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I am currently listening to the audio version of Amarcord: Marcella Remembers.

I am not reading it. Reading, you see, sloshes the vitreous of the eye as the animated eyeball scoots back and forth over the words, a vitreous martini shaker of sorts.

You see, a couple of weeks ago my right eye abruptly began ignoring the scene before me. The contents pouring into my brain burst into an array of spinning color, half-moons of yellow fringed in red, followed by a milkiness flooded with black swirls like the escape path of a squid.

The doctor peered in, reciting the gruesome details in a sort of code, a rat-a-tat of words to her assistant. One of the words was “hemorrhage.”

Finally, she turned off her searing light and spoke softly to me. “When one passes the age of 60, it is common for the vitreous of the eye to dry up, tugging at the tiny veins and the edges of the retina. The veins break, causing the floaters you see.”

Then surgery. As you age, things slowly begin to shut down. This was my first catastrophic failure. The surgeon would go in, vacuum up the dried bits of blood and tack the retina back on with a laser. Then a gas bubble would be injected to hold the retina in place while it healed.

Thus I am a prisoner in San Francisco. I cannot go up a hill or the bubble would get too big. I cannot fly until the bubble dissipates completely. Thus the lack of updates here.

If you are squeamish, I’m going to assume you’ve stopped reading already, because the surgery, for which I was awake, was quite something.

I could see with amazing clarity what was going on inside my eye. No longer was light being shaped by an imperfect lens, passed through a bit of cataract before passing through to the retina for processing. I was seeing directly inside my body, inside the very organ the surgeon was saving. I saw her vacuum up the black swirls, the squid in reverse, I heard the hum of the laser tacking down the retina, the amplified twitter of my pulsing heart always in the background. A fantastic voyage, one you couldn’t take just a few years ago, when eventual blindness was the lone prognosis.

Today is the first day I can raise my head after four days of bowing down, paying homage to the gods of good health and trying to keep that blasted bubble backed into the retina, helping to hold it in place while it heals. It feels good.

The bubble prevents me from seeing much more than blobs of light; it’s like looking through the frosted glass of a dirty martini.

Martha puts drops in my eye every few hours. Marcella provides the entertainment that keeps the hours flowing. I can’t wait to get cooking again. I can’t wait to tell you of a different adventure.

Eyeless in Frisco originally appeared on WanderingItaly.com Jan 26, 2015, © James Martin.


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It makes quite the romantic picture, the swarthy gentleman in pith helmet and immaculately pressed desert garb shouting commands to muscular and sweaty natives as they move boulders, wedge massive pickaxes between giant stones and dust little oil lamps with tiny brushes.

At the time, rich and powerful folk had like Charles of Bourbon, King of Naples, liked to have rooms and rooms of the more impressive loot from older times (stuff they hadn’t pickaxed to dust), so they had yet another group of muscular workers revamp ordinary rooms in their royal palaces to display it.

So, if you happen to be one of the three tourists brave enough to make a trip south of Naples, you can be rewarded not only by seeing the ancient site of Herculaneum and its associated artifact museums, but you can now visit the palace and see where Charles kept the good stuff, which was all moved to Naples long ago, but still.

“Obviously you can’t see any of the antiquities from Herculaneum any more, since these were moved to Naples in the 18th century, but nevertheless it is extremely evocative to visit the original rooms of the Herculanense Museum. In particular, one room contains back-lit copies of all the ancient paintings that used to adorn it (apparently all in their original places). Also on display are original 18th century books about the excavated antiquities, including Winkelmann and Cochin, and what look like original plans of buildings like the Villa of the Papyri, and the Villa of Diomedes and the amphitheatre at Pompeii (but I don’t know if they are actually the originals – but they do look old!). There are lots of plans illustrating where some of the most well-known artefacts from Herculaneum were displayed, and panels about the early excavations and some of the characters who directed them, such as Paderni, and about early restorations of statues, and the early attempts at unrolling papyri (including a replica of Piaggio’s machine). You then get to walk through the king’s apartments, which are next door to the museum, and which were redecorated by the Murats.” ~ Visit to the Herculanenses Museum

It’s a short walk from the archaeological site, which makes your visit a long day, but I’m excited; it sounds very interesting. Besides, you can visit two towns the way, three if you separate ancient and modern Herculaneum. And there’s a train station nearby.

Here’s a link to the official website called MUSA, Musei del Sito Reale (di Portici). There are several museums you can visit in the building and a botanical garden outside.

Map

It seems you have to zoom out the map and you’ll see the location of the site of ancient Herculaneum.

Herculaneum: When Archaeology Was A Gentleman's Game originally appeared on WanderingItaly.com Jan 19, 2015, © James Martin.


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staggia senese castle pictureCastello di Staggia Senese

Staggia Senese castle is located near Poggibonsi. You’ve probably not been to either. If you need to fix your doorbell, Poggibonsi is the Tuscan town you should seek. If you need a castle fix with great tours and guides as well as the occasional falconry demonstration, then by all means point your car toward Staggia Senese castle.

The castle is on the Via Francigena pilgrimage route between Poggibonsi and Monteriggione, the walled city which gets more press, being along the autostrada and all. To the west is Colle di Val d’Elsa, a town known for the manufacture of leaded crystal.

The castle is found on the northeast corner of the town of Staggia Senese, nestled into the vegetation that borders the Staggia river. You can see it in the map below.

Why Go to Staggia Senese Castle?

It’s a pretty castle, but pretty castles are a lira a dozen in Italy. As in ancient times, what matters is how the castle is administrated. You can stare at ruins all day, trying to make sense of them out of the historic context that drove their construction. But this castle is involved in actively engaging the visitor. The tour is great. You’ll find out the castle’s secrets. You’ll even learn how the pilgrims got their water and meager rations without being allowed access into the inner sanctum. Then as now, minimalism in morality is in.

falconry pictureFalconry at Staggia Senese

Then there’s the falconry. Your kids will love the big birds.

Falconry takes years of training. It’s not like you take a falcon out of your purse or “man bag” and plug somebody and your problems are over. There’s an art to it.

And then you get to glove up and feel the weight of the owl. Whoa baby! Look at those eyes!

owl pictureHere's Lookin' at You, Kid: Owl at Staggia Senese Castle

You’ll want to visit the official web site to see all the events the castle people have planned for your enjoyment (in Italian). Every Sunday there’s a guided visit and an excursion on electric bicycle or food along the pilgrimage trail. You have to reserve by phone for this one: 366 4792092. The castle is open every day, with shorter hours during the winter months.

With towns like San Gimignano nearby, this is an area where one could spend a week or three and not get bored at tall. Staggia has a number of highly-rated places to stay.

Staggia Senese Castle originally appeared on WanderingItaly.com Dec 31, 2014, © James Martin.


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abbey of santa maria di cerrate pictureRomanesque Church in l’Abbazia di Santa Maria di Cerrate

Within a patchwork of agricultural fields in the Lecce province of Puglia lies one of my favorite Romanesque abbeys, the Abbey of Santa Maria di Cerrate. The complex of buildings sprouted in the 12th century represents one of the finest examples of Romanesque architecture you’ll find in Puglia today.

On a bright morning, the sun gleams from the limestone facade of the church and the camera renders the sky an impossibly deep blue. You can feel the calm. The church is typically simple, like the food of Puglia. It’s open—not cluttered with all those spiritual market-stall chapels that surround the nave as in modern churches.

Although the church is stunning—and contains 13th century frescoes you can see below—there is more:

The Church is complemented not only by an arcade but also by the Monks’ House, the Museum of Popular Arts and Traditions, and a building erected in the 16th century, which probably originally served as a cowshed and is now an exhibition space. The Abbey was not only a religious centre but also a productive hub: out of the close links between the Abbey and the surrounding countryside so rich in olive groves, fruit trees and crops, there arose a great deal of agricultural activity, and today we can see the remains of two ancient underground olive oil mills and wells for collecting the oil. ~ Abbey of Santa Maria di Cerrate

fountain pictureThe Fountain

The fountain has already been restored, thanks to a donation from Prada. While the architecture and frescoes await their turn at restoration.

fresco pictureFresco: Abbazia di Santa Maria di Cerrate

altar pictureAltar: l’Abbazia di Santa Maria di Cerrate

To Plan a Visit

The site is currently open on weekends.

According to the FIA site linked above, “The Abbey is on restoration. Please call (0039) 02 467615325 or write to faicerrate@fondoambiente.it to verify the opening hours and/or to reserve a guided tour. The Abbey is closed on December,25th and 26th, January 1st.”

We just drove in and had a look around. It’s a pretty amazing place to wander in.

Staying: we recommend Masseria Provenzani near the Abbey, a very fine and very affordable Masseria reworked into rooms and suites, highly recommended. Cooking schools are offered.

Location Map

Abbey of Santa Maria di Cerrate in Puglia originally appeared on WanderingItaly.com Nov 10, 2014, © James Martin.


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