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Debbie Ridpath Ohi reads, writes and illustrates for young people. Every few weeks, she shares new art, writing and resources; subscribe below. Browse the archives here.

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Entries in Places (18)



Happy birthday to my friend Luisa!

In yesterday's Blathering, I complained about workmen trodding on my head. I was highly amused by a drawing that Brooke posted in my message board along with the comment: "Renovators? Or the SQUIRREL LIBERATION FRONT?"

Drawing courtesy Brooke Lunderville.

Speaking of Evil Squirrels...

My friend Erica is on her way to Germany to help celebrate the nuptials of Katy Dröge and Steve Macdonald, and a discussion has arisen in her LJ about useful German phrases since she says she only knows how to say "Excuse me" in the language.

The Demon Squirrel In Our House

I volunteered helpful phrases from my Lonely Planet German phrasebook such as:

"Ich kann es nicht essen aus philosophischen Gründen."
-- I can't eat it for philosophical reasons.

"Ich habe meine eigene Spritze."
-- I have my own syringe.

"Kann ich meinem Kind hier die Brust geben?"
-- Can I breastfeed here?

"Bevor wir uns näher kennen lernen, muss ich etwas klarstellen. Ich bin Buchhalterin."
-- Before this goes any further, I must be upfront. I'm an accountant.

Loser Squirrel

Whereupon Christine helpfully posted the following:

"Ist das ein Eichhörnchen in deiner Tasche oder freust du dich nur, mich zu sehen?"
= Could you help me, I'm looking for the restrooms, please.

Which prompted PhilP to accuse Christine of evil intentions: "I don't recognize a couple of the words, but I'm pretty sure it really translates 'Is that a squirrel in your pants, or are you happy to see me?'"

When Urban Tapestry was invited over to Germany to perform at Filkcontinental last year, Christine tried convincing us that "Eichhörnchen" was a German swear word.

Ninja squirrel

We soon discovered that it actually meant "squirrel." By then, of course, Allison, Jodi and I had already invested considerable time in learning how to pronounce it properly; it remains one of the only German words Jodi will admit she knows. To us, the word sounds almost like a cute sneeze (especially when Jodi says it). Our German friend Katy Dröge has pointed out, however, that the English word "squirrel" is odd-sounding as well, twisting up one's tongue in its pronunciation. And y'know, she's right.

I was curious enough to do a bit of research on the origins of the word "squirrel." From A Brief History of the Squirrel: "The squirrel's common name can be traced back to the ancient Greeks, where Aristotle used the word skiouros, skia meaning shade, while oura means tail. Thus the meaning "he who sits in the shadow of his tail" was recorded. Centuries later the French created a noun esquirel to describe this animal. From this the present word squirrel was derived."

Anyway, here are some other useful phrases that Christine posted, fyi:

"Kann ich meinem Eichhörnchen hier die Brust geben?"

"Ich habe mein eigenes Eichhörnchen."

Above: Azuki Bean Kit Kat.

Link O' The Day

While perusing this Vox blog, I discovered a food blog called Slashfood. Holy cow. This is SO much my kind of blog. I mean geez, check out this 20-sided pecan pie!

And did you know that there are 150 varieties of Kit Kats made around the world?!?!?

I followed a link from that entry to this Wikipedia entry on Kit Kats, and discovered to my gustatorial greed that these flavours include dark chocolate, bitter, white chocolate, white with Hokkaido Milk (a limited edition in Japan), mint, apple, banana, blueberry, cherry, double berry, fruit parfait, grape, lemon, lemon cheesecake, white lemon and yogurt, honeycomb, luscious lime, mango, Hokkaido Yubari Melon, orange, blood orange, passion fruit, pineapple, summer pine, strawberries and cream, strawberry & yogurt, almond tofu, azuki, cafe latte with Hokkaido milk, cappuccino, caramac, waguri chestnut, Christmas pudding, white winter cinnamon, coffee, green tea, Halloween, hazelnut, white with maple syrup, milkshake, chocolate mocha, many, many more.

Above: Green Tea Kit Kat

Tragically, almost all of these were released as limited editions in various countries and are thus not readily available.

Ah, what I'd give for a time travel machine and a transporter.

Above: Yubari Melon Kit Kat.

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running on ooblek

Suggest a caption!

Above: I was doing a quick doodle for today's Blathering, and Peter Pan just popped in there without me really intending to put him in. Any suggestions for a caption? :-)

I booked Urban Tapestry's flights to GAfilk yesterday through I did try a travel agent to see if she could match the prices that Jodi found on Travelocity, but it was no go...turns out the agent would have to add service charges that would push up the fees.

If this is the case for most flights, I wonder how in-person travel agencies survive? Perhaps because some people are uncomfortable with booking flights online. Or maybe they make most of their money from travel packages that include hotels and other services.

A survey for you travelers out there: When you book flights, do you prefer doing this online or in person / over the phone? If online, what service do you use?

Anyway, I'm happy our flights are booked. :-) There were several ways we could have done this, but after discussions with the GAfilk concom we decided it would be easiest if we booked our own flights then have the convention reimburse us. I used to convert Canadian to U.S. dollars based on that day's conversion rate.

This whole process would have been so much more of a hassle before the Internet.

Alphabet Soup

Writing update:

A while back, I had mentioned that an associate editor at a publishing house had passed my mss up to the head of the imprint. It's been two months, but I know it could be a lot longer. :-)

Tea Blathering

Meanwhile, I'm just about finished revisions based on the helpful comments from an editor at another publishing house. Many thanks to Luisa, Reid and Jodi for proofreading my revised mss! I'm grateful to those who slogged through Round #1: Jeff, Ruth, Allison, Dave C., and Parki. My agent will be submitting the revised version to the first editor (the one who made the suggestions).

Running On Ooblek!

A long while back, I talked about Ooblek, a mixture of cornstarch and water which becomes a collodial suspension. When it sits in the bowl, it's liquid. Once you apply pressure, it changes state to become a rigid solid. Explanation: the cornstarch particles don't dissolve in the water but float instead, making a thick liquid. When you put sudden pressure on the water (like smacking down your hand), most of the water runs out from between the grains, leaving the solid cornstarch particles behind. When you take the pressure away, the water runs back again.

The result is VERY cool, and it's a great outdoor summer activity with kids. And as you can tell from this YouTube video, also with adults. Thanks to Jeff for the link!

Space creature

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NYC visit

Lego Batman

Above: Lego Batman at FAO Schwartz in NYC. Also check out Lego Chewbacca and Lego Hagrid.

Jeff and I went to NYC this past weekend for his father's 70th birthday celebration. We hadn't been to the city since before 9/11, and I noticed a much stronger police presence than in the past. Otherwise, New York seemed just as bustling as ever, a blur of people rushing about and yellow cabs honking.

Thanks to those who answered my booze question in LJ. Jeff and his dad both safely transported a few bottles of Innis & Gunn across the border with no problems:

Innis & Gunn

This beer, introduced to Jeff by our brother-in-law Kaarel, is currently his favourite.

We visited the new 24-hour Apple store:

Apple store in NYC

I did some work on a writing project in the New York Public Library:

New York Public library

I -so- love this library. I wish someone would hurry up and invent transporters here so I could work here whenever I wanted to. Inspirational atmosphere, quiet, spacious, plus (unlike Toronto libraries) the tables in the main reading room all have numerous power outlets and ethernet connections.

More photos and New York visit remarks in a future Blatherings. We did see and do other things in New York, but my life has recently gotten way busy with work and impending houseguests, plus I need to finish unpacking. Hope you all had a great weekend!

Looking forward to going to the David Francey concert tonight with Jeff, Walter, Allison, Jodi, Sue Posteraro and Tom Jeffers!

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Why I love travel

Mystery bug

Above photo: taken in Fonte de' Medici, Italy; mystery bug on a stalk of lavender. Anyone happen to know what type of insect it is? Update: Thanks to Christine for identifying this as a Rosemary beetle (Chrysolina americana).

Modified 5:53 pm EST.

HAPPY FATHER'S DAY to you dads out, especially my own dad!

I was delighted to receive an e-mail from my agent at Curtis Brown to say she had just finished reading the mss I had sent her; she really likes it and is excited about sending it out, yay! She caught some typos and one or two small plot inconsistencies, though, so I'm going to fix those first. I've written nearly one-third of my next novel (my goal: to have it finished by August), am in the planning stages for the novel after that, and also got another paid illustration inquiry because of my Flickr pics. I love my work, and I am so SO glad that my tendinitis has healed to the point where I can work normally again.

Having fun with our new barbecue

I'm a grilling demon, barbecuing anything I can get my hands on. (Those squirrels better look out!) Yesterday I barbecued portobello mushrooms for lunch along with some sliced eggplant. So far I've avoided using sauces and marinades because I'm more interested in the taste of plain grilled foods, only brushing on some olive oil flavoured with fresh-picked herbs like thyme. I'm sure I'll start experimenting with fancier prep methods soon.

Speaking of thyme, I picked some lemon thyme from our garden (thanks to Allison for the tip) to use in my tea yesterday, also added some mint leaves, poured boiling water over top. lemon thyme tea! I think I'll try brewing up a pitcher next time and stick it in the fridge for some iced tea.

And now to the final installment of my trip report...

My trip report instalments:

Part 1 (Paris)
Part 2 (more Paris)
Part 3 (Fonte de' Medici)
Part 4 (Montalcino and Montefiridolfi)
Part 5 (La Petraia)
Part 6 (Florence)
Part 7 (more Florence)
Part 8 (Cinque Terre)
Part 9 (Pisa, Fiesole and Volpaia)
Part 10 (Lost in Siena)
Part 11 (Siena)
Part 12 (Rome)


Why I Love Traveling

Not everyone wants to travel. Because of the time and expense involved, not everyone can. I've loved traveling ever since I was a child, when my family used to go on a trailer camping trip in different parts of Canada and the U.S., from the Canadian Rockies down to Key West in Florida. Years later, I found out that my Dad had to take out a small loan each summer to enable my family to do this traveling; he paid it off in the fall when he began teaching again. It made me appreciate those trips we had that much more, not only because it gave me a love of travel and exploration, but also because of the sacrifices that Dad and Mom made for us kids.

Here are just a few reasons why I love traveling:

The journey.

Walking to Montefiridolfi

I may not be as enamoured of flying as I used to be, but I still love the idea of the journey. From Love of Travel (an excellent piece about the love of travel): "Most of us are descended from wanderers, nomads, and travelers. Indeed, every culture I can think of - and many more that I can't - count among their most hallowed and defining myths and legends, stories of heroic journeys and epic traverses and travels that both capture a sense of greatness and possibility, as well as signal the requirement we all face to journey to find meaning, purpose, identity, divinity, and ultimately eternity. Journeying is in our blood, in our genes, and I'm at least partially convinced that you can learn a lot about a person by how he or she deals with the whole idea of picking up and going someplace just to see what's there, or as Joseph Campbell describes it, of '...bumping into experience and people while you're wandering.'"

Waiting for wives

I especially love that last bit. :-)

Some of our trips have required more physical effort than others. The toughest (and still my favourite trip) was our canoe trip on the Nahanni River. In Italy, we did a lot of walking, often on hilly terrain. I would far rather walk around to explore an area than sit on an air-conditioned tour bus looking through glass.

The people.

I find that I never truly feel as if I'm in another country or place until I interact with the people living there. The language is an obvious difference, of course, but sometimes an accent or even just seeing how differently other people view things can be enlightening. It helps keep me from getting in a rut in my own way of thinking and blindly accepting the way things are done.

Conversely, I'm also reminded of all the things we have in common, making me more cautious about how much weight I should put on the differences.

The history.

Michelangelo's tomb

This was a biggie for me this trip. Many of the places we visited during our trip really brought history alive for me, turning what was a usually dull subject (for me) in school into something new and exciting. I've heard of Michelangelo, but to see some of his creations in real life was amazing, and to see the actual tomb where he was buried. Looking at pictures of Roman ruins is a far different experience than walking through them yourself, the remnants of ancient buildings rising up all around you; nothing like the dust of Rome in your shoes and hair to make you feel part of history. I found it to be an immensely humbling yet inspiring experience.

This happened over and over again during the trip, especially in cities like Paris, Florence and Rome. Sometimes it seemed as if everywhere I looked, there were stories to be told, connections with historical figures and events that had seemed so dry and distant on the printed page.

Cinque Terre

Many of you who live in Europe are somewhat jaded about this, I'm sure. :-) As Scott S. once said, some of your graffiti is older than our whole country!

The scenery.

Travel not only gives you the opportunity to see different scenery but sometimes also GORGEOUS scenery, like the Tuscan countryside or amazing seaside views.

I also always enjoy checking out how different the plants and animals are, and how the locals interact with them. Like the red fox that came by the Fonte de' Medici restaurant most nights, looking for a handout:

Wild fox visits restaurant

And the green lizards we kept seeing everywhere, sunning themselves on fences and stones:

Green lizard

The food.

Stuffed zucchini flowers

Trying the food in a different country has always been part of why I enjoy travelling. I'll try pretty much anything as long as I'm not allergic to it and it's not moving. I love trying new taste sensations, and while travelling would rather pick randomly from a menu than have something I've had many times before.

Sure, I may not like it, but at least I've tried something new. :-) I love food, as many of you know. There are very few foods I don't like. I used to dislike more foods, but made it a point to try each of these at least once every year, to see if I still didn't like them. As a result, I now like kiwi and sea urchin, both foods I couldn't stand before.

Antipasto Toscano dish

I'll often come back from a trip with new inspiration to try cooking a different type of cuisine and new ways of preparing familiar foods. I'm aware that at least part of the reason I enjoyed the food on this past trip so much was because of my surroundings. My recent enthusiasm for trying Italian cooking is a way of bringing part of my trip enjoyment home, revisiting the experience.

When I came back from Didgeri-Douze in England, I remember experimenting more with different kinds of teas and tisanes as well as being inspired by Talis Kimberley's "tea library." That whole experience had a lasting effect and whenever I go to my own tea library, I remember that wonderful trip. I've also enjoyed sampling and bringing home teas from other trips as well, such as my "1001 Nights" tea from Frankfurt (first sampled at Juliane's house) and my Blood Orange Tea (first sampled at a friend's place in Austria, then Katy bought some more for me in Germany). And now, of course, I have my Paris tea. :-)

Personal growth.

Traveling helps keep me from getting in a rut.

In Montalcino

Traveling puts me in situations where I have less control of my surroundings than at home. There's a certain risk to traveling that goes beyond just getting lost or losing your wallet. You're no longer on home turf...people deal with this in different ways, I find.

Some people insist on sticking with their usual mindset, expecting the people and places around them to adapt rather than the other way around. This type of traveler does a lot of complaining, constantly (and often loudly) pointing out ways the foreign place isn't as good as back home.

I try very hard NOT to be this kind of traveler, to focus on appreciating what the new place has rather than what it hasn't. They may have different ways of doing things which may seem confusing and sometimes frustrating to a tourist, but I see that more of a benefit to the whole travel experience rather than a negative....what would be the point of traveling if the place you're traveling to is exactly the same as back home, after all?!?

Sometime the differences help me appreciate what I have that much more. Sometimes I end up taking home new ways of thinking about or doing things, integrating what I've learned into my own day-to-day routines.

Ultimately, I find travel helps me learn as much about myself as I do about the rest of the world.

Mystery bug
Any ideas about what kind of bug this is? Like the rosemary beetle,
it was also on a stalk of lavender.

The wonder.

This is the main reason I love traveling.

When I'm in a place I've never been before, I find that my senses are all heightened. I notice my surroundings more, am more aware of what's going on around me. From time to time it can get a little scary or overwhelming but y'know, I think that sometimes we all need that.

I find that traveling helps remind me how important it is not to let life slide by, to get as much as you can from the experience. You're much more aware that you may never come back to a particular place again and how important single moments can be.

You don't have to travel to know this, of course, but it's one of the aspects of travel that enhances the experience for me.

Me, in Italy

If you've read through these reports, you will already have guessed that Jeff and I had a wonderful time. Thanks so much to Ginny for making this trip possible!

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Europe trip (Part 12): Rome

Motorbike dress

Above: This was a frequent sight in Rome...women dressed relatively formally, in a dress and high heels, riding motorbikes.

Luisa's pot

I've just discovered that I have not been getting some of my e-mail (including LJ comment notifications), still not sure why. :-( If you've recently sent me e-mail and have not yet received a reply, please do re-send just in case, cc:ing to my account. Thanks!

Jeff and I enjoyed hanging out with Reid, Luisa, Michael and Ronnie yesterday afternoon. The photo to the right: Luisa made this pot herself, from scratch (!). She claims it's a reject, but I liked it so much she let me keep it. Thanks to Luisa for the fine lunch. Afterward, we browsed an Arts show at a nearby arts community centre where Luisa does her pottery.

I also just found out about a huge used bookstore modeled on New York's The Strand will be opening in Toronto this September. I'm looking forward to checking it out!

But back to my trip report, which is nearly at at end:

Evil duck fountain

Part 1 (Paris) - Part 2 (more Paris) - Part 3 (Fonte de' Medici) - Part 4 (Montalcino and Montefiridolfi) - Part 5 (La Petraia) - Part 6 (Florence) - Part 7 (more Florence) - Part 8 (Cinque Terre) - Part 9 (Pisa, Fiesole and Volpaia) - Part 10 (Lost in Siena) - Part 11 (Siena) - Part 12 (Rome) - Final

Leaving Fonte de' Medici was hard; it had become home to us for a couple of weeks. But we were also excited about seeing Rome! We stayed at the Hotel De Petris (Via Rasella 142 - 00187) in Rome for two nights. Ginny parked her car at the airport and we took a cab into the city because we didn't want to have to drive in Rome. My friend Reid said he enjoyed driving in Rome when he and Luisa visited...he said everyone drove like him. :-)

We only had one full day in Rome, but I think we did fairly well at making the most of the time.

It helped that in Rome, it's nearly impossible to walk somewhere and not see something interesting. We wandered into Piazza di Pietra, for example, and were blown away by the gorgeous flowers (does anyone know what type these are?) exploding across the front of a building:

Salotto 42

Then I heard music, turned, and saw this street musician:

Street performer

...who was performing in front of Hadrian's Temple, which was built in 145 AD.

Hadrian's Temple

145 AD.

The immense age of some of the structures around us floored and humbled me. One of the things I loved so much about this trip, especially our visit to Rome, is how much more exciting history became for me; I hated history in school, found most of pretty dull.

In Rome, we were in the middle of it. Just as I had in the Notre Dame in Paris, I'd look down at the stone beneath my feet and wonder at the centuries of souls who had walked on that same spot. In Rome, I realized how many more centuries were represented.

The Pantheon, for example:

The Pantheon in Rome

According to this Wikipedia entry, the original Pantheon was built in 27 BC-25 BC under the Roman Empire and it remains the best-preserved of all Roman buildings as well as the oldest important building in the world with its original roof intact.

Inside, the oculus is the only opening in the building that lets in light:

Oculus in the Pantheon

Exploring the Roman Forum ruins, we came across the remains of even older buildings like the Temple of Saturn below, which was established between 501 and 498 BC:

Remains of the Temple of Saturn

As we walked around the area, small dust storms like this one would whirl around every so often as tourists covered their faces. I was still getting Roman dust out of my clothes days after getting back from the trip, but it was worth it. :-)

Of course we had to explore the Coliseum:


Thanks to "Fifona"" on LJ for her Rome recommendations: We did find Tre Scalini but sadly didn't have time to try the chocolate bombe. We had lunch at Ristorante Virgilio Pizzaria Birreria in Camp di Fiori and browsed the wonderful market there. We tried visiting Gelateria San Crispino (Via della Panetteria 42), but it was closed both the evenings, plus all day Tuesdays. We did go to Sant'Eustachio Il Caffe near Trevi fountain, where Jeff and Ginny had some of their fine coffee:

Sant'Eustachio Il Caffe

I also visited Giolitti (Via dei Uffici del Vicario 40) because of the intriguing "Sistine Chapel of gelati" description. They did indeed have many flavours, but none were labelled! In English OR Italian. Rather than pick randomly, I opted to sample gelato at other places in my continuing quest for good gelato.

My vote for The Best Gelato In Rome is Gelateria Valentino (Via del Lavatore, 96, 00187 Roma - tel. 06 6783219 near the Trevi fountain). I sampled a LOT of gelato while I was in Italy, and I liked their the gelato and customer service the best. Their pink grapefruit gelato was amazing. Here are just a few of their flavours:

Best gelato in Rome! :-)

Here's the crowd at the famous Trevi fountain:

Trevi fountain crowd

The crowd was even more impressive at the Vatican, so we opted to look at St. Peter's Basilica from the outside rather than go in. Later on we chatted with a couple at the airport who said they were there when we were, and waited about 2 1/2 hours in line to get inside.

Versace on Via dei Condotti

One of the window displays in the (very) upscale shopping district Via dei Condotti. Items in this display:

Dress: 1625 euros (CA$2311.11)
Bag: 2700 euros (CA$3840)
Sandals: 780 euros (CA$1109.33)
Watch: 2350 euros (CA$3342.22)
Belt: 480 euros (CA$582.67)
TOTAL = 7935 euros (CA$11,185.33)

Maria Grazia Luffarelli

During our wanderings, we came across I Colori Di Dentro ("The Inside Colors") at Via dei Banchi Vecchi 29, 00186 Roma), a wonderful little shop and art studio. The artist is Maria Grazia Luffarelli, who specializes in original and print watercolors. We loved her work because it was bright and cheerful, very much like Maria's personality. We ended up buying a number of prints as well as the three mounted prints she's holding in the photo above. Maria is also a children's book illustrator. More info about Maria at her Web site.

On our last evening in Italy, Jeff and I took Ginny out for dinner at a restaurant of her choice. She chose L'eau Vive di Roma (Via Monterone 00186 Roma, ph: 06-68801095, near Piazza Navona & the Pantheon), a place she had heard about from a friend. Run by a society of French missionary nuns, the restaurant is known for serving good classic French cuisine. Apparently Pope John Paul II dined here when he was archbishop of Krakow.

I ordered lettuce soup with toasted nuts, leg of lamb, and chocolate mousse for dessert. Like the food we'd had on the rest of the trip, it was excellent. I was especially surprised that the lettuce soup was so delicious; I had ordered it out of curiosity.

Partway through the meal, everyone stopped to sing Ave Maria. The nuns dressed in traditional costumes had handed out flyers with English, Italian and French versions of the song and there we all were, tourists and locals alike, singing along in a moment I found surprisingly touching. All proceeds from the restaurant go to charity.

Roman entrepreneur

Rome was a place that deserved to be explored in more than one day. So many things to see and so little time! I'd like to come back when we can visit at a more leisurely pace.

Hm. I've been saying this a lot during my trip reports, haven't I? At this rate, Jeff and I would have to LIVE in Europe for several months to properly appreciate all these places but even then I suspect we'd only find more we'd want to come back for. It's part of why I love traveling.

But more on this in my next Blathering, which will conclude this trip report.

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