Retired (In pensione)

Officially, I retired on April 27, but those of you who have worked as teachers will understand that the word “retirement,” like the phrase “work-week,” needs to be understood loosely in the teaching profession.  Yes, classes ended on April 26, but the grading of finals did not, nor did work-related email exchanges.  I’m still working on letters of recommendation students have asked me to write.   There is a sense in which I’m not sure that I’ll ever be completely retired.  Still, I am getting used to this retirement thing, such as it is.

At the final gathering of students prior to the end of the program, the Study Abroad program hosted a raucous karaoke bash at a bar in Florence near the Piazza della Signoria.  Underage drinking was involved, although only according to U.S. reckoning.  Over the course of the semester the students became very sophisticated culturally.  Accordingly, they introduced Lois to a drink called “Irish Car Bomb.”  I’m fairly sure they don’t call it this in the UK or Ireland, but it consists of a shot of half Bailey’s Irish Cream and half Irish whiskey dropped into a pint of Guinness – a real Italian cultural experience.  Lois received kudos all around for being able to down it in fairly short order while remaining conscious.

Florentine Idol

The organization that handles all of the students’ travel and housing, arranges cultural activities for students, supports the Study Abroad faculty, handles any emergencies and advises students about travel and Italian culture is the American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS).  Naturally it is staffed in Florence mainly by folks from the UK, although there is a token American and Italian. All of them are fluent in Italian.  The Florence team is headed up by Ged McAteer, who has a degree in engineering from the UK, further proof that even engineers are occasionally able to find jobs.  Ged and the entire AIFS team are just wonderful, and this is universally agreed upon by students and faculty.  Ged organized the going-away party and was an enthusiastic participant in the karaoke fest, belting out a number that had no discernible melody, but was delivered with a passion that precisely captures the attitude of Ged and the rest of the AIFS staff toward their work –

“But I would walk 500 miles
And I would walk 500 more
Just to be that man who walked a thousand miles to fall down at your door”

Ged sings “I would walk 500 miles,” while coeds swoon.

At the going-away party Lois surprised me with the very sweet tribute that she mentioned in her “Il Giorgio” post.   What she didn’t mention was that her husband and several of the students were in tears as she was speaking.  How she managed to accomplish this in the midst of loud and frenzied singing and dancing at a Florentine bar is a mystery to me.  The downside of this retirement thing is that I am already missing these students and my colleagues and friends at AIFS.

The upside is that I don’t have to work   🙂

After the students left for home and after AIFS moved out of the Study Abroad classroom in the Piazza della Repubblica in the center of Florence, the weather suddenly turned beautiful.  Lois and I lingered in Florence for a few days, saying arrivederci to the local shopkeepers we’ve gotten to know, walking along the Arno, and enjoying one last dinner at Il Profeta, our favorite restaurant in all of Italia – just across the street from our apartment.

Hottie by the Arno, the Oltrarno side.

We took advantage of the weather to take the short bus trip to Fiesole, a small hill town overlooking Florence.


Fiesole is a much more ancient town than Florence, well known for its Etruscan and Roman ruins.  We had an outdoor lunch, visited the archaeological site and museums,

Archaeology babe at Fiesole ruin.

and (naturally) stopped to sample some Fiesole gelato.

Gelato connoisseur conducts a visual examination in Fiesole

The next day we said our farewells to Firenze and boarded a plane for Luton Airport north of London.  We stayed with our good friends Pat and Paul at their beautiful home in the town of Hoddeston, which apparently is well accustomed to retired folks.  I think I was able to fit right into the community.

A cave, a mansion, and lots of little lambs

Whether you call it hiking, trekking, tramping, hill walking, trail walking, or fell walking, it sure feels good to get out and do it. We visited the Peak District National Park today, a surprising 30 miles from our place here in Derby. SO gorgeous.

Love our little orange Ford Fiesta.

After taking a couple of wrong turnings, we ended up over in the Staffordshire Moorlands which are so lovely. (Big, big kudos to George for driving on the wrong side of the road and the wrong side of the car to get us there! Go George!)

After arriving, we stopped in and had tea to fortify ourselves and set out on the trail. We just couldn’t resist these little contraptions they have in England that keep the sheep where they belong, but allow (invite, even) hikers to climb the fence and tramp through the pasture. There’s even a tiny sign that says “Public Trail.”

Aren’t these clever? We’ve seen them all over the Midlands area.

After crossing the field to get a look at the river, I stepped right smack in… no, not sheep dip… about 5 inches of water. My shoes and socks got soaked, but it was worth it because I got to climb over a fence that, in America, would likely get me shot for climbing over it. We were surprised to see tiny little lambs (maybe a month old?) in the fields with their mamas. I think of February as lambing time, but it is much farther north here, so perhaps they come later at this latitude. I couldn’t stop taking pictures of lambs.

We made our way over to another trail that led straight up the hill to Thor’s Cave. This is one big cave, with a spectacular view. The opening is 30 feet high and about 20 feet across.

Thor’s cave from a distance

Thor’s cave, getting closer.

The locals say the name may come from the Old Welsh word “tor” meaning hill, but most say it comes from the loud noises that early settlers heard emanating from the cave, which led them to name it after the norse god Thor, with all his thunder and lightening.

Thor’s cave, from the inside looking out.

We then made our way over to a little town called Bakewell, that boasts two beautiful mansions nearby – Haddon Hall and Chatsworth House. Both have been featured in movies you’ve heard of: Haddon Hall was in Princess Bride and Chatsworth House was used in Pride and Prejudice (the Kiera Knightley version.) We parked the what we thought was the car park for Chatsworth House, got directions, headed out and found that it was about a mile and a half walk away. Fortunately, the walk was in a gorgeous park with lots of sheep and lambs and big beautiful trees and a river running through it. The house wasn’t open for tours, but it was pretty amazing just from the outside.

Lovely river along our walk

Beautiful bridge near Chatsworth House

Chatsworth House, Peak District National Park

Approaching Chatsworth House

By the time we made it back to our car, it was 7 pm and we were famished, so we went out to Felicini’s for Italian food. (You’d think we’d be sick of it by now, but no.) The restaurant had a moat around it (!), and the food and wine were absolutely scrumptious. It was a fantastic day and we are already planning to head back to the Peak District as soon as we get the chance.

Here are lots more photos from our day out in the Peak District National Park

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The quick and dirty

No, we haven’t fallen off the edge of the earth. For about two weeks there, I was writing nearly every day and then all of a sudden I just stopped. This isn’t because I wasn’t thinking about all of you. I was. Often. It’s because things got really busy, and then I got behind, and then I started to feel guilty, and then I started avoiding my computer altogether. It is time to get back on track.

Here are the highlights of what have happened in the last month. Each of these deserve their own post, and I may or may not get to writing them all, but I am including one image from each of these highlights, because, well… you deserve it.

April 10th – 17th: The California Redwood Chorale came to Verona for an international chorale festival and competition. I met them at the airport, we all transferred over to our gorgeous digs in the little town of Bardolino on the shores of Lake Garda. Singing ensued. Laughter ensued. WAY too much food ensued. We saw the sites in Verona and Venice. On the 15th we all transferred to Florence where we continued to eat and sing and see the sites. More detail on our exploits in another post.

CRC signing at Santa Maria dei Ricci church in Florence. I am way on the left of this photo at the piano.

April 19 – 21: We went to Turin with one of George’s colleagues (Diana) for the weekend. What a fabulous city! We loved it. We stayed with some friends of Diana’s there, and they showed us around their city. We spoke a lot of Italian and ate a lot of asparagus and took a lot of pictures.

A beautiful meal in a beautiful setting next to the Po River. From right to left: Diana Bennet (George’s colleague), Gabriele (the son), Fabrizio (the papa), Marco (a friend of Gabriele), and me.

April 24th: Student going away party, marking nearly the end of the semester. The students celebrated their time in Florence, the friendships and memories they had made, and mourned their impending departure. I made a speech about George’s retirement, which I posted for you all to read.

Colin and Drew singing karaoke with all their hearts!

April 27th: George’s first official day of retirement. Students left Florence. George and I had a few days to say good bye to the people in our neighborhood and to squeeze in a few more sights.

With our friends Vincenzo and Dejan at one of our favorite restaurants in Florence: Da i’Boia

May 1st: We flew to London to visit our friends Pat and Paul Hunt and their two lovely children. We stayed for 5 days, had a blast, did some really great stuff that I’ll tell you about in another post, and headed for London

Pat, Paul, and Ethan on the iron horse in the town of Ware.

Lois and Ellis on the seesaw.

May 6th: Two days in London of sightseeing. We fit in quite a bit for such a short time there.

Oxford Street all dressed up in her finery for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee coming up in June.

May 8th: Arrived in Derby, very nearly the center of England. We are doing our part of a home exchange here for 3 weeks.

Our lovely 4 bedroom manor house in the English countryside. Yippee for home exchanges!

May 9th: Came down with nasty, rotten colds. BOO! Slept a lot. Got out for a few walks to see the local area. A little.

Fields of rape (a relative of mustard) on our most ambitious walk in the English countryside so far.

Today! May 16th: Feeling better (though not all the way). Got a car and are poised to go see more of the English and Welsh countrysides!

Ok. That’s the quick and dirty. Guilt assuaged. Maybe now I can get back to “word of the day.”


Well, I’ve gotten behind, way behind, on my blog posts.  Once the semester in Florence actually began, I knew I’d be neglecting cyber-space in favor of the three-dimensional spaces of Florence and the classroom.  I did make one attempt at blogging after Easter, but the Blog-gods must have been offended by my post, and my comments disappeared in the cyber-ether as I attempted to post them.

Anyway, I have catching up to do.  Currently we are on a four-hour bus trip from London to Derby in the center of England, and the weather here has brought back fond memories of our frigid February in Florence.  As part of its mission of deepening the cultural experience of our American students in Florence, the Study Abroad Program introduces them to the  national sport of Italy – calcio (“soccer” as Americans, and only Americans, call it).  The Florentine calcio team is called Fiorentina, and students and faculty were able to purchase tickets to games held in the Florence Stadium through the Study Abroad program at a substantial discount.  Incentives were necessary because the temperatures were expected plunge way below freezing.  The soccer stadium is on the outskirts of Florence, and the walk across town to the soccer stadium took Lois and me close to 45 minutes.

We all attempted to dress for the occasion.  The Fiorentina color is purple, and students and faculty were advised to display Fiorentina colors during the game or risk being subject to an inquisition on the grounds of disloyalty to the faith.   Lois and, as it turned out, many of our American students, have an impeccable fashion sense, but even they couldn’t pull it off the way the Florentines do.

Hooyah, dahling!

Still I don’t want to give the wrong impression.  A Florentine calcio match is not an evening at La Scala.  It actually gave me the same sort of feeling I’d have if I’d attended a tractor pull in February at Soldier Field in Chicago.  Fashion sense notwithstanding, the fans made me uneasy.  I was in the midst of a study abroad group consisting of approximately 50 American co-eds from 18 to 21 years age, and the Italian men in our section of the stadium were certainly not paying a great deal of attention to the game.

In a soccer match Lois and I had attended in Florence three years earlier the Fiorentina fans seemed to have much more interest in taunting the opposing fans than in watching the match.  This is where we learned many of the words they generally leave out of college courses in the Italian language.  The opposing team’s fans are caged off for their own protection in a segment of the stadium that is surrounded by a 15-foot high chain-link fence, which only the sober could possibly scale, and they’re given a police escort out of the stadium at the end of the match.  It’s the sort of thing you’d wish they’d do at Dodger Stadium.

For today’s game, however, there were no opposing fans.  The opponent of Fiorentina was Udinese.  No fan from Udine, a somewhat obscure Italian town near the Slovenian border, is going to travel to Florence in bitter cold temperatures for the privilege of watching his/her team lose whilst being verbally and perhaps physically abused by a mob of salivating septuagenerians wearing furs and purple scarves.

Since the wind chill factor was expected to drive temperatures to minus 12 degrees Centigrade, all of the fans were crammed into the “warmer” end of the stadium so that the stadium appeared to list to the northeast.  Remarkably the players still appeared on the field in shorts and seemed reasonably cheerful, as did the Italian fans from Florence, who stood and sang together for much of the first half.  The study abroad students were doing their best to fit in.  They came out cheering the home team and chanting “Forza Fiorentina!”

By the end of the first half, although Fiorentina was dominating the game, the score was tied (it’s always tied…. it’s soccer!).  The Florentines in the stands were still optimistic and chipper; they were drinking a lot of Peroni.   However, the American students were beginning to look hum-down and funky.  They were huddled together attempting to wiggle their fingers and toes, some running up and down the stadium steps in vain attempts to de-ice the remaining fluid in their extremities.  It was about 10 minutes into the second half when Fiorentina went ahead by one goal.  Lois could no longer feel either of her feet.   We sneaked silently out of the stadium and limped toward a nearby café/bar to get warm.  It was teeming with study abroad students gone AWOL from the game.   The Italians were steadfast.  They remained in the stands, their voices swelling and falling in song and letting out a giant roar, which we could hear from the bar, as Fiorentina scored its third goal.

There is something raw and visceral about attending a professional calcio contest in Florence.  You wouldn’t dream of taking your kids there.  The reader may wonder why the opposing fans in Florence, one of the world’s bastions of high culture, would have to be caged in order to avoid being attacked by Florentine women in fur coats.   Well, there are historical reasons for this.  What is now called calcio originated in Florence in 1530 in a Renaissance sport that is now called calcio storico (historical soccer).   To commemorate its glorious past, Florence puts on a yearly calcio storico tournament in the Piazza of the basilica of Santa Croce.   The match to determine the champion is preceded by a ceremony of great pomp and pageantry complete with parades, a medieval drum corps, costumed flag throwers, and speeches by dignitaries in formal renaissance attire.

After the pageantry is over, teams of 27 burly brutes representing two of the four districts of Florence square off against each other in the Piazza, wearing renaissance bloomers.  They begin the match wearing shirts, which have mostly been torn to pieces by their opponents a few minutes into the contest.  No head gear, shoulder pads or protective equipment of any kind is worn by the competitors.  The final match takes place on June 24, the festival day for St. John the Baptist, who famously died by decapitation.  That theme is honored by the competitors who begin the game by trying to take each others’ heads off in a great fist-fighting, wrestling, kicking and street-fighting extravaganza until the opponents are incapacitated enough so that a goal can be scored.  Huzzahh!

A photo of the brawl/game.

Another snapshot of the fun

The winning team is awarded a gargantuan chianina ox – to eat!   These are the same white oxen that pull the giant cart through Florence on Easter Sunday, mentioned in one of Lois’ earlier posts.  A grown man is shorter than the back of one of these beasts.

A snack for the winners

 Apparently, aside from the numbers of people on a team and the specifications as to what counts as a goal, this game is refreshingly rule-free, although recruitment violations recently forced officials to establish a rule stipulating that athletes/combatants may no longer be murderers or highwaymen.

Since the game has been going on for nearly 500 years, it has been played by some well known historical figures – including Florentine rulers Piero the Unfortunate (the son of Lorenzo the Magnificent), and Cosimo I de Medici.  It has even been played by Popes Leo X, Clement VII and Urbano VIII.   Apparently Pope Benedict XVI has just been offered a big bonus to sign on with the Santa Croce Carnivores.

Pope Benedict XVI – giving the sign of the Santa Croce

Anonymous sources confirm that representatives of the Carnivores initially offered to sweeten the deal by transferring Galileo’s tomb from the basilica of Santa Croce to the Vatican, but this offer was rejected by Pope Benedict, who apparently still maintains the view that the Earth is the center of the universe.   (Despite his predecessor’s long-overdue apology for the Inquisition’s prosecution of Galileo, Pope Benedict/Cardinal Ratzinger always defended the view that the Church had been correct to convict Galileo for his belief that the earth circles the sun…….really!)   Rumor has it that Benedict would prefer the tomb of Machiavelli, who also rests in peace (improbably) at the Church of Santa Croce.

Machiavelli’s tomb