What could possibly go wrong?

Yes.  Well.  It’s a noble idea and functions smoothly to benefit the environment and general population.  Somewhere else.  I’m talking trash.  Not throwing shade… yet.  Actual trash.  When we arrived here, the garbage collection system was to carry one’s refuse up the street to the dumpster and pitch it in.  Some time after that, giant underground bins were installed for garbage plus glass, paper, and plastic recycling.  And in an uncharacteristic move of self-awareness, a monstrous receptacle for used cooking oil (note the lack of aluminum recycling).  Also lacking was any suggestion as to which types of plastic to deposit, which immediately led me to believe that none of it would be recycled but rather all of it hauled off to an illegal dump run by the mob.  As it always has been.  But the appearance of recycling would appease the EU.  And justify the expenditure of whatever EU funds were sent to bring the place up to code.  Perhaps larger bins would ameliorate the piles of garbage which mushroomed by the dumpsters as they overflowed before they were emptied… or someone was too lazy to put their bag inside, thus giving the impression of overflowing and setting the precedent for everyone else.  Evidently, none of this came to pass.  Garbage plus recyclables continued to accrue on the sidewalk and the EU mandated a more complicated and potentially enforceable scheme of collection.

Which brings me to the day I saw a poster in town about a new system of recycling.  I understood that at that very moment, new household bins were being distributed at the theatre.  I was, as I so often am, mistaken.  A talk was being given on the subject.  Nothing happens in Italy without an affliction of oration.  I listened to the man describe all the various types of garbage and recycling which may pass through a household.  And what particular sorts of food we may have purchased in said packaging.  Yeah, I can identify all the things.  I used to live in Santa Cruz (CA).  So, I asked a young mother at the back, jiggling a fussy baby on her hip, if they were distributing the bins today.  No, that will be another day.  Right, that’s enough of that then.

Immediately upon exiting the theatre, I bumped into a life-long expat friend who owns a shop in town.  She is always a font of useful information.  There had already been much hand wringing and hair pulling on the subject amongst business owners.  There would indeed be bins.  And bar codes.  I said I would like to participate.  I’m all in favor of ecology.  And I love fresh, new organizationals.  Yes, IKEA, is a little patch of paradise for me.  She said, yes we would like to participate because it will be legally mandated by the EU.  HA!  I’d like to see them enforce it.  Really, I would.  But in a country with an order of magnitude more laws than even France, who invented bureaucracy, the only laws enforced with vigor are the unwritten food rules.

Some days later, I spotted a stack of notices at another apartment building’s door.  Relying on previous experience with whomever is responsible for delivery things to us, I snagged one on the way past.  There were none at ours.  It was the announcement of our Date of  Bin Distribution.  Which fell while we would be away.  Same friend, J, to the rescue.  She used her ‘foreign but known’ status to collect bins for the ‘unknown foreigners’ who weren’t on the list.  Our landlord has said nothing of this new, legally mandated scheme we’re to join.  There were barcodes, but they were not in any way associated with us.  So, where the voluminous instructions speak of Yellow Cards for putting out the wrong bin and Red Cards for mis-sorting the recyclables, J speculates said Cards are solely for education.  There won’t be enough Red Cards to get down the street.  I’ve observed how my neighbors “sort” their refuse.

So, I have collected, in theory, one year’s worth of:  yellow plastic bags for all plastic and metal (really? I am again suspicious; nobody takes every type of plastic with no mention whatsoever of the number codes), large paper bags for paper and cardboard, a plastic bin for glass, large grey plastic bags for non-recyclable/non-rotting trash (which is called “dry”), and <drumroll please> one large solid plastic bin, one small perforated plastic bin, and a stack of small paper bags for everything that rots: fruit, veg, meat, fish, terrace garden pruning et al.  They call it variously “organics” or “wet.”  Yes, the paper bag is for this.  Ostensibly, it goes under the kitchen sink, in the plastic basket, with the holes in the bottom.  It puts the rubbish in the basket or else it gets the hose again.  Not in my kitchen, it doesn’t.  That whole operation can live on the back porch and I will shuttle out discrete quantities of rottables.


Along with all these bins, bags, and baskets, came Instructions.  And a booklet of every thing one might want to dispose of, listed alphabetically, and how to do so.  Quite thorough, really.  It’s a crying shame that most of the population won’t be bothered to give it a thought.  Rumor has it that it’s been implemented in the larger city just down the road.  And is, as expected, an unmitigated disaster.  Our new system was to come on-line May 1st.  The man and I decided that as we don’t create much garbage, we’d just wait and watch, see what our neighbors do, as the exhaustive Instructions do fail to note just where we are to place the bins and bags at the designated days/hours of the week.  The scheme is called Porta a Porta, “door to door,” but our door is at the end of an alley beyond a lift gate.  I have little hope for seeing the end of walking around town carrying sacks of garbage.  But we were ready, bins, basket, and sacks.


As I went out to the gym on May 2nd, I noticed exactly nothing outside our building’s door.  The girls at the gym were talking about it.  Nope, not today.  Maybe next week.  Maybe two weeks.  One of them gave me a FaceBook page to check for information.

The meeting to determine who would receive the contract for collection was going to be held… wait for it… May 4th, three days after the whole dog & pony show was supposed to be fully under way.

To be continued. . .

Feral Words & Dangerous Ideas

Yes, Deadpool is a super hero movie out of Marvel’s ever expanding and lucrative stable.  That said, he is more of an anti-hero, a complex character best appreciated by adults.  In general, I wouldn’t expose children to more gratuitous violence than they’re going to find in the current events reels (ha, that’s an ancient reference; movies used to be made of film, which was packaged in reels, and before said movies were played, a bonus reel of moving-picture news might be shown instead of ads for games based on other movies).  The sex in Deadpool is minimal, enthusiastic, and consensual between adults.  A better “adult theme” than murder and mayhem.  But it’s really the language that would require adult intervention for viewing by the young.  His invective is voluminous, creative, hilarious, and probably enchanting to eleven year olds.

I am not responsible for any little humans.  A situation for which I am profoundly grateful.  But were I, we would talk about the words, the language, as I do with other humans.  But young ones are just learning.  “Sticks & stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”  Not a bad place to begin, both true and yet horribly false.   Kids calling names on the playground are just making sounds into the void.  If the object of the name-calling understands that, all can be well.  That kid gets to decide the power those words have.  Words do have power.  Some words are benign, civilized, welcomed anywhere.  Some are not.  But there are no bad words.  Some words are just feral, safe enough in their native habitat but not to be brought into the drawing room.  Deadpool uses many feral words.  I might explain it to a young person, using the F word for simplicity’s sake, that while you can say it amongst your friends, if you said it to Grandma, it might upset her.  It might make her less inclined to give you a cookie.  It might even get you slapped or your mouth washed out with soap.  So, while it’s just a sound, it has meaning.  Meaning has power.  Let loose in the drawing room, it could lose you something nice.  First lesson.  Carefully consider your audience and wield those feral words with caution.  In fact, the F word seems to be losing its power because it gets thrown around in all contexts.  It used to be called the F-bomb for a reason.  It was a linguistic nuclear option.  Now, for many, it’s just filler, junk language.  I am an advocate of precision and accuracy.  It’s one of the many reasons I love my mother tongue.  English, with its accretion of constituent words and rules, is both bedeviling and beguiling.  With the ability to convey meaning with razor-sharp clarity and also ideas charged with emotion, our words are powerful.

This hypothetical conversation with a person just beginning to experiment with language is really an opening for something more important.  While words spoken to us are ours to empower or not, rippling out into the world they can have great consequence.  That’s the untruth of “sticks and stones…”  We do not have to let hurtful words inside ourselves.  But they can, in fact, damage our reputation, which in turn can wreak havoc on our personal and professional lives.  So, too, can the words we speak.  Which is where I would be heading with my long-winded and unwelcome oration.  The internet is egalitarian in its assimilation, elephantine in its recollection.  Words fired off carelessly or in a fit of pique will remain as accessible as those painstakingly crafted with purpose and forethought, to the detriment or benefit of both ourselves and our subjects.  Language has always been one way ~the arts, as well~ of making our own thoughts those of another, a vector of contagion as it were.  The current American political scene, upon which I will not waste my breath nor your attention, makes this jaw-droppingly, nauseatingly clear.  Words have power.  In fact, I think I’d prefer my conjectured tweenager hear the depth and breadth of Deadpool’s colorful vocabulary, his sentiments generally justified, than absorb the real-world hate, misogyny, xenophobia, unbridled egomania, and spittle-flecked vitriol on the campaign trail.  A wretched state of affairs indeed.  No wonder Marvel’s escapist universe of more-than-humans, heroes, and even anti-heroes is doing so well.  Good writing helps, too, of course.

Dust on the Rocking Chairs

Eleven years ago my sister, being much too young, and her husband, who did in fact qualify despite his youthful energy, bought a winter home in a retirement community in Arizona.  It was the most impulsive thing she, the Certified Public Accountant, has ever done.  I applauded the decision on that score alone.  I knew, no matter how impetuous it seemed, she would have done all the calculations to make certain that it was a financially sound course of action.  And it’s no trailer park, Sun City Grand.

Saguaro et al @WhiteTank

They have a spacious stand-alone house, including a two-car garage / glass art studio (have you seen the work of David Lucas around my neck? Beautiful stuff).  The yards are all carefully chosen palettes of stones, cacti, and citrus trees.  Every morning and evening the quail scurry about, their dainty headdresses bobbing, and amuse the cats no end.  Bunnies, too!  Also the occasional coyote.  I was in perpetual fear to witness Nature, red of tooth and claw, dart through the back yard with a screaming jack rabbit in its mouth.  I was spared this CatTV reality show.  My sister saw a coyote crossing the road, in the crosswalk, all about his coyote business.  Must be evolution in action; crosswalks are safer than mid-block, particularly in neighborhoods of diminished perception and increased reaction time.

Look closely, it's orange leaf-thieving bunnehs!

Look closely, it’s orange leaf-thieving bunnehs!

As with all the marvelous places I go, the wild- and not-so wildlife are every day’s highlight for me, but I was profoundly impressed with the facilities of the development.  And beyond the mere existence of gyms, pools (indoor and outdoor), dog parks, art studios, computer labs, restaurants, full-service spa, churches, and the offering of classes in nearly all of these venues was the extent to which the seniors take advantage of them.  A weekly calendar is published with all the activities on offer: classes, clubs, outings, meetings, et al.  My brother-in-law is encouraged to make his choices and mark the calendar so he doesn’t miss out on any of the things he likes to do.  It has nothing to do with my sister wanting peace and quiet to work on the many quilting projects she always has going.  One club makes quilts for cancer patients, for example.  I watched her build a big heart last week.  There used to be a sign over the gym door, “People go to Florida to die.  People go to Arizona to live.”  It was probably politically incorrect and burned by the AARP, but it seems to be their true motto.  Much of the day the machines in the gym, and they are legion, are in use.  There is a sign-up board for them!  One pool is full of people playing volleyball three times a week.  I know this factoid because my brother-in-law is one of them.  They sound like they are having a blast.  Might be twentyfour people in a game, not many rules, but much laughter.  Exercise classes are full throughout the day, too, as the big glass windows allow loafers like myself to peer in on the way to the spa.  I did suffer through two of my sister’s classes with the Flex Bar ~sounded like a good time until I realized there was no tender, in any sense of the word.  It was a workout.  I hope my Torquemada back home doesn’t learn of these horrible devices.  She works at Gym Tonic, too, so she might.  She’s always turning up with new implements of torture.  But I digress.  The spa!  I’d thought to take my sister away for a Girls’ Spa Weekend for her birthday, but I couldn’t find a better place than where she lives.  Pretty awesome.  I had her book us two massages each at Cimarron Spa, which were fabulous.  With fruit from her own tree, I did a 2-week Grapefruit Diet (don’t panic, I wouldn’t miss out eating well on vacation; I just started every day with an enormous and delicious ruby red).  We spent many afternoons lounging by the pool on big comfy chairs, gazing at palm trees and endless blue skies.


There are walkers and orthopaedic devices, stooped shoulders and big bellies, raspy voices discussing medical procedures, but beneath all that there are souls who aren’t done with living.  I could almost imagine these folks fifty years ago, probably the Cool Kids.  They’re Baby Boomers, after all, accustomed to the world revolving for them.  And so they carry on, keeping busy, giving back, doing young even if they can’t truly be young anymore.  It’s admirable, enviable.  I don’t see following generations having the wherewithal the Boomers accumulated in order to pursue this lifestyle.  But as wonderful as they have it, I’m not sure I’d want it for myself.  It’s kind of like a big Greek Row in college.  I pledged a sorority, but as it turned out, I’m just not that social.  My sister loves seeing people, visiting through their classes and around the pool, “selling” her bumper crop of grapefruit.  Just watching her was enough interaction for me.  I’m a hermit (and a misanthrope, truth be told), so I will probably trade the outstanding facilities and wonderful classes for a hammock on the terrace and a pile of cats books cats and books.  Good on anyone who decides to do what they can do, be happy with what they can do, and just keep doing it.  A dear friend always said, “Never fear slowing down. Just don’t stop altogether.”  I like that.  When she was promoted to glory, her friends knew because she missed her tee-time on the golf course that day.

Desert Cats (Bella & Bogart)

Desert Cats (Bella & Bogart)

Shine a Little Light


Check out this guy!  Or possibly girl.  There isn’t much information on the interwebs about Benthoctopus sp. or this individual in particular, but the photo (taken by Bruce Strickrott) grabbed my attention and got me thinking.  The mechanical arm belongs to Alvin, the amazing and famous deep sea submersible at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.  He was down on a mission for Principal Investigator Charles Fisher.  The octopus just wandered up to say, “Hey.”  The whole scene looks like a Steampunk meet-up, which is cool.

But red light bails out first going down into the depths, so our curious friend here probably doesn’t know he’s red.  My initial thought was, how sad, he thinks he’s gray like everybody else.  He has no idea how extraordinary he is.  Then I noticed how deep this dive was: 7,500 feet.  That’s almost a mile and half straight down, gentle reader.  All light gives it up for a bad job well before that.  Not only does Benthoctopus have no idea he’s red, color doesn’t figure in his world at all.  He is wondrous and beautiful, but his habitat never lets it show.  No one knows or cares that he is a brilliant shade of scarlet.  Neither he nor his neighbors are aware that colors even exist.

Then I started getting philosophical, sociological even.  What if no one can see the particular way in which I am special, maybe wonderful?  What if everyone thinks I’m just gray, like them?  Then… what if I am special and wonderful in a way that none of us even know about?  What if I would be stunning and brilliant in some other habitat, a different sort of society, one which sees things we cannot imagine?

Back to our denizen of the deep dark.  Even though color is invisible in his world, he is red.  It only took someone shining a light on him to show it.  What about our world, our neighbors?  Who goes through their lives with incredible color we don’t see?  We judge people to be gray, like ourselves, because we don’t shine the right light on them.  We believe we are just gray because it’s all we’ve ever seen.  Surely there is more to everyone, no matter how dull they appear in our world.  But what is the light we need to shine on each other?  Benthoctopus never saw Alvin or his lights before.  He didn’t know about light or color.  What can each of us do, as individuals, to let another’s true colors shine?  I don’t know.  But now I’m thinking about it.  That’s where change begins.

Südtirolean Escape

There is no place like home, or so They say.  But other places can be homey and sometimes home isn’t so much, so it’s a pleasure to return to a homey place delightfully unlike home.  Some years and several generations of Centre employees ago a charming little valley in the Dolomites was discovered and anointed to be the destination of Annual Sledding Weekend.


Hotel Tyrol in St. Magdalena is our place, a beautiful Tyrolean accommodation run by a lovely family, filled with wonderful art ~primarily created by the family patriarch~ where we are welcomed back warmly every time, fed well, and avail ourselves of the excellent spa facilities looking out over the mountains.

Villnößtal is a pleasantly undeveloped little valley, no big ski resorts to bring the hoards.  But popular summer mountain trekking huts are open, offering sleds for rent.  So we hike up the fire road to GeislerAlm, eat a hearty Tyrolean lunch ~consisting solidly of cheese, Knödel (dumplings), and pork products for those who partake~  far overcompensating for the walk, then sled back down, whooping, hollering, laughing, and usually sustaining only minor bumps and bruises.  Then back to Hotel Tyrol for steaming, sauna, massages, Ruheraum, and outdoor jacuzzi ~snow angels, weather permitting.  And maybe a quick nap.  There is even a Kinderraum, but a room just for the amusement of children gives me the hibbedy jibbedies.  I’ve never gone in.


When we are soothed, relaxed, clean, and rested, dinner begins with a gorgeous salad bar.  Truly, I look forward to that salad bar as much anything, except the hot tub of course.  I intended to photograph its bounty but every evening was distracted by same and was at table tucking in before I realized it.  Having selected entreès and mains at breakfastIMG_6051 ~which is itself a feast~ from the offerings of the day, dinner proceeds with lively conversation among friends until we are stuffed and waddle into the common room for a digestif and card games.  It’s most convivial to be in a cozy room with other guests playing games, being sociable.  Germanophones call it gemütlichkeit.  It is one of my favorite things for which there is no single English word.  The host family is running the bar, answering questions, joining in conversation, or toddling about with a sippy cup.  It’s a whole-family operation, so we the guests feel much as though we are lounging about their living room.  I wish my living room had such a ceramic stove!

In fact, the family have their own quarters elsewhere in the building into which they may retire.  But through all our “adventures,” ranging from a car incapacitated by its own chains to a dog lost on the mountain to an actual emergency requiring hospitalization, the family Senoner have been beyond helpful, gracious, and concerned for our welfare.  And they continue to have us back!  Also, Dragon Empress Kiwi Pu is always welcome (and any other family animules, up to and including 3 quite wolf-like Husky-type dogs; the most wolf-life one proving that he is in fact a house pet, being the one lost on the mountain over night and a very sorry pup in the morning when he was rescued).  I’m fascinated by the idea of growing up in such a place.  The valley is our occasional playground, but these children grow up with it as their back yard.  They see their parents’ work, learning hospitality while they are exposed to people from around the world.  The patriarch, getting on in years, is still able to stay in familiar surroundings, with his family nearby all day.  It’s long days of hard work, so I hope they know how much we appreciate the experience they reliably provide.  We’ve been many times for Sledding Weekend, but also in summer and fall for hiking and biking and eating and a deep breath of near-Austria when true Italy wears us to a frazzle.  The Südtirol is a special, semi-autonomous region of Used-to-be-Austria/Made-to-be-Italy where things are cleaner and work better, but don’t require crossing the Alps for us to enjoy.


Teo, the Hospitalicat

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