Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Guess Which Animal This Dish Is Named After

Feel free to make your guesses in comments. Vegans and limericks welcome.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Taking To The Hastings

A little more than an hour's train ride south of London is the small town of Battle, the site of the Battle of Hastings. Others can do a better job of describing the events surrounding the battle, so I won't waste time doing so. However, there are a couple of interesting points to be made about the consequences of the battle.

1. The Saxons under King Harold chose to fight on foot, hand to hand, while the Normans had a combined force of infantry, cavalry and archers. Even though the Saxons chose the most favorable position in the battle--the top of a hill--the Normans won the day in part because of the effectiveness of their combined force.

2. The Norman Conquest (the last successful invasion of Britain) turned England into the second millenium country we know today, bringing with it continental-style feudalism--in the process, linking England more with continental politics and less with Scandinavian--and castles that replaced the less sophisticated Anglo-Saxon fortresses.

Battle Abbey, which William the Conquerer built as penitence for the lives lost at Hastings. This is the view the Flemish soldiers on the Norman right would have had. The Saxons would have formed their "shield wall" somewhere across this photo, but I wouldn't want to guess where. For the sake of imagination, let's say it was in front of those trees.

I thought the last English king was the guy the Romans chased out.

(Thanks to Schmutz for the photos.)

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Uh, hi!

We're all still alive. Right now, we're hosting the commenter known here as Schmutz and the person who lives with Schmutz. We were also visited by the Norwalk virus, which I wish only on my worst enemies. Schmutz went down first, followed by me, violently, and then Mrs. Werbenmanjensen. So far, however, we've been enjoying the visit (by Schmutz and pal, but not the virus). We've seen performance number 24,000-and-some of The Mousetrap, toured the Hastings battlefield and taken a couple of strolls around the neighborhood, including to my favorite shopping district in Muswell Hill. This morning Schmutz and pal are going to the British Museum. I hope the Bog man exhibit has reopened.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

My new 'do

You may recall our Italian hairdresser. After a week in the Puglian sun, my hair needed a little pick me up. But he is a charming and persuasive man, and he talked me into a trendy new 'do, something like this. And no, I am not trying to look like Posh. There was a woman in my office who had this haircut, but she quit so now I can have it. I told my hairdresser this, and he seemed mildly insulted: "It will not look like hers, because I am doing it." Riiiight.

Anyway, I'm chuffed that people noticed the new look. I have advised people that if they know me long enough, I will have as many hairstyles/colors as the babe from "Alias." But it is a higher maintenance 'do. I cannot sweep it into a ponytail when I am too late to shower. I required new equipment to tame my waviness (a ceramic brush), and I actually have to use a blow dryer. Is it worth it? I think so! And so does Smitty (like he has a choice).

Tuesday Sunblogging

The mornings have been dawning gray and misty lately. This is the sun as it broke through yesterday morning, over the tops of the homes across the street.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Trulli, Madly, Deeply

Outside of the grand basilicas, the distinctive architecture of Puglia are the trulli--round stone houses capped by a conical roof. An apocryphal story suggests that their popularity stems from the Italian practice of tax evasion--it was quick and easy to dismantle a trullo, transforming a taxable farm building into an untaxable pile of stones when the assessor came around, for example. Whatever the case, a visitor can find quite a few of these distinctive little huts throughout Puglia, but their epicenter trulli is Alberobello.

(How man trulli/truly puns are there? Readers can try their hands in comments.)

I'm not going to write a whole lot about Alberobello, because I think Mrs. Werbenmajensen wanted to write about an award-winning meal we ate there and our visit with the gregarious Mimmo Palmisano in his wine/cheese/olive oil/regional delicacy shop. And because I forgot my manpurse during our day in Alberobello, I don't have good photos. But on the upside, I had my mobile phone, which takes video.

From the courtyard of the Trullo Sovrano:

An overlook of the trulli quarter:

A trulli street:


Lately, Londoners, when asking me about my accent, ask first if I'm from Canada.

I take it as a compliment, eh?

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Thursday Saintblogging

Pio of Pietrelcina, commonly known as Padre Pio.

Paintings and other art dedicated to Padre Pio are found throughout Puglia.

He is the patron saint of civil defense volunteers.

Wikipedia also notes he is the unofficial patron of stress relief and New Year's blues.

Whatever that means.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Italian Fashion Tip No. 2

The humble waist pack known here as the "bum bag" (and on the other side of the Atlantic with a term that uses an F word considered impolite here) is a useful little accessory. I admit to wearing them during outdoor activities when mobility is at a premium but spare cargo room is necessary, such as running, hiking, cycling, or nordic skiing. But the bum bag is to fashion what the doorstop is to architecture: ugly and utilitarian. There's really no good way to wear one. Behind, you run the risk of theft from the purse-snatching, pocket-picking gypsies we hear so much about (although seldom see). In front, it makes you look like you have a gut if you don't have one, and enhances your gut if you do. So I was surprised to see them so popular among men in Italy.

Except worn like this:

(Seen on the causeway between the old city and the modern city of Taranto.)

Now I pondered the reasons why somebody might wear their bum bag like that.

1. Didn't want to put wallet in pocket because it would interfere with the cut of their trousers, but;
2. Didn't want to wear bum bag around waist for the aforementioned reasons, and;
3. Didn't want to get a so-called man-purse for fear of accusations of being girly.

This last attitude is best exemplified by tennis star Andy Roddick, who, during his most recent Wimbledon foray (lost in the third round to Scotsman Andy Murray, which is a little like saying you lost in basketball to a Pygmy) made headlines for saying the following:
Self Chuck of the Week-- I have seen some guys walking around with man purses here in London.... anything bigger than a money clip or a wallet is to be left to your girlfriend / wife...and just so we are clear you should not be able to throw your "wallet" over a shoulder...if you have a man purse, the wall is waiting.

(Just so Roddick knows: Most of us Londoners don't get chauffered about this fine city in limosines, as millionaire tennis players are. That means we often take the Tube, the bus, and walk. Walking entails knowing where you're going. Knowing where you're going in this ancient, sprawling city entails carrying a London A-Z street atlas. It doesn't fit in a pocket. Nor does an umbrella, which you should probably have on hand almost every day. Therefore, we sometimes find it necessary to use "man purses." So if any snotty Texan millionaire tennis star comes up to me dripping wet from a sudden London shower and asks me for directions ... well, the wall is waiting.)

So, given the choice between this ...

... worn as intended, and the bum bag around the shoulder, I've chosen the former. I know which one looks less silly. I'm sure Andy would agree.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

A reading from the Big Book of British Smiles

Tomorrow I am having my first root canal. I am very nervous about this, and wondering what kinds of prescription painkillers I may be forced to consume as a result.

My dentist is a nice lady recommended by my boss. She only takes private insurance or private pay, and is not in the NHS. Apparently the NHS is having a heck of a time keeping dentists in the program, much like Medicaid in the U.S. The fellow who is doing my root canal is a root canal specialist. I think that is a nice way of saying he is a sadist, but we'll see...

Italian fashion tip No. 1

The saying is, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. If that applies to fashion, then men should be wearing melon this fall. Buy a melon-colored sweater and drape it over your shoulders in a preppy look, or wear orange pants. But not that nasty University of Illinois orange. Or that burnt pumpkin color of the University of Texas. Yeah, avoid those. Fruity is the look you want!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Monday Scooterblogging

I was tempted, for sure, but then I began to wonder how I'd get it on the airplane home.

Walking the narrow back streets of Puglia's old cities, I realized why scooters are so associated with Italy: They're much easier to manuever than automobiles when streets are but 10 feet wide.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Buongiorno, readers

Mrs. Werbenmanjensen and I just got home from a week in Puglia, staying outside Brindisi and driving to Alberobello, Gallipoli, Lecce, Bari, and Taranto. We know nothing more than you about a hijacked Turkish jet that landed in Brinidisi while we were there, although a news crew appeared to be staying in our hotel.

Some themes:

1. We never had a bad meal. We never had a meal that even approached mediocre. Some were even award-winning. And one was very strange.

2. Italian driving and parking live up to their reputations.

3. Italian lunch hours exceeded their reputations. Everything except restaurants closed at around 1, sometimes 12:30, sometimes 12:15, or whenever they felt like it, and reopened sometimes around 3, or 3:30, or 4, or 4:30, or whenever they felt like it. Maybe they didn't reopen at all.

4. The magical streets of Italy's old cities appear to not have changed in centuries: Cobbled passageways opening onto grand piazzas overlooked by cathedrals, the silence during the abovementioned lunch hours punctuated only by the clank of tableware echoing from dozens of curtained windows.

5. Every town has at least one, and sometimes several, grand basilicas and churches that would be the envy of any U.S. archdiocese.
6. The humble primitivo grape went to America and became Zinfandel, but I prefer the primitivo of Puglia. Maybe it's the soil, maybe it's the climate--or maybe it's what medical researchers call "the placebo effect." In any case, the sommelier at Alberobello's award-winning restaurant told another party that primitivo is Puglia's finest.

7. While the antiquities are everywhere, the upkeep was somewhat disappointing. It seems wrong to see 17-year-old graffiti on the grounds of a Roman site.

8. In a similar vein, the Italians have plenty of castles but don't seem to realize that they can charge 23 Euros for people to set foot inside of them and nobody would think twice, and perhaps contribute to the upkeep of said castles. The castles we could enter would charge us a Euro and let see inside a chapel or a courtyard, but everything else was off-limits. Many seemed to still be used as military bases.

9. Stray dogs, and their leavings, and cats everywhere. Sometimes in the courtyard of our hotel, barking at 3 a.m.

10. The beaches of Puglia look inviting. It makes me want to return during the summer. It was still warm, and the water wasn't too cold to swim (we did spend a couple hours on a beach) but the resorts were all closed and what remained was not the highest quality beach.

Anyway, we have much to post. Expect more soon.