venturing away from the hotel

During my first visit to La Toscana, I spent a lot of my time in Montecatini Terme. That was great, but there is so much more to see, that I would really have done myself a disservice if I hadn’t ventured out and about.

Montecatini Alto

Lucky for me, there was a town just up the hill. Really, it was at the top of a big hill from Terme.

Now, there were two ways to get to the top of this giant hill. You could drive up there, or you could take the funicolare. (Way more fun!)

The funicolare is a tiny little train car that looks like something out of an amusement park. It rolls up and down the hill by cable lines. This thing runs on the same cable lines that date back, probably, 50 years or more. Scary, but totally worth it!

Montecatini Alto is a tiny little town with the important things like some great ristoranti, a great little place for gelato (of course) and even a disco. There is also a beautiful old church and the ruins of a castle that you can wander through.

Along this little side street I kept an apartment for a month or so. It was just in front of the church, so I got to hear the bells toll every morning when the sun came up. It was romantic in a chick-click sort of way, and I loved that apartment! But after a while of being up on top of this giant hill, you realize how much work it is to take the little train to shop or do laundry at the bottom in Montecatini Terme. It became a little much work for me, plus I was totally secluded from the rest of the world with a bunch of old folks and some tourists.

Got old real quick. I still think it’s an awesome little town, just don’t want to live up there.

then there was Viareggio

Viareggio is a sea-side town where folks go on weekends after they’ve gotten dressed to the 9’s. They really do!

You should see how amazing these people look just to go out for a stroll along the boardwalk. It’s like watching an Armani runway show. I’m not complaining though, as the men, in particular, look phenomenal!

This part of the European culture I still don’t understand, but I totally appreciate. I mean, in America we don’t do that. Or maybe it’s just me that doesn’t.

Anyway, Viareggio has lots of great clothing and fashion shops that run along the beach front. I have shopped at the Benetton here a million times! In fact, this is the shop where I bought my favorite Benetton denim jacket. swoon♥… There are also a good number of restaurants, theatres and amusement for the kids.If you’re lucky, you may even catch a couple of guys break dancing on a big cardboard flat for tips. I was indeed so lucky, and it was like flashing back to 1984, only cooler.

 

Siena – the greatest city in Tuscany

 

Oh Siena! How I love you! Piazza del Campo Siena is the most amazing Tuscan city I have ever been to. I was, and still am, so completely in love with this city that I could stay there for just about ever.

 

 

Twice a year in the Piazza del Campo the city holds horse races that date back to Medieval times. These races determine which ward of the city is the tops. during renovation 2004The winner of this race then gets its flag displayed throughout the town.

 

It’s good fun, at least that’s what I hear. Unfortunately, I have never been there during the races. I usually just missed it or got there the week before.

Just my luck.

 

 

 

 

One time when I was in Siena, there was a wedding going on. The bride was stunning! There were all of these people gathered around and everyone seemed like they were having the time of their lives. I recall thinking how fabulous it would be to have your wedding in such an amazing place.

Then I noticed that the bride and groom were walking in the direction of the Torture Museum. Ha!

Hope that wasn’t any indication of where their marriage was heading.Siena

 

But really, how could you not love a city that dates back to Medieval times, has awesome gelato, is completely fiber optic wired AND has its very own torture museum? It’s a no-brainer!

 

I’m nearly through that first trip! I still need to tell you about Florence and Pisa. But most importantly, I still have to share a few pics from that infamous cross-processed and re-processed roll of film.

I’m thinking that if I work a little magic, I can get some pretty great photos from that roll! Maybe later after American Pickers.

 

 

 

 

Chicago to Italy – 2002

those 11 hours in the air were definitely worth it!

Arno River in FlorenceIn my wildest dreams I couldn’t have prepared myself for how amazing it feels to be in Tuscany! Seriously, it’s mind-blowing and a little overwhelming.

When I arrived in Florence, it was about 2 in the afternoon, and I was exhausted and dizzy and totally jet lagged. All I really wanted to do was lay down in the middle of the Piazza della Signoria and take a nap. In fact, I think I did zonk out for a few minutes on the marble step leading into the Loggia dei Lanzi. It was all I needed to get myself together and take in the beauty of the piazza.

FirenzeI can’t remember exactly what I did first. I just recall that my legs didn’t work very well and I only wanted to be in a seated position. But I was alert enough to realize that my first impression of Florence was a thing of beauty and I would never know that feeling again. So I tried to chill and appreciate all that I was seeing, and not to throw up.

I didn’t shoot any pictures that first day. It was difficult enough to remain in a vertical position, but I made a few more trips to Florence during my stay and took tons of shots!

I also ventured to Pisa, Viareggio and Siena. And of course I hauled my camera around Montecatini Terme and Montecatini Alto.

Hotel Capelli – Montecatini Terme, PT

During that first trip, I stayed at the Hotel Capelli in Montecatini Terme for two weeks. Of all my stays in Montecatini, this hotel was the nicest. Maybe it wasn’t the fanciest or the most extravagant, but the staff was beyond kind and it was really clean. And they had music and dancing with the old folks at night! It was operated by an older German gentleman who spoke every language imaginable.

He hooked me up with a snazzy little (tiny) single room with a balcony.CapelliHotel Capelli My room also had a bidet. Bidets should be in every home in America. I’m just saying. What a luxury!

I went to lunch at the hotel a few times, and during one of those times I had my first experience with Torta della Nonna, or Grandma Cake. Oh, Grandma Cake! How I love you!!

It’s a wonder I didn’t return to the States 20 pounds heavier!

I also realized that European yoghurt has a totally different consistency from America’s pathetic excuse for yogurt. It’s still really hard for me to buy yogurt at the grocery here and actually enjoy it.

Did I mention that the grocery store keeps their eggs out in the aisle? Super fresh stuff, here! There is no 3 week shelf life on those eggies!

When did this turn into a food blog? But really, the greatest experience of being in Italy is the pleasure derived from the fabulous foods that are in front of you everywhere you go.

I’m kinda hoping that this is what Heaven is like.

Montecatini Terme

What a great little town this is! It’s really not that small, but not as big as Florence. I loved it here. There was everything you could want to do. Tons of amazing restaurants, grand hotels (and my quaint one), spas, street markets and cinemas, and even art galleries. But I would be amiss if I didn’t point out that you can get a mean gelato here as well.montecatini terme

I learned, over the years, where all the best gelatos could be found. And I found a lot of fun short cuts to the train station.  I even had a really old fella try to whisk me away for coffee. It was hard to resist a sweet old man with a walking stick, but I held my distance.

Montecatini also has the most amazing place for cappuccino and “bombole,” or jam-filled donuts. It’s called Pellegrini, and it’s not far from the train station and morning market. I can drive there in my sleep.mmm...donuts

I was especially fond of the albicocca (apricot) and nutella filled ones. I became somewhat of a regular there. It was to the point where the barista would see me on the street and wave. I felt proud that the cappuccino guy from the Pellegrini knew me! I was there so often that I knew what time to be there if I wanted my nutella bombola. They went fast, and if you missed it then you had to wait til the next day for one.

I’m salivating just thinking of those bombole! Dear Lord…help me to resist. And just around the corner from Pellegrini is this unreal pasta shop where they make ravioli and every shape of pasta you can imagine. I loved that shop so much that I still have one of their shopping bags in the closet.

The people in Montecatini are extremely friendly. They are so good to all of the tourists visiting from America, Germany and other European countries. I couldn’t have enjoyed my time here more!

And it doesn’t hurt that they have such amazing donuts and pasta, and gelato!!

I spent much of my first trip in Montecatini, but I experienced other beautiful cities for the first time during that time, too. Next time I’ll share with you about Viareggio, Montecatini Alto and Siena. Maybe I’ll even take you to Florence.

ciao bell’Italia!

che cazzo sto facendo? (what the hell am I doing?)

My move to Italy wasn’t an easy one, but it made a huge impression on my life. It affected all aspects of my life, really. Of course it did! I mean, that’s not a move most people would even do! But hey, I’m not your typical girl, either.

I sold or gave away all of my stuff, left my cat at Mom’s house and headed across the pond. Things didn’t go as planned, but I believe that everything happens for a reason. So, in my “this isn’t going as planned” state of affairs, I took LOTS of photos. I did a ton of book keeping for a small store, took a lot of photos, and ate many plates of pizza. If you’re in Tuscany, aren’t you supposed to eat a ton of pizza? My favorite is pizza ai funghi e olive. We here in America just don’t understand the beauty of a true Italian pizza. It is a thing to be glorified and worshiped. Often.

So, I spent half of each year here in the States, and the other half in Italy. I would have stayed there forever, I think. I totally dig how Frances Mayes just went over there and stayed! However, for me,  it just wasn’t meant to be. But while I was there, I floundered through learning the language and customs and picked up some great recipes and fashion sense. There were days when I thought I may explode from the frustration of homesickness, or maybe even go insane. Although, I must say, as much as I felt at my whit’s end, I loved l’Italia 100 times more.  I also learned to appreciate the artichoke. It’s a lovely thing when it’s stuffed with sausage and cooked in olive oil.

This went on for many years. Look at my passport if you don’t believe me. I’m figuring the FBI probably has a pretty good size file on me based on my many excursions abroad. My cat at the time, Hankie, never liked it when I took off. I always felt so guilty for leaving her! But each time I returned home, she curled up in my hair just like old times. Here she is making sure I took some of her along on the trip. I sure do miss that little girl.

Above the Rooftops

Italy 2005-2007

These are the two years that I “commuted” back and forth between Missouri and Italy. Most people commute from Downer’s Grove to Chicago, or Arnold to St. Louis. Not me, my friends. I go all out on my commutes.

Of course, I wasn’t going to keep an apartment in Chicago for 3 months at a time, so I called Mom’s place my Stateside home. She took care of my Hankie, while Dad stored all of my things that I hadn’t ditched before leaving Chicago. The other half of my stuff (which I accumulated in Europe) was stashed in an attic or one of those super neat older than dirt Italian closets. Over here we refer to those as “armoirs”, but that’s all you have in Italy. I had a closet full of trinkets and toys from Kinder eggs, and an amazing collection of Italian stationery and notebooks. Plus, I had a pretty good size collection of Nutella give-aways. I would LOVE to have all of that stuff back! But, such is life. I imagine it’s all just where I left it. For another time…

Molti Anni in’Italia

I know technically, I didn’t live in Italy for more than 2 years. But I traveled back and forth for a few years before I loaded up and headed over to stay. So I spent a few weeks out of the year there, and this gave me a great opportunity to build my photo collection! At the time, I was shooting with 35mm color and B&W film. I had an amazing Kodak rep who hooked me up with more film than I could shoot, so I came home with lots to look at.

After my first trip to Italy in 2002, one of my color rolls got cross-processed in the B&W room at the lab. This was totally devastating, and not at all printable. I nearly cried. But the helpful bosses at National Photo knew a guy. Of course they knew a guy! So, they sent me to “the guy” on the next street over, and he was somehow able to partially undo the B&W process. He sent me on my way grinning from ear to ear with a roll of film that was almost workable. I got a few good prints out of it, but not until I printed it black and white. I think that roll of film was just destined to be B&W!

I could go on for 35 more pages about all of my photo outings in Italy. But I think I will save those adventures and distribute them on a smaller scale.

I eventually worked my way up to a digital camera, which was small enough to fit in my bag. This sure made it easier coming back and forth through security and customs at the airports. And then I realized just how amazing it was to not have to worry about developing film and printing it to see what you just shot. I was hooked! So, as sad as it sounds, I don’t think I’ve shot more than a few rolls of film in years. I do have a couple in the fridge that need to be processed, though. They’ve only been in there since about 2005. oops

I’ll end here for tonight, simply because I am missing Law & Order: SVU. But next time I will let you in on some pics from that first trip overseas! I may even throw in a photo or two from that infamous roll of color/B&W film.

first and foremost!

Howdy! I just realized that I need to find a 35mm negative scanner so that I can upload some of the first images I shot way back in the late 80’s. My mom has some of them framed and hanging in her home, but that doesn’t do me much good 1000 miles away. Can’t believe she framed some of those prints! What was she thinking?

Anyway, you might enjoy a picture of how I looked back then, just for fun. Check out that rockin’ pick-up truck in the background. Not mine, but rockin’ just the same.

CHS 1988 - Cape Girardeau, MO

taken in the parking lot of our high school

Just so you know, at my 20th CHS Reunion last year, I won the award for the best hair in 1989! 😉

CHS

High school was fun, and I enjoyed being a total nerd and president of the Anthology Club and a proud 3-year member of the Latin Club. And I was particularly fond of our school’s drama department, Red Dagger, where I learned about props, lighting and how to construct monster flats. I drug my dad to all of our productions, even though I’m sure he was less than thrilled. (Thanks, Dad!)

WEBSTER UNIVERSITY

Then I went away to Webster University in the STL. This is where I first learned about Photography Techniques and History of Photo and getting into a little trouble.  Here’s proof that I existed:Webster University - STL

Oh, how I loved the smell of the developer, but I was most in love with the fixer! It was a badge of honor for me to walk out of the darkroom after many long hours of printing (crap) and feel drunk. I signed up for every hour available in the darkroom so that I could print anything and everything  that I shot. Most of it was total crap, and I knew it, but I didn’t care. It was a learning process that I wanted to take advantage of. For the first time in my life, I was creating something, and it felt good. I knew that it was going to be a part of me for a long time to come. I just needed to figure out what the hell I was doing. Criticism in the classroom was a bear, but it pushed me to be a better photographer and printer. So, thanks everyone, for telling me my prints were crap!

COLUMBIA COLLEGE – SEMO – BACK TO CHICAGO

Michigan Avenue, Chicago

ah...Chicago. How I love ya!

In 1991 I followed a boy to Chicago. And I stayed there, even after we split a few years later. But not before returning to Missouri to complete my degree. I could hardly afford to eat in Chicago, much less go to a fancy arts college (Columbia College <3) and eat! So I went home for a couple years and got my Bachelor of Science in Corporate Video Production. Southeast Missouri State Univeristy didn’t offer photography as a major, so I just hung out around the darkroom until they asked me to teach darkroom technique to the freshmen. Gladly!! Don’t have to ask me twice! Took a minor in Graphic Communication, which sucked, but it allowed me to complete a mean independent study where I got to do a private shoot at an abandoned seminary college. The IS was awesome, and scary, and all mine, so it was all worth it. My photos still were not so great, but I was proud anyway. OK, so I graduated and was back in Chicago within a month. Can’t keep a girl away from the city she loves!

NATIONAL PHOTO

I moved back to Chicago in March of 1997 and started a job with an amazing company called National Photo. It was a family run business that had been in operation for some 30 years or more when I got there. We did everything from actors’ 8×10 headshots to custom 54″ prints. (That was a feat in a color darkroom! But more on that another time)

I started out as a stripper. Don’t get too excited, I was stripping negatives. I worked my way up to the finishing department, then the color darkroom where I had my own little room. I decorated my darkroom with some of my favorite jobs, including a bitchin’ Rick James headshot. I was in that room on the day of the Columbine shootings, and I remember rushing back from the printer after each print went in so that I could hear what was going on. I was also in there on the day that Chris Farley OD’d. He was just down the street at the Hancock building, and I kept thinking I should sneak out and see all the hoopla, but this girl had deadlines to meet. (no pun intended)

After a few years of working at NP, there was a job opening for head custom B&W enlarger. Oh! My dream job of dream jobs!! I immediately ran to the bosses and said, “I’m in!” But it wasn’t that easy. They brought in a few other folks to interview and gave them a shot at printing for a few hours to prove their worth. Well, when it was my turn to hit the dark room, I kicked butt and took names. I was NOT giving up this job opportunity! So, eventually, I was offered the job, and I lived in that darkroom for a long time. Me and Howard Stern in the early mornings made a great team!

I got to print the coolest stuff in there! My favorites were the jobs for the Chicago Historical Society where I got to make prints from ancient 4×5 and 8×10 negatives.  The regular daily jobs came in, too, but they were boring. I lived for the obscure older-than-dirt negative to roll in. Proof sheets be damned.

So, eventually, NP decided to go digital. If you want to keep up with the competition, and all…So, I moved to the prestigious position of Head Digital Minilab Printer. Now, you may think that a “Minilab” printer’s job is super easy, just push a button and move on type of job. But you would be dead wrong! I was still able to do some awesome custom printing on that badass machine!

love of my life The bosses sent me off to Elgin for a week or so to train with Noritsu on their digital printers. It was a fun week of learning the ins and outs and secrets to making a great print and taking apart this monster of machine. I’m a nerd at heart, so I liked the technical stuff the best. I came back from training ready to take charge, and that’s just what I did.

Chicago

I got to print for some of best photographers in the city, and I was proud of every one of those jobs. Heck, I was proud of the little stuff, too. And I honed my printing skills during these years. I sure do miss that old Noritsu. Even on the days when I thought I would never make it through the stack of jobs that was never-ending, or when chemistry needed to be changed and I had a mess all over, those were the best days of my working life!

Now, as much as I adored my life in Chicago, I got sidetracked by romance and left it all behind to move to Italy. But let’s save that for another day. I am still reveling in the wonder that was my life in Chicago for all those years.