And so it begins...

Eight years after beginning construciton, we are FINALLY adding the underground garage which will also serve as our wine cellar. Plans include paving the outdoor concrete stairs and patio plus adding an outdoor dining area with pergola off the kitchen.  Can't wait for quiet evenings under the stars, sipping wine. Right now construction noises are anything BUT quiet.

Garage-1.jpg

Friends and family that have been here in Terzo will recognize that the driveway that ends at our downstairs backdoor now has a giant hole.

Day Tripping in Italy

It goes without saying - I love our section of Italy.  Within an hour and a half we can be on The Riviera or in the Alps. For our last hurrah before decamping to Texas, we chose the coast.

Primavera in Piemonte

Spring!

The cuckoo bird has arrived and is relentlessly announcing every minute of daylight while the Nightingale sings us a sweet lullaby-  all night long. The fireflies are so thick we don’t need to turn on the porch light. And the Dandelions! The world has turned predominately yellow – they pave the roadsides, carpet the vineyards, and brashly wave their yellow heads from even the tiniest cracks in our concrete patio. Far off hillsides covered in dandelions scream ‘look at me and be happy!’ They are overwhelming in their enthusiastic abundance.

                    

Armloads of wildflowers from right outside my backdoor

Primavera-5.jpg

On the left, dandelions in the vineyards as the look right now. On the right, (with BFF Yvonne Calloway-Smith last year) how it will be in a just few weeks. 

Dandelions are one of the hardiest and most dependable wildflowers, growing virtually everywhere on the planet. My sister, Amanda Scardino, used to call dandelions 'blowing flowers'. And yes, I said FLOWER, not WEED.

In Italy,  young wild dandelions are picked to use in salads and to make one of my favorite Piemontese specialties, torte verde. But they are not ‘dandy-lions’ here. ‘Dente di leone’, translates to ‘tooth of the lion’. This makes sense if you look closely at the ragged shape of the leaves and also explains why they are sometimes known as ‘denti di cane’ (dog teeth).

Call them anything you want - a dandelion by any other name would still sing spring to me!

The War between Words and Visuals has Begun

The lines are being drawn, and Wordies are digging in for the fight.

13 February, 2013
Excerpts from an article by Simply-communicate reporter Jon Woodcraft who attended the recent World Communication Forum (WCF) Switzerland. 

Words vs. visuals 

Text and Image. Dr Alfred Koblinger, CEO BBDO Austria and Wojtek Mierowski, Creative Director, Brand Nature Access (DDB Group) debated which channel will come out on top in the 21st century.

Koblinger turned to history to start.“The knowledge of mankind is based on words and our imagination is stimulated with words. How could we declare love for example with an image?” He believes that today the power of text is losing ground to image, and that if unchecked, could have serious consequences, pointing out, "In the 20th Century moving pictures became the rage – spoken words or the radio seemed to render the printed word obsolete. The fact is that people are reading less and less. 70% of tabloid newspapers are images. Today it’s the internet fostering interaction; the younger generation is 'ego-nomic'. What we could see in the future is a ‘speechless’ generation where people don’t talk to each other. That could result in all kinds of relationship failure."

Yet Koblinger certainly still sees the value of image, particularly in advertising. "Today our attention is captured more easily by images than words. But does that mean visual will be the communication of the future? Definitely not. Words will regain importance – language is our identity."

He remains adamant that text still has the advantage over image: "Words express and create values where images express different things. They deliver content and goals much more effectively than images do. In essence, what words capture are trust, authenticity, reliability and relevance." The future, in his words, is a happy marriage between the two, "Modern technology is based much more on words than images, but it’s definitely a case that one can’t exist without the other."

Mierowski sees image as having much more of an instant impact: "Sometimes the goal of an image is to provoke us – images can often stir up emotions much more effectively than words. But like Alfred I don’t think text will disappear altogether. The issue lies in the quality of the text itself. With an image, it’s not just a photo, but an interpretation of the word." 

Koblinger envisages a huge danger in the over-reliance on image: "There’s a risk of misinterpretation of the image – the quality and clarity of an image also has to be paramount for it to be not just effective, but transparent."

Particularly with young generations, Koblinger hints at a cultural shift in what communication means. "Personally, I imagine that in 20 or so years time we will lose 50% of our words. The young generation are not using the same amount of words as the current one. That’s expresses a part of the culture to come, a culture in which we may lose a lot of the articulation we take for granted." 

Speaking to simply-communicate, Koblinger highlighted what can be done to retain the richness of our communication. "The answer in keeping our language and inspiring a generation to keep communicating with each other is far from simple. My view is that the comms industry has to react to this situation and work with our young people, through education and even through the values that parents give their children. It's not just that I'm concerned about the next generation not communicating in general, but also about its impact upon the industry itself. Communications could see a serious loss of talent."

In short, two very compelling debates - one capturing how it is paramount for the communications department to retain a strong relationship with its different communities but at the same time, keeping its channels in check. The other, a vision of what's to come - future comms professionals need to build the future based on the foundations of language with the support of visual. The exclusion of one could spell the death of the brilliant and intuitive communication we know today.

 A regional edition of the WCF is planned for the 15th March 2013 in Moscow. Details can be found @WorldCommForum.

 Jon Woodcraft is a freelance communications professional studying at UCL.

WE FINISH LAST IN BELGIUM

An Appropriate Re-post In 23 years of working together Chris and I have only had one serious disagreement on the job. Until Belgium, that is. If you were wondering what that mushroom cloud on the horizon was back on Feb 10, well, that was us exploding in thermal nuclear marital meltdown.

Not that the work suffered, oh no. Note the lovely lighting.

It was the perfect storm of marital disputes. We had been on the road for over 45 days straight without a break from work pressures or each other. The only time I couldn’t see Chris was when my eyes were closed. And between a brutal shoot/travel schedule and time zone hopping, my eyes were not closed nearly enough. Rapid blinking didn’t seem to help.

EVERYTHING is sacrificed for The Work, including body, soul and marital stability.

Central to the problem (and the reason I eventually may forgive him), Chris picked up a nasty cold in India. It’s not the first time he has gotten sick on the road while I remained well. For his sake (and mine) I wish he would quit biting his fingernails. Hands are the FedEx of germ distribution. I mentioned that fact once or twice in India as he was coughing up what sounded like parts of his lung. I wasn’t certain he could hear me over the hacking, so I thoughtfully repeated it several times just to make sure.

Adding to the anxiety, his computer, second only to the cameras in important equipment on the road, began alarmingly shutting down for no reason. The screen would just spontaneously go black and everything that was done since the last save would be lost. I kindly tried to offer assistance by standing over his shoulder while he was editing and reminding him over and over ‘Jesus saves and so should you’. For some reason he didn’t seem to appreciate my repeated help or clever humor. Obviously tensions were rising along with his temperature.

Before leaving home, Chris had wisely spent a few minutes packing the startup disc for our software programs in case of problems on the road. He also spent about 3 full days prepping his ipod music. I guess with the pressure of getting all his latest music ready for the road, he forgot to pack the two programs we use the most. I quizzed him briefly if a bit loudly about his packing deficiencies, and between coughing fits he confessed that he also forgot to pack any short sleeve shirts even though we were scheduled to spend nearly 2 weeks in Africa. But music, yes sir! He could leave his ipod playing for 3 months and never repeat a song! I wasn’t as thrilled with that information as he thought I would be.

By the time we arrived in Brussels, his fingernail biting induced illness was full-blown and he was making no attempt to curb his irritability and fussiness. God knows I love the man but I found myself drifting off when he talked and I began day-dreaming about someone else to, eh, talk to. Really, after 45 days of total intense togetherness I think I would grow weary of Brad Pitt. Well, after 60 days for sure. I mean, I dearly love fried chicken but eating it every day for every meal for over a month? Liver and onions would start to look good. Let me put it this way - if Belgium had been an episode of Survivor, Tribe Salvo wouldn’t have been voted off the island, we would have been thrown off of it. Or Chris and I on Dancing with the Stars? We were so out of step with each other, sweet Carrie Ann Inaba would have scored our performance a zero. The Amazing Race? We didn’t arrive last at the Pit Stop, we never ever reached the mat.

February 10th, Ground Zero.
His fuse was short, but mine was even shorter. It was my birthday.

I believe it falls on the same day just about every year. By my calculations, that means he had had 364 days or over 8,000 hours to do something, anything to acknowledge the date. He had done nothing. Let me repeat that: He had done NOTHING – he had not taken even one minute of time to buy me a present or even a birthday card. Nor did I get a funny/cheesy token gift picked up from an airport shop, and god knows we had spent a zillion hours hanging around airports. Granted, Chris was working extra hard this trip. Or has he put it, “I’m (cough, cough) f*ing shooting or editing (sneeze) 18 f*ing hours a day. I’m (wheeze, pitiful look) f*ing sick, and I’m f*ing tired (small extra cough for effect).” The ‘of you’ was implied. By that point I totally agreed. We had reached togetherness saturation. Correction: we had reached togetherness Hell and High Water rampaging flood stage.

So I got no dinner ending with a candle stuck in the dessert or even a shared drink and a birthday toast at the hotel bar. I ate dinner alone in the hotel restaurant on my birthday while he stayed in the room coughing and editing. Correction, I DRANK dinner alone.

After my refreshing liquid birthday dinner, things finally erupted. Krakatoa was less noisy and did less damage. Let me put it this way, there is a little town outside of Brussels with a quaint but thin walled inn that we can never ever be seen in again. Hell, I wouldn’t blame them if we were banned from ever entering the whole country as I’m sure the entire nation heard us.

Next stop Nigeria, the one place on the planet we really don’t like. Surprisingly things got better…

CREATING KILLER CONTENT

Once upon a time all a corporate communicator needed was a typewriter. My, times have changed. And while a personalize storytelling approach remains the best way to get your message across to audiences, the means and the technology for delivering the content has exploded. And keeps exploding. Everyday easier and higher quality tools and techniques to create content become available. With the Flip Camera leading the initial charge and other models like the Kodak Zi8 leap-frogging technically ahead, the ultimate corporate communication frontier - video - has overnight gone from nearly never to REQUIRED weekly.



Coupled with the ability to create cross-media (writing, audio, image, video) messaging is the tectonic shift in ways to deliver the news. Social media (intranets, blogs, YouTube, podcasts, etc.) delivered to every device known to mankind including computers, cellphones, ipods, ipads and so forth - is making it impossible for employees, customers and/or investors to 'hide' from the news.

But just because they get the story, doesn't mean they 'get' your message. Without great content the delivery medium, no matter how cool, no matter how current, is meaningless. Which is why Steve and I came up with the Creating Killer Content Seminar.



Adventures in Corporate Storytelling


No other seminar is offering this kind of comprehensive information all in one package. Check out the details and see if you don't agree. For more info visit our website CREATEKILLERCONTENT

I’M FEELING LIST-LESS SO BUCKET ALL!

The view from our front window in Italy is better than any TV show. It changes constantly and is always entertaining.

I’ve always been a list maker. It makes me feel like I’m organized and on top of things. But the sad fact is that I don’t look at the list after I’ve made it – until it’s too late. I lose them, leave them on the printer or forget I’ve even made them in the first place.

For instance, I read my packing list on the plane – what good does that do? Once back from the store I read the grocery list I left sitting on the kitchen table – useless and frustrating. But there is one list that I never lose because I keep it in my head. I’ve never formally written it down until now. It’s my Ultimate Bucket List - things I find exciting and fun and think about daily, sorta in the same way guys think about sex, it’s what turns me on.

With the New Year well underway and a very round number birthday in February, it truly is now or never, so here goes…

MY ULTIMATE BUCKET LIST
Travel to all 7 continents
Write a book
Become fluent in a foreign language
Perform on Broadway
Become a millionaire
Live overseas
Travel in outer space
See my grandkids (how ever many there ends up being) graduate from college.
Learn to dance really well

Colin is our second grandchild and we have another on the way!

Several items on the list have expansive subcategories. For instance under ‘Travel to all 7 continents’ (current count 6) I would list ‘visit at least 100 countries’ (current count is a mere 69), plus all specific travel locations like The Great Wall of China and The Taj Mahal (BTDT). The biggest hole in my travel experiences? The Grand Canyon – pun intended.

Conducting seminars around the world - not exactly Broadway, but it is challenging and rewarding.
Photowalks! - A great way to learn/create/inspire. We've lead photowalks in cities (like here in London) and in country environments and it's ALWAYS a great time for all.

I’m not delusional (yet) – I know some things are impossible. But then again I don’t think an Ultimate Bucket List should be about reality, it’s the stuff dreams are made of.

And now that I look at it this list, I realize I’m not doing so bad. And there’s still time to check off a few more – if I hurry!

THE BEST DAY EVER
OUR 25th ANNIVERSARY IN AFRICA

Cosmic view of Cape Town and all the way down the coast from the top of Table Mountain – MAGNIFICANT! Click to enlarge this and other photos.

Chris and I celebrated our 25 anniversary – both in business and in marital bliss – with a oh-so-typical for us combo of work/pleasure trip. Frankly, it’s usually a toss-up of which is better, the work or pleasure part as we totally enjoy both!

The cable car ride up to the top of Table Mountain had a very large pucker factor! It is frequently shut down due to high winds.


We did a morning and evening safari from the Aquila Game Reserve. Besides really almost uncomfortably close views of the Big Five (lion, elephant, rhino, buffalo and leopard) we spotted giraffes, zebras and a zillion bouncy cute boks which are the national symbol of South Africa and the name of their rugby team.

We never dreamed we would get this close to a whale, much less FIVE whales, that frolicked in the surf for our viewing pleasure


Penguins are every bit as adorable when you can walk (or waddle) right up to them as we did. Very big cool factor.

We have made about a dozen trips to Africa together (the most recent to Libya) but this was our first time in the far South and Cape Town which proved to be SPECTACULAR even without the Big Five.

Chris, aka Maphead was speechless standing on the awe inspiring tip of South Africa – a significant new dot on the map for us!

The coast road drive got another thumbs up from both of us - spot the road about 2/3rds up the cliff. Something about giant crashing surf that is compelling to watch.

Between the whale sightings (five within 20 yards of us!), up close penguin experience (we coulda touched them if we wanted), better-than-Big-Sur coast drive and (gasp) standing on the edge of the world at The Cape of Good Hope mesmerized by giant CRASHING surf where two Oceans collide, totally COSMIC – then add the really really good wine we bought during vineyard tours and tastings and the FAB Italian (and we are hard to please where that is concerned) dinner and it all adds up to THE NUMBER ONE DAY OUT OF 9,125 together (25 years).

WOW!!!!

AN OPEN LOVE LETTER

We had a very understated wedding, appropriate as it was the third time around for both of us. No one thought we would last a year! We drove to New Orleans for our honeymoon, staying at Nottaway Plantation.

Chris and I are celebrating our 25th Anniversary – both for our business and our marriage. You know the adage about time flying? It hasn’t just flown, it’s been traveling at warp speed. Looking at old pictures - THANK GOD FOR THE MIRACLE OF PHOTOS - but OMG, my hair! I’m not sure which was worse, the fro or the Farrah!

Our first studio! We stayed up all night painting and well, doing other things…

Did I say 25 years? I don’t think that is really accurate or fair. Most married couples see each other for a few hours a day – we spend 24-7 together, often in stress producing work situations. I think we should get credit for overtime, or maybe time off for good behavior?

Seriously, I cannot begin to imagine a life without Chris. He is my world, I need no other. LOVE YOU, PRECIOUS!

MY WEIRD AND WONDERFUL LIFE

I stand-in for our subject (seen behind me) while Chris sets up the shot and tests the lighting.

The best part of my job is the interesting people we get to meet and photograph. Last week we were in NYC hobnobbing with the highest echelon of women in corporate America – INSPIRING and UPLIFTING.

This week we are in northern Canada on a magazine shoot that includes a really nice couple – she cans veggies and makes quilts, he enjoys entertaining friends when not hunting and stuffing every species of wildlife that roams the planet. Lions, tigers and bears – you betcha, along with moose, elephants and walruses – kookoo-ka-chew, just to name a few. Having never killed any wildlife (if you don’t count flies and mosquitoes and yes, that one frog back in 3rd grade that was unlucky enough to hop too close to my brother and I during a fire cracker experiment) - I could not relate to the hunting desire, but was truly AWESTRUCK and SPEECHLESS by the scene.

What's next? Flying over the Alberta oilsands. If you haven't heard about them, you soon will.

Confessions of a Video Snob

I admit it. As a still photography producer for over 20 years I turned my nose up at (gasp) video. How artless! How normal!, we uber-hip still guys would say. Video was for those without enough imagination for stills. And the equipment? Back-breaking. No ‘real’ video production took less than 3 people, mostly because everything was so BIG and HEAVY. All that and unless you had the bucks for the ‘ultimate’, the quality you got was marginal at best. That was then, this is now. And boy have things changed.

Video is now COOL, in every sense. The equipment is mega-techie, user friendly, small and (thank the Maker) light-weight. And GREAT quality – finally. Hey, it doesn’t even cost that much anymore. I’m a believer. In fact we have been shooting and producing video for 3-plus years now and really, really having a ball doing it - so are many of my corporate clients. If you are one of them, you should know about The Strategic Video Awards. This is a different kind of awards program, one that rewards not the style of your videos, but the substance of your video communication. As one of the judges, I’m proud to be a part of an experienced group of video communication professionals. It’s easy and as awards programs go, inexpensive to enter. But don’t just sit there thinking, ‘Hey, that sounds like a great idea’, because the entry deadline is coming up on Oct. 15.

Having ‘award winning’- attached to your name is a very cool thing. But it won’t happen if you don’t take the time and effort to enter. Do it NOW!

QUEEN OF THE ROAD

The cute little Cinque Cento (500 in English) cars used by the driving school are so small even Chris can parallel park them.

For the past month and a half Chris and I have spent 2 or more hours a day studying for the Italian Drivers License Exam. Yes, it’s that hard. I’ve been in my share of high pressure, cannot fail situations, but nothing comes close to the mind messing, total helplessness and heart-stopping stress of those 30 true or false questions.

Me taking one of the hundreds of practice exam leading up to the real thing.

Try your luck with the quiz below. All signs and situations are from the actual exam, if not the answers I've listed. Let me know how you did!

This sign means (answer Vero o Falso):
No playing of Taps.
Herb Albert has left the building.
No hooting.


This sign means (answer Vero or Falso to each statement):
Boat launch closer than you think.
You just missed the ferry.
Parking for amphibious vehicles only.


This sign means (Answer Vero o Falso to each statement):
Only cars that are already on fire allows on this road.
Danger - it’s hot enough outside to fry Italian sausages on your car roof.
Danger – If you speed the policia will set your car on fire.

There were over 10 pages of intersection right-of-way diagrams in our books. See if you can figure out the proper order of crossing in these couple of examples.

At this intersection (Answer vero o falso to each statement): Car E crosses first because he’s the only one going in a straight line. Car A crosses first because A is the first letter of the alphabet. Car R crosses first because he’s really a truck and will mow your ass down if you don’t get out of his way.
The correct order: C, A, L, R, E.

At this intersection (answer vero o falso to each statement): Car E crosses first because it’s a cute Italian girl at the wheel. Cars E, V and H cross at the same time because they are going the same way and probably know each other. Everyone crosses at the same time and end up in a 5-car wreck.
The correct order: A, E, V, H, C.

At this intersection (Answer vero o falso to each statement): Car B guns its engine and cuts off Car P. Car N sneaks across second while no one is looking. Car D is on his cellphone and doesn’t see Car P approaching, so he also cuts off Car P. Car P, now frustrated, gestulates wildly and for the next 50K drives 10cm off Car D’s bumper.
The correct order: D, P, B, N.

If the police officer has his arms extended horizontally as shown it means (Answer vero o falso to each statement): He’s waving at the cute girl on his left. He’s waving at the cute boy on his right. He’s hot and is letting the air flow to his armpits. Honestly, I never got these right and thank god this scenario was not on my exam. If you know the rule here, please let me know so I don't run over a traffic cop!

This illustration, along with one showing a depressed guy carrying a rifle, accompanied a section on moral and mental driving requirements. I'm with the cop, pull this dude's patente (license) subito!

The good news is WE BOTH PASSED THE EXAM! And as a bonus I can now say rear window defroster and articulated motor caravan in Italian.

HOW DRY I AM

As the USA Marines sing, 'From the shores of Tripoli'.
The capital of Libya is undergoing a major face-lift - new buildings are sprouting faster than date palms at an oasis.

Howdy from Libya, home of the Sahara Desert, couscous and the most un-photogenic person on the planet - legendary bad guy now USA best friend, Col. Muammar Abu Minyar al-QADHAFI.

How many different ways can you spell it? I found – Qadhafi, Gaddafi, Khadafy, Qadhafi, Khaddafi. However you spell it, the face is still frighteningly the same.

Khaddafi's photos was inescapable. Huge and on billboards and buildings all over Tripoli like the 6 shots above

A few facts I googled up about Libya's Supreme Leader: Since assuming power following a military coup in 1969, Muammar has 1) skyrocketed to world center stage with pro-terrorist support (remember the Lockerbie flight?) royally pissing off the entire world but then, 2) successfully rebuilt European country relationships during the 1990s, 3) got the UN to lift all sanctions by 2003, 4) is modernizing the entire country at warp speed including a building campaign that has totally changed the face of capitol city Tripoli, and 5) put his face – billboard size or bigger – on at least one building per block. Mrs. Qadhafi’s little boy has been busy!

I wish Mrs. Qadhafi’s photo-happy boy would take my class on ‘The secrets of looking good in photos’ and hire a better photographer. But maybe I’m being too hard on the photographer. Allah only knows what takes place on a set with a supreme dictator capable of ANYTHING as the subject. Would YOU tell him he looks like a predatory bug-eyed toad in those dark glasses? Or when he looks off into space that instead of projecting a visionary/leader quality he looks like a creepy, constipated greaser with an upsetting complexion and garish taste in clothes? Right, neither would I.


You are looking at the very first female to ever set foot on this energy industry deep desert base which has been there for many years. Needless to say, I raised eyebrows AND some male tempers. There was no female toilet in the whole 30 acre-plus site. I have been the first woman on numerous locations from South America through Asia. I have always found a way to slip through the testostrone gate!

Women dressed like this were a fairly common sight. All at least had head scarves like the ones below on display in the market.



INTERESTING LIBYAN FACTOIDS
Libya passed UN requirements and achieved independence in 1951. An historic year indeed as it also included my entrance on the world stage.
Population 6,000,000 - about the size of the greater San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose area.
My favorite line from a Libyan history site, “The majority of the inhabitants are Arabs, but there are scattered Berbers.” Scattered BERBERS? Does anybody else see throw rugs strewn across the sand?
The languages spoken are Arabic, Italian and English. Fa bene!
The Sahara Desert engulfs 90% of the country - the world's biggest sandbox.
The religion is Sunni Muslim – as in prayers blasted through speakers on every corner 5 times a day and no beer, vodka, gin, NADA alcohol anywhere under penalty of law, which is strictly enforced. Talk about a DRY country!
Libya is the only country which has a flag consisting of only one color – green. Easy for the school kids but odd for a country that is 90% brown.
Average life expectancy is an unexpectedly high 76 years (Japan has longest livers at 84, US average is 78). I guess that whole living a hard desert life makes you strong ala the Dune saga spice eaters has some merit after all. Makes me wonder what's really in all those hookahs.

Vehicles in the desert don't follow a road, they just head out across the trackless sand. Shooting in these conditions makes for a very gritty day. It took hours each night to get the sand out of our equipment and out of our ears, throat, hair, etc.

One of the nice surprises about Tripoli was the Italian presence there. Great coffee – yah! and you know how I am about coffee. The Italians pushed out the Ottoman Turks around Tripoli in 1911 and did not relinquish their hold until 1943 when defeated by the Allied Forces in World War II. Yet another reason to thank Mussolini.




No where can you see and touch better Roman ruins than outside Tripoli. I still can't believe I was allowed to walk on these 2,000 year old mosaic tiles!

Libya is a country that is trying. Trying technology, trying modern buildings, trying to play hardball with the energy big boys. Libya thinks of itself as modern because of those things and because it now allows its women to go to the market without a male escort. Total burqa attire is not required although I saw many women dressed that way, and I did not see a single woman without a headdress, long sleeves and floor-length skirt. Public restaurants and waiting areas in airports, etc., are divided into the men’s side and a walled-off women’s/children’s side. I was alternately gaped at in wonder or stared at with scorn and something very close to hatred. Several times I was simply totally ignored, as if I was too insignificant for any male’s attention. 'Trying' they may be, but they are at least one if not two or more generations away from being anyplace I could tolerate.

I COULD NEVER EVER LIVE THERE. But I’m oh so glad I got to visit!

All together, say it with me:
"THE CALLA LILIES ARE IN BLOOM AGAIN"

And indeed the Calla Lilies are in bloom again in Olvera, home of our daughter, Hayley, now living in southern Spain.

Thanks Kate Hepburn for the classic quote from Stage Door which also starred Lucile Ball, Ginger Rodgers and Ann Miller – what a powerhouse line-up!

Olvera in Andalucia region of southern Spain is one of the amazing Pueblos Blancos (white villages)

The climb to the top of the old Moorish fort (on the right in photo above) was strenuous but the views were worth it

The polka dots that cover the hills are really thousands of olive trees

SWEET DREAMS ARE MADE OF THIS


Yesterday Chris woke me up as usual by wafting a cup of espresso macchiato under my nose. He has brought me coffee in bed every day for the last 25 years - and my gratitude for this kindness knows no bounds. I’m not a morning person. I’m not even a brunch person. Without coffee, I’m not sure you could classify me as a human person much before noon. For that reason, I’ve become more of a coffee user than a mere coffee drinker.

Chris knows this and being a chirping early bird to my screeching night owl, each morning he tiptoes out of bed and does god knows what all alone for a hour or more. Sometime later he silently confirms at least one of my eyes is open, sets a cup of magic on my nightstand and then wisely retreats to the relative safety of the kitchen to await my rising. Eventually I stumble out of the bedroom begging Dickens-ist, ‘Please sir, I want some more.” He always happily complies. Whether he acts out of his innate kindness or the fear of dealing with the she-demon that is the un-caffeinated incarnation of me, I’m not sure.

Running a freelance photography business means you have no set schedule – I don’t have to get out of bed at the same time every day and constantly changing time zones means my internal clock never gets in a rut. I don’t automatically wake up or get sleepy at a certain time, I can be ravenously hungry at midnight and I could very much feel like drinking a martini at 10am. So I don’t know why Chris wakes up early. And as I’ve told him, the early bird may get the worm, but it’s the second mouse that gets the cheese – and who wants to eat worms anyway?

This particular morning he was sporting a larger than usual grin on his grotesquely wide-awake face. Even in my quasi-conscience state I couldn’t help but notice it hovering, Joker-ish, over my bed. The night before had been our first together in over a week and we had ‘celebrated’ my finally joining him in Italy by spending much of the afternoon and evening in bed – gossiping, sipping vino and engaging in other mutually pleasurable activities. MY CHILDREN SHOULD QUIT READING THIS RIGHT NOW. YOU KNOW HOW ICKY IT IS TO HEAR YOUR PARENTS TALKING ABOUT S-E-X. FAIR WARNING.

As I was saying, Chris was unusually jubilant, even for a morning after. When I raised one eyebrow in question – which was the closest I could come to forming a complete thought pre-caffeine - he said, “I had an interesting dream last night”, and he brushed a suggestive kiss across the previously mentioned verbose eyebrow. I told him it hadn’t been a dream and suggested he lay off the grappa tonight to prevent further memory loss. I followed that with “try touching me again before I drink this coffee and you’ll be kissing knuckles”, or some other charming endearment to that effect. Without caffeine I have absolutely no control over the evil darkness that lurks within. Thank god coffee placates the creature and allows me to regain at least partial control of my mind and mouth.

With the beast abated and second cup in hand, I asked Chris to describe his dream. First, let me say that I’ve always been jealous of his sleeping habits. Chris falls effortlessly asleep within seconds without aid of TV or other mind-diverting devices and regularly sleeps soundly for 7-8hrs at a stretch without waking or even moving much. Unlike me, he doesn’t toss and turn, he doesn’t snore, nor does he scream obscenities in his sleep or wake at the sound of dust bunnies forming under the bed. Amazing.

His dream was about sex. Duh. Chris’ dreams generally fall into only two categories; sex or meeting up with old friends he hasn’t seen in a long time. The latter are homey and apparently provide contact and information he craves. He’ll wake up and say, “Leroy says to tell you hello”, or “Barbara finally moved to Colorado”, and we’ll talk as if the dreamed meetings really happened. But his sex dreams far outweigh the happy nostalgia ones. Duh. He rarely if ever has scary dreams which are about the only kind I have – he’s never chased by crazed homicidal asylum escapees that look suspiciously like ex-spouses, or parents or a sick combination of the two and dripping fanged monsters don’t regularly jump out and rip his arms off and beat him over the head with them as he runs in slow motion. Amazing.

I think I’m fairly typical of most women in long-term relationships – sex is enjoyable, but I don’t think of it as the main focus of our partnership. His appetite for bedroom Olympics exceeds mine - which reminds me of the Woody Allen film in which a couple is going to therapy and the analyst asks each separately, ‘How often do you have sex?’ The wife replies ‘Very often, about twice a week’. Her husband responds, ‘Almost never, about twice a week’. Which is why I make sure I get credit for any and all sexual initiations on my part because I know he keeps careful tract of such things, even if he denies doing so. I think all men do. There is probably a spreadsheet hidden somewhere on his computer that documents each and every sexual encounter we have ever had and knowing Chris it details not only who initiated the act, but contains a rating system that tabulates on a scale of 1 to 10 and automatically produces pie charts, line graphs, etc. It probably contains the humidity and barometric pressure readings at the time of copulation - seriously, I would not put it past him.

Back to the dream – “It was morning,” Chris began, “this very morning as a matter of fact, and we were laying in bed. I looked down and discovered we were both wearing medals around our necks. The medals were for outstanding sexual performance! Apparently the Sex Fairy, who is sorta like the Tooth Fairy, had heard about our efforts the previous evening and had visited us in the night.

“We were so surprised and deeply humbled by the honor”, he continued. “I mean, the medals weren’t like made of gold or anything. They were more like coke bottle caps on a shoestring, but in the dream we were very proud and happy anyway.”

Bottle caps on a shoestring? I enjoy playing around with dream analysis but days later I’m still trying to workout the significance of the cheezy awards. As long as you’re dreaming, why not make them out of platinum or studded with diamonds? Chris didn’t seem phased by the physical nature of the medals and became rather put-off at what he considered my materialistic reaction. Huh?

I probed him further but unfortunately he did not remember any details about the rules or the scoring criteria the Sex Fairy Judges used. He brightened up when he recalled the medals were very rarely given out to couples in our age bracket. I could tell he was taking our standings in the competition rather seriously so with as straight a face as I could muster, I asked, “What was our, eh, position on the award podium?” He merely frowned in concentration, not getting my double entendre. So I said, “1st place?, 2nd place? Or maybe it was more like missionary position? Or were we standing on our heads perhaps?” Frowning, he looked at me as if I was the one that was crazy, and stated, “You just don’t understand, the competition doesn’t work like that.” He then huffed out of the room to get some coffee. Amazing.