways to play with it. But now, snow has become a hindrance to life, a hassle, a threat to health, especially when we just received 76 inches of the stuff with more on the way.

I just went outside to clear out my car (having no driveway, we park on the street) which was yet again hemmed in by the plows and covered with at least a foot of snow. Unlike in previous storms, removing the snow was almost impossible because of the height of the snow piles in the yard. I literally couldn’t throw the stuff high enough to keep it from sliding down again back onto the sidewalk. Fortunately, a neighbor with a snow blower came over and told me to push the snow down from the car onto the street and sidewalk. He then used the blower to throw it on top of the piles.

Snow-Piles-1-

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Across the street, other neighbors had snow piles up almost to the top of their porch.

 

View-from-Window

 

 

 

 

Snow-Piles-2

 

All of this snow got me thinking about the things we take for granted in everyday life. Most of the year, if we’re in good health and live in a developed country, we don’t have to think about our ability to move around in the world. We don’t have to plan in advance if we want to leave the house or make an every day excursion. If we live in a city, we don’t have to think about the ability to drive on the roads or take public transportation, assuming instead that the roads will be plowed in the winter, the potholes fixed in the summer, and the trains and buses will be running. Only when all public transportation is shut down, as it is today in Boston, or when the governor issues a driving ban do we realize that the freedom of movement we take for granted is not necessarily always there.

All of this snow, and the temporary inconveniences it has caused me, got me thinking about what it’s like to live in a war zone, where excursions outside have to be carefully timed and are often taken with a risk to one’s life. I recently watched a film, Zatoun, set in Beirut in 1982. In it, there were many scenes of people trying to go about their everyday lives despite rocket attacks and internecine fighting among the city’s militias. I also read a story from my local NPR station, A Blizzard in Perspective, about a young mother who works in the food service industry. Unlike many middle class people who can work from home, she has to go to work every day no matter what the weather, taking multiple buses in order to drop off her three-year old with her mother before setting off for her job. Then she has to repeat the process in reverse, sometimes not getting home until 1 a.m. Both this film and the news story made me realize how lucky I am, despite 76 inches of snow, to live in a warm house, have good neighbors and the resources to pay someone else to shovel if the snow gets too much, and a life that allows for many choices. So, I guess it was good that we got enough snow to slow life down and allow some time for reflection and perspective.

From Rome, we took the train to Venice. It was a pretty trip, particularly through the Tuscan countryside. though nothing like the spectacular train journeys we would take later in the trip.

Right before arriving in Venice, the train stopped at Maestre, an ugly industrial suburb outside Venice proper. Then it rolled over a quay, pulling into Santa Lucia station. The station was like any small train station, and I had no idea what to expect next. But when I stepped outside the station, this is what I saw.

Venie-from-Train-Station

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I realized at that point that every cliche I had heard about Venice was true. It was certainly unlike any place I’d ever been before, and throughout the days I was there, I continued to be astounded by the beauty of the city. That beauty was evident everywhere, in the buildings, the sculpture, the canals with their ever changing reflections, and even a worn brick wall that had weathered to improbable colors.

Venice-Reflections

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brick-Wall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the interesting aspects of Venice was that it could be quite quiet and peaceful despite its hordes of tourists. As soon as you stepped away from the main tourist areas and started to walk the back streets, the feel of the city changed. It became easy to imagine the Venice of another time in those quiet streets.

We stayed in Giudecca, south of the main neighborhoods of the city. From the fondamente (the small path alongside the water), you could see Dorsoduro and St. Marco, areas crowded day and night. Giudecca, however, felt like an ordinary neighborhood, filled with small apartment blocks and lines of washing hanging out to dry. At night, walking along the back lanes to our B&B, we rarely saw anyone. We later discovered that Guidecca was home to a luxury Hilton and a small showroom selling beautiful home decorating fabrics made from original Fortuny designs.

On one of our days in Venice, we decided to visit Burano and Murano, two islands not too far from the main part of Venice. Once a fishing village and a place where women made handmade lace, Burano now feels a bit like a recreated village whose raison d’etre is tourism. Still, despite the fact that the food was bad and the lace on offer in the many stores is made in China, Burano was very pretty. Its distinguishing features include brightly colored houses and charming little canals. It also has a leaning tower similar to that in Pisa, though smaller.

Bike-in-Burano

 

 

 

 

 

 

Burano-Tower

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Murano is famous for its glass. Glass has been made on the island since the 13th century when glass making was moved from Venice to Murano because it posed a fire hazard to Venice’s wooden buildings. Although some Murano glass is now imported from China or made for a mass market trade, the island still contains some working factories as well as many glass showrooms selling beautiful pieces along with lots of kitsch.

As I peered into the open doors of one of the factories, a worker hammed it up for me as I took his photograph.

Glass-Factory-Murona

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A brief walk through some back streets of Murano yielded a very modern sculpture, quite different from the more sedate sculptures seen in Venice proper.

Modern-Sculpture-Murano

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two other places stood out for me in Venice. One was the Peggy Guggenheim Museum, and the other was the Jewish Ghetto. The Guggheim Museum sported a wonderful collection of contemporary art, including works by Picasso, Dali, Klee, Rothko and Moore, among many others. The collection is housed in Guggenheim’s former palazzo, located on the Grand Canal. It is very varied and consists of both sculpture and paintings. The art works are thoughtfully presented and not crowded together, allowing visitors to savor each piece. The buildings comprising the museum are quite beautiful, increasing the pleasure of the viewing experience.

Visitor-Looking-at-Sculptures

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the canal entrance is a wonderful statue by Marino Marini, aptly called The Angel of the City. The “angel” looks upon the canal in exuberant joy.

Statue-in-Front-of-Guggenheim

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The museum also contains a restful courtyard and some amazing views across the Grand Canal. Below are some pictures taken through a decorative scrollwork window covering.

View-from-Guggenheim-through-Scrolls

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Close-Up-View-through-Scroll

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Venice’s Jewish Ghetto has a long history and some powerful, though disturbing art. From the 16th to 18th centuries, Venetian Jews were forced to live in the ghetto, once the site of a foundry. (The word “ghetto” originated from the Italian spelling of “gheto”, the Venetian word for foundry.) Shakespeare made this neighborhood famous through his references to it in The Merchant of Venice.

Unlike in the rest of the Venice, the buildings in this area are very tall, some  7 floors high. The height of these buildings resulted from so many people being forced to live in such a small area. Several synagogues were housed in the top floors of some of these buildings.

Tall-Buildings-in-Ghetto

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While not outwardly different from the rest of the city, the area’s main piazza contains remnants of the area’s history. Surrounding the Casa di Riposo Israelitica, the site from which Venice’s remaining 250 Jews were deported during the Holocaust, are memorials commemorating the fate of Venice’s Jews. The bronze sculpture panels designed by Arbit Blatas, a Lithuanian-born sculptor and painter, depict the brutality of the Nazis against the Jews.

Memorial-Plaque

 

 

 

 

 

Arbit-Blatas-1

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arbit-Blatas-2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today the Ghetto area is just an ordinary neighborhood in Venice filled with people enjoying the day. It still remains as a center of Venetian Jewish life and is also visited by many tourists interested in its history.

Child-in-Jewish-Ghetto

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first destination on our trip was Rome. I wasn’t sure what to expect especially because several friends had described Rome as one of their favorite cities. It wasn’t mine.

Instead, I found Rome to be confusing and chaotic.  I  felt overwhelmed by the sheer number of museums and sights and found it hard to decide what to see in the 3 days we had in the city.

Busy-Roman-Street

Busy Roman Street

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Despite that initial reaction, there were many things I found intriguing about Rome, and in the end, I was glad that I had gone. As in most of the other places I visited, I liked the conviviality and sense of community that was evident everywhere. It wasn’t unusual to be in a small restaurant or cafe and have a person pop in to have a conversation with someone working in the restaurant. It was also a common sight to see people hanging out in cafes and bars, enjoying the company of their friends. This was particularly true of elderly residents who seemed to spend hours in their favorite cafe.

The neighborhood we stayed in, Trastevere, had once been a working class section of Rome. Now it was full of little trattorias and and nightlife destinations. The area was very charming, and our apartment  looked out onto a small cobblestone street. Trastevere was also close to the Tiber river, a very beautiful destination especially at night.

View-from-Window-Trastevere

View from Window Trastevere

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another interesting aspect of  Rome was  that on almost every corner, there was something of artistic or historical interest. One day, after walking through the old Jewish ghetto areas, we came upon what I believe are the ruins of the Teatro di Marcello, originally planned by Julius Caesar around 12 BC. On top of the ruins, a palace was built in the 16th century. As I photographed these ruins, two women came along with their shopping bags, not paying any attention to what was clearly a commonplace sight for them.

Ruins-2-Rome

Ruins Teatro di Marcello

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ruins-Rome

Ruins Teatro di Marcello

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On another day, we visited a food market in Testaccio, once the meat packing district of Rome. The market itself was not very exciting compared to some of the markets we later visited in other cities. It was set inside a modern building on a small side street. But on the walk to the market, we passed many small shops selling interesting food and household items. Testaccio, a pleasant neighborhood, has now become somewhat trendy. Several of the well known restaurants serve varieties of offal, in accordance with the neighborhood tradition of butchers bringing home whatever was left at the end of the day. Testaccio also houses a foodie delicatessen, Gastronomia Volpetti. We bought sandwiches there, and the man behind the counter separately weighed every item that went into the sandwich including the bread and the roasted peppers.

One of the historical sights in Testaccio is the Pyramid of Cestius, dating from 12BC. It now situated alongside a busy street and would look completely out of place in this modern context if you weren’t in Rome!

Pyramid-of-Cestius

Pyramid of Cestius

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just past the Pyramid is a metro station from which you can catch a public bus to the Appian Way. Having read about the Appian Way as the first road on which Roman troops began their marches outside the city, I had no idea what it would look like in its modern incarnation.

View-Along-Appian-Way

View Along Appian Way

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The road is cobblestoned and very narrow and is bordered by high stone walls. The bus that travels the Appian Way lets people off at several catacomb stops along the road. It’s possible to tour those catacombs. There is also a beautiful pedestrian path parallel to the Appian Way which we walked along for some distance before catching another city bus back to the Metro station.

On our last day in Rome, we visited the Vatican Museum. We were lucky to be able to do so on a Friday evening when the museum was much less crowded than during the day. It is hard to describe the treasures found in this museum. In every room, there was something of interest, though after awhile, it became hard to take in the innumerable sights because there were so many.

Statue-in-Vatican-Museum

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ceiling-In-Vatican-Museum

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The walk through the museum follows a specific path, from which you cannot deviate, winding in and out of many rooms, and up and down lots and lots of stairs. It culminates in the Sistine Chapel. My favorite images in the museum were in one of the galleries near the end of the tour. I liked their sense of whimsey and lightheartedness which was a change from some of more serious art depicted elsewhere.

Whimsical-Image-1-Vatican

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whimsical-Image-2-Vatican

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The museum also houses a section of contemporary art, including a piece by the Ghanian artist El Anatsui.

El-Anatsui-Vatican-Museum

El Anatsui Piece in Vatican Museum

 

I’ve not posted during the past few weeks because I have been traveling in Europe. My husband and I visited 3 places in Italy, 3 in Croatia, and 1 in Slovenia. These three countries are actually quite close together, and because of their complicated histories, each contains diverse cultural influences that makes them fascinating alone and together. I was so entranced by what I saw that I took over 700 photographs.

One of the pleasures of traveling is gaining new perspectives, which I did on this trip. Several things particularly interested me.

First, I was fascinated to see how people lived in each of the places I visited. Because we used airbnb to find accommodations, in each destination I had a chance to stay in an apartment or room in a neighborhood rather than in an impersonal hotel room in the tourist part of town.

Terrace-in-Rovinj

Terrace on Our Apartment, Rovinj, Croatia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This allowed me to shop for food at local markets, see how trash was recycled, and get a sense of everyday events. Though one can glimpse only a tiny bit of local life in a few days, it still is possible to get some sense of daily existence and compare that with how we live at home. What struck me most, in every place I visited, was the conviviality. During the entire trip, I never once saw anyone hunched over a laptop in a cafe or texting on a cell phone while sitting with a group of friends. Instead, I saw people talking and laughing while drinking coffee or beer, activities that were extremely common in the destinations we visited. In every place, the cafe culture was strong, and somehow–despite working or going to school–people seemed to have time to sit and talk.

Second, I was struck by the beauty I saw everywhere. This was manifested in the wide variety of public art in most of the places I visited, or the natural beauty in other places. It was also reflected in small touches, such as the napkin under the coffee cup and the little decorated tube of sugar served with the coffee, or the garnishes on a bowl of soup even in an inexpensive restaurant. I was also astounded by the cleanliness of  restaurants and bathrooms, especially in Croatia and Slovenia.

Soup

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was also fascinated by the friendliness and helpfulness of the people I encountered. A server in a restaurant walked half a block with me to show me the way to the bus; a woman who worked in the little market near one of our accommodations explained how to make the local soup and translated my questions to her colleagues who didn’t speak English as well as she did. Our airbnb hosts helped us with directions, maps, and buying tickets. Our host in Zagreb had looked at our websites and blogs and spent an hour talking with us about local politics and his own life. When we left, he presented me with a wrapped bar of local chocolate.

I know it’s easy to romanticize new places when traveling or to find people friendly because you are more friendly yourself. Also, the process of traveling is itself a suspension of responsibilities and the duties of daily life which makes one more open to new experiences. Still, having traveled quite a bit in my lifetime, I think there are cultural and visual differences in every locale that are very striking, and these are worth noting and savoring as one of the joys of travel.

Over the next couple of weeks, I will post about several of the places I visited, focusing particularly on the art on view in each of them. The entire trip was a visual feast, and I have many images to share.

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