Friday, April 29, 2011

So Long, Snow.

4-29-11 VERMONT: Yesterday we had a warm rainy day, I got most of the bed barriers set up between showers, and before the rain got serious about soaking us. Today started cloudless and cool, but by mid-afternoon was overcast and rain, our daily dose, followed. Nevertheless, undaunted by adverse weather, I did most of the clean up. In spite of all the snow storms this past winter, there were surprisingly few large branches down, but plenty of small ones kept me busy. Judy put the rocking chairs out on the porch and terrace.

The warm rain has melted 80% of the snow piles.

New blooms: daffodil, wild ginger.

Red Maple. I've posted pix of this tree in the fall with its striking red foliage, here it is with red flowers, probably the same pigment.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Still Snowy.

4-27-11 VERMONT: When we left Short Hills this morning, the apple trees were starting to open, but here in Vermont, we’re a month behind NJ. We still have snow piles, ice mounds actually, under the eaves on the front and back of the house and a little in the driveway. This deep into April is the latest that I remember snow here in the last twenty years. These piles are compacted from falling off the roof and are really like little glaciers, and they will last into May.

As the piles recede from the beds, the perennials spring up, NPI, almost immediately. The standing and flowing water from all the melt and thaw is everywhere. Walking around the pasture means picking out dry foot holds and navigating around the puddles and swamplets.

The frogs are in full voice and the pond, completely thawed, is full of egg globules. I saw fish, newts and a spotted salamander half hidden under leaves in shallow water.

Oops, I almost forgot, we saw “Book of Mormon” last night—a riot! We had dinner at Chez Napoleon on 50th St—also recommended.

In bloom: snowdrops, crocus, hellebore.

Glaciers out front.

Glaciers in back.


Snowdrops are all over the beds.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Warm Days.

4-25-11 SHORT HILLS: The last two days have been warm, T-shirt warm, work up a sweat warm, finally. We did have more rain last night, this time with electricity, which had all the dogs upset. It delivered another 0.4 inches.

I was back at The Farm in Green Village for flowers today. I bought and planted in the new perennial bed, next to the big holly tree, eight hosta, four Hosta x Golden Tiara and four Hosta undulata Albo Marginata; two bleeding hearts, Dicentra spectabilis; and two lilyturf, Liriope muscari variegata. I used another load of compost from the town dump.

Vermont trip on Wednesday.

New blooms: dogwood, mertensia, kerria, dandelion.

Marsh Marigold. After the flower has finished, everything vanishes until next spring.

What's prettier than a magnolia?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

TSE was right about April.

4-23-11 SHORT HILLS: We have had April being pretty nasty. Two days ago we had sun, strong, gusty wind and cool temps. Yesterday was cold, calm and cloudy. Today there’s been 0.75 inches of rain, without wind or electricity, with more on the radar horizon.

I finished the benches. I needed to cut the old bolts with a cordless saber saw to get the rotting old wood off the metal frames. The frames are in decent shape. I’ll need to paint them when they dry out after today’s rain.

Yesterday I went back to pruning shrubs around the house which meant a trip to the dump with a load of cuttings, and a chance to bring back more top soil to start a new flower bed.

New blooms: grape hyacinth.

Anthurium and Amaryllis from the Hotel Eden, Rome. The next day they replaced these with white ones.

Garden in Assisi, grapes, olives, fruit trees and, of course, lots of birds.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Spring Inches Forward.

4-20-11 SHORT HILLS: The last few days here have been cold, rainy and foggy, but we got only 0.1 inches of rain. Everything is still soggy and muddy. These cold, dark days seem to suspend spring’s progress. This afternoon it cleared and warmed up to the seventies, and you could almost see the leaves growing.

I started working on bench repair for a couple parties Judy [and I] are planning. Three old park-type benches that I rebuilt in the eighties have rotted away again. Today I ripped a 12 foot 2x12 plank into a couple dozen slats and ripped a pressure treated 2x4 into slats for the bases. It makes a lot of sawdust. Assembly tomorrow if I don’t have too much trouble getting the rusted bolts off.

At the feeder: the gold finches are quite golden now, first red-wing blackbirds heading north.

New blooms: violet, marsh marigold, saucer magnolia, flowering pear.

There’s not much to show here, so I’ll post some flowers from Italy.

Wisteria in Arezzo.

Flower market, Orvieto.

Flower market, Piazza Fiori, Rome.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Back in the U.S.A.

4-17-11 SHORT HILLS: The trip home was the usual long bus ride, but the landing in strong, gusting winds at EWR was a thud. We breezed through immigration and customs, even with an x-ray bag check. The dogs were most excited to see us and get home.

There was a lot of rain last night—the gauge had about 1.5 inches when we got home and 4 inches this morning, so we got about 2.5 inches as a welcome home shower. There are flood warnings for the usual low-lying towns.

I walked around the yard this morning with the canine escort. All the shrubs and trees are showing fat buds and first leaves except rose-of-sharon. More daffodils and forsythia are out. Hosta shoots are visible. The grass is greener, but there’s still plenty of mud. Inside tomato and herb seedlings are up.

New blooms: trout lily, claytonia, blood root.

Forsythia are indestructible. Prune them to the ground, drive a truck into them, they just grow back. They struggle in full shade. I like to see them take their natural shape, hay stack, rather than get trimmed into balls or other geometrical shapes.

Trout Lily, named, I suppose, because the leaf shape and stippling is suggestive of a trout or, perhaps, because they appear about the same time as fishing season. Anybody?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Roma II.

4-15-11 ROMA: Last night we ate at Piperno for the fried artichokes. It is near Isola Tiberina, an island in the Tiber. We walked back to Piazza Navona in light rain for dessert at Tre Scalini and then taxied back to the Eden.

Today started with a few raindrops, but dried up enough so we didn’t need the umbrellas we carried all day. We went west down to the Tiber and crossed on the Ponte Sant’Angelo and did the Castel Sant’Angelo, tomb of Hadrian and many popes, fortress and prison. Inside it’s dark and gloomy. We walked with the hordes of invaders through terraces, rooms with muralled walls and ceilings, past tombs and ended up on top for views of the river and city that more than made the trek worthwhile.

After re-assembling back outside we walked over to the Piazza San Pietro looked at the enormous, gigantic line and settled for piazza. Back across the river, we had lunch in a small taverna, went through the Piazza Campo dei Fiori market and back to the Foro Romano and the Colosseo and a quick peek inside and walk part way around the stadium, not so different from a modern arena.

We taxied back to Hotel Eden, and after a short break, walked up the Via Veneto and did a turn through the Borghese Gardens. After dinner tonight, we pack for NJ.

Roma. Castel Sant'Angelo, big crowds, great views.

From Castel Sant'Angelo, domes of Rome.

From Castel Sant'Angelo, Tiber River.

From Castel Sant'Angelo, rooftops of rome.

Piazza San Pietro.

Foro Romano.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


4-14-11 ROMA: It started out cool, but warmed quickly. We walked south across the city, just the two of us, stopped at the Trevi Fountain, and went on the Piazza Venezia. We were looking at Trajan’s Column and Forum when Anna called.

Her morning classed ended early, and she met us in front of the Vittoriano. We walked around the Forum, got the Art History take on it, the Colosseo and Constantine’s Arch. Then went to the Piazza Navona to see more Bernini fountains and have lunch. We snaked our way through the street-art booths, junk vendors, crowds, photographers and had pasta and caffe in the piazza. After lunch Anna took us to an outdoor market in Piazza Campo dei Fiori and we left her near there at L’Universita for her afternoon classes. Her whole school group goes the Ravenna this afternoon.

We went on to the Piazza Farnese and the French Embassy, but the lines were too long to wait for the art tour, so we went to the Pantheon, peeked in and went back to the hotel, passing the Parlamento building on the way.

The center of Rome is glorious. Almost every building would be a standout in a small city. People would stand around admiring it and taking pictures. In Rome, it’s just another building on a block of them in a city built of such blocks. There are churches everywhere. The government has so many buildings in Rome, one has no trouble understanding how they perform so efficiently. Rome’s history stalks you at every turn, the guidebooks explain the complicated stories of palazzos and piazzas, and even our hotel has a booklet of its ‘tales’. The sidewalks are blocked by clots of tourists getting lectures. The scooters and ‘cycles are zooming everywhere, the traffic eternal. Getting around on foot is pretty easy and fun, at least in the center city for all the stuff we want to see.

Trevi Fountain.

Roman triumphal arch.

Piazza Navona. North Fountain.

Piazza Navona. South Fountain.

Open air market, Piazza Campo dei Fiori.

Pedestrians Beware!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Orvieto and Roma.

4-13-11 ROMA: We left La Corte dei Papi after a buffet breakfast and took A1 south to Orvieto, another hill town just off the highway and built on an old volcano. A steep circular road led into town and all the way to the duomo. It was cool and windy, we needed jackets. We walked more stone streets lined with stone buildings, window shopped, had lunch and hit the highway again.

Orvieto. Medieval streets.

Orvieto. Le Duomo.

Roma, Spanish Steps, Trinita dei Monte church, Hassler Hotel.

It was surprisingly easy to find the Hotel Eden, check-in, and return the car to Avis. We walked over to the Hassler Hotel, church of Trinita dei Monte, walked down the Spanish Steps through crowds of kids and aggressive rose venders. At the bottom of the steps, Piazza di Spagna is a fountain by Bernini. We went back to the Eden to meet Anna for drinks and dinner at a comfortable restaurant in the neighborhood. Anna is loving her term here, knows the citta pretty well, is happy with the classes and looks great.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Seina and Lucignano.

4-12-11 PERGO: Today we drove west to Siena and found parking just inside the old town. We walked several blocks through neighborhoods of more stone houses, here the color is that one you liked in the big Crayola box, ‘burnt siena’, brownish orange, like John Boehner’s face. We turned a corner into a piazza and were confronted with an incredibly ornate, huge, white and pink marble cathedral. It is magnificent, on the inside as well as out. The floors, the walls, the windows, the dome, the library, the ceilings all compete for your attention. The pix just hint at it all.

A few block away is the main square, Piazza del Campo, a vast brick, sloping space surrounded by a sandstone roadway where they have an annual horse race, hard to believe, for me. There is a tower, town hall, public buildings and an ornate marble fountain, Fountain of Joy.

We had lunch off the big piazza after more walk around and by mid-afternoon we found the car and went back, stopping at a little town, Lucignano. A current indie movie, ‘Certified Copy’ was shot here, in this piazza. They built a phony fountain for the movie, now gone.

We had an excellent and fancy dinner back at La Corte dei Papi. Roma tomorrow.

Outside breakfast at La Corte dei Papi.

Color of Siena.

Duomo with gingerbread and stripes.

Duomo, could a zebra just disappear in here?

Piazza del Campo with tower.

Piazza del Campo. Duomo in the backround.

Lucignano, not quite as impressive a piazza.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Cortona and Arezzo.

4-11-11 PERGO: This morning, after breakfast at Castillo di Monterone, we drove to Cortona in Tuscany. Another hill town, this one built of dark gray and taupe sandstone. Some of the sandstone is impressively weathered, probably confirming an age of several hundred years. The hillside is steep, the town wall largely intact, more churches per block than Seattle has Starbucks. Fabulous views over the valleys below including the big lake between Umbria and Tuscany, Lake Trasimeno. We had a great lunch, different bruschettas.

We found the car, no problem, and found our new place, La Corte Dei Pape, in a suburb of Cortona. After check-in, we went to Arezzo, which is a big city with a preserved old town. The old town is up the hill, of course, wrapped with a wall, made of stone and well stocked with churches. A lot of the buildings as plastered and painted, as they were in Cortona. We saw famous frescos in San Francesca by Piero delle Francesca [no relation]. The Grande Piazza with churches, stores, houses and a long loggia is just beautiful space.

Valley views from Cortona.

Church piazza with idlers.

Cortona, morning action in the main piazza.

Arezzo. Grande Piazza.

Arezzo. Grande Piazza.

Arezzo. Grande Piazza. Just a beautiful space.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Assisi and Gubbio.

4-10-11 PERUGIA, ITALY: Another spectacular, blue sky, warm day for seeing Assisi in the morning and Gubbio in the afternoon. Both are hill town built of local stone and ceramic roof tiles for almost every building. The streets are also stone and brick. Seeing each town means lots of walking up, up and up, and, later, back down. Half of the streets are stairs. We all earned our three meals today. Both are medieval towns, making it now on tourism. Both were packed this Sunday, mostly with Italian tourists. Both are gorgeous, full of churches and fortifications. Assisi is bigger with more huge churches and St. Francis. Gubbio has better ceramics and pottery.

Spring is in full bloom here, trees are out, iris, wisteria, tulips, lilac, poppy, lavender, chestnut, wildflowers, bees all over, except on the mountain tops where the trees are just starting. VT is still snowy, and NJ is a month behind Umbria.

Today we saw Assisi in the morning, had more pizza in the piazza, and then, spent a hour trying to find the garage where we parked—duh. Ultimately, we went on the Gubbio and found a great parking spot on the street. After that hill climb up and down, we found a parking ticket on the car. Judy and Lynn took umbrage at our treatment in Umbria.

Tuscany tomorrow.

Assisi-St. Francis.

Assisi. Stony Town.

Assisi. Lots of stones. It was good to be the mason.

Gubbio is famous for pottery and ceramics.

Gubbio. More stones and roof tiles.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Perugia and Castello di Monterone.

4-9-11 PERUGIA, ITALY: We’re here. Overnight flight from EWR was the usual torture of small seats, no way to be comfortable or to get any real sleep—you’ve all been there.

Well, it’s hot here. We were seeking out shade as we made our touristy rounds. Rome-Fumicino airport was OK, customs a walk through and immigration two fast stamps. Baggage and Avis slow but no surprises. Once we got Tom-Tom GPS up and running on European maps, driving was routine until we got to Perugia. Before that we checked in at Castello di Monterone, our hotel and a restored and renovated castle that used to guard the approach to Perugia. Everything has a medieval look and feel, the rooms are beautiful as are the terraces, gardens, pool and setting on a steep hillside. The rosemary hedges we admired in the gardens showed up on the dinner plates. We ate in one of the two restaurants tonight and had a great meals, well herbed.

Perugia, the capital of Umbria, is built on two hilltops connected by a long ridge, initially by the Etruscans before Christ was even a twinkle in God’s eye. The town now spills up and down those hills, colli, and ravines. It’s all vertical. We took a bus tour of the city through narrow streets, heavy with traffic, innumerable Etruscan and Roman and Papal gates in the defensive walls. There’s a big university presence, lots of pricey boutiques and dozens of piazzas each with dozens of pizzerias. We had a nice lunch at one of the many. The entire city is composed of beige-to-orange sandstone and limestone with terra-cotta roof tiles and all soothing to the eye. We got lost driving and walking at every occasion and did a lot of K-turns and backing up. Add in a late afternoon crash, back in the room, and that’s the first day.

Perugia Belltower.

Piazza con Pizzaria.

Busted Garden.

Our Room Entry.