Thursday, September 29, 2016

End of Summer 2016, kudzu and Bucatini all'Amatriciana

The calendar tell us we are in autumn already.  Here, it still feels like summer, albeit the end of it.  Last Sunday the temperature was 93 F (33.8 C) but this week we are starting to have a "cold front" which means the temperature will be in the low 80s F (28 C.)  The little flowers you can see in my heading picture bloom in late summer and have a pleasant sweet fragrance.  What type are they? you may ask.  They are flowers of the Pueraria montana plant, from the pea family Fabaceae, subfamily Faboideae, or in plain English, they are the flowers of the kudzu vine.  (Click on collage twice to embiggen.)

I understand you can make jelly from these kudzu flowers, but I certainly don't want that many vines in our front yard as kudzu is invasive and will kill trees.  In the top photo in the collage above you can see a large black pipe in the background.  The county Water Commission cut over 30 of our trees (see pictures in my January post here) and their machinery propagated the kudzu vines to our front yard.  Kudzu is from Southeast Asia and was introduced in the US in 1876 as an ornamental shrub then later on, in the Southern US, to feed goats and as an erosion control.  But it grows rapidly and will cover everything in its path.  There was a field close to our house with a small abandoned house in the center of it.  Within 2 or 3 summers the field was totally covered with kudzu and the house was just a bump in the field.  Below are some photos from a road about one mile away, kudzu around our mailbox and climbing on pine trees in our front yard.  (The barn covered in kudzu courtesy UGA.)

Throughout August the Water Commission worked on our road, digging and installing big water pipes for their water main.  They even used dynamite which made our house shake.  They also cut our cable often and toward the end of August, for over 10 days, we had no cable access (no TV, no computer) from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm.  Some days we could not get out of our driveway for hours, or get back home.

I took pictures as the work progressed.  It was noisy and dusty.

But the summer had some highlights - such as the Tour de France which I followed on TV.  In the evenings, from August 5 through 21, we watched the Olympic Games held in Rio de Janeiro.  The U.S. women's gymnastics team was spectacular, as well as champion swimmer Michael Phelps.  Congratulations to the athletes of Team America for winning 121 medals.  It was fun to watch small countries winning medals, such as Ahmad Abughaus, 20 years old, who won the first medal in the history of Jordan, in men's taekwondo.  Dilshod Nazarov of Tajikistan won the Olympic men's hammer title and captured the first gold medal for the Central Asian country since it gained its independence with the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.  Majlinda Kelmendi made history by becoming the first athlete from Kosovo to win an Olympic medal (the first medal since Kosovo became a state in 2008.)  The Fiji men's rugby team finally landed their country its first medal, a gold one, when Fiji beat its former colonial ruler, Britain, by 43-7.

How about France's golden boxing couple?  France's Tony Yoka won the gold medal against Britain's Joe Joyce.  Tony is the first Frenchman to win gold in boxing heaviest division.  His girl-friend, Estelle Mossely, competed in the women's lightweight boxing match against Chinese boxer Yin Junhua and won the gold as well.  Tony and Estelle are planning to be married, and France is super excited = boxing and love! C'est magnifique!

But not everything was fun and love this summer.  There was the terrible tragedy in Nice, France.  When a tragedy happens in one's country, a city visited many times, it seems to hurt more.  We see so much bad news on TV that, unfortunately, we often cannot grieve as well for unknown parts of the world.  One year I purchased my flight on Delta Airlines months before flying to Paris to see my mother.  Then Delta had a sale.  They gave me a coupon for the difference in price.  The coupon turned out to be the same price as a round-trip flight to Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  So, I flew there, by myself, and stayed several days.  Baton Rouge means "red stick" in French.  It was translated by explorer Sieur d'Iberville and his exploration party in 1699 from the native term "Istrouma" or the Choctaw "iti humma" which means red pole.  I took photos with my old film camera and also purchased postcards.  Here are some below.

I rented a car and visited many historic plantations along the Mississippi River.  I'll try to find my old film photos and if some are OK I'll have a post later on.  Below is a postcard showing some of them: Nottoway, Houmas House, Oak Alley, Destrehan and San Francisco plantations.

In mid-August I was so sad to watch on the news the extreme flooding in and around Baton Rouge.  It was difficult to look at the devastation - 60,000 homes damages or destroyed in Louisiana.  I remembered the city well with its friendly citizens.  I had even spoken French with several Cajun families.  Below are some photos showing the flooded Baton Rouge area (courtesy Baton Rouge Advocate newspaper.)

In high school in France we had to study two foreign languages: 1) English or German, 2) German or English, Spanish, Russian or Italian.  I took English as my first language and Italian as my second.  We were about 37 in my English class, but only 3 students in my Italian class.  Consequently, I spoke much better Italian than English when I finished high school.  I had an Italian pen-pal who invited me to stay in her home for several summer vacations and I went there during the months of July and August.  She lived on the bank of the Adriatic Sea in the town of San Benedetto del Tronto.  I remember when I arrived there the first time I was in awe.  Coming from grey Paris here was a town with palm trees and flowers in the avenues and a turquoise colored sea.  I did take pictures, but they were small and in black and white.  But here are some old postcards below.  I placed a blue dot under Ancona (under San Marino, on the right) in the region of the Marches, to show where San Benedetto is located.

The parents of my pen-pal Marisa, had a farm/winery inland also, in the surrounding area of Ascoli Piceno, near Arquata del Tronto (shown in pictures below.)  The Tronto is a river that ends in San Benedetto del Tronto.  We would drink the wine from their farm and it was very good.  They had a rose wine, like a sherry, in which we would place pieces of peaches and then eat and drink this as a dessert.  They also had an amber colored wine, sweet and strong, which was a good accompaniment to smoked ham and melon.  I was able to achieve a similar taste with a Serrano ham, a "melorange" melon from Arizona and a glass of Ipsus Pantelleria Passito.

On August 23, 2016, at night, before turning the light off I checked my iPad and saw that there had been an earthquake in central Italy at 9:36 pm US Eastern time, or 3:36 am August 24, in Italy.  I stayed up to find out where this earthquake had been.  The epicenter of the 6-2-magnitude quake was in Accumoli, 9 miles from Arquata del Tronto (where the family had their farm/winery.)

The next several days I was on the computer as much as possible (whenever the Water Commission did not turn our cable off...)  reading on Italian internet sites.  This quake caused the death of 297 people and flattened most of Arquata del Tronto, Amatrice and Accumoli.  Many injured were taken to hospitals in San Benedetto del Tronto, 44 miles away (71 km.)  Such a terrible tragedy - I'm deeply saddened by the loss of life and all the destruction.  (Pictures below courtesy La Repubblica.)

What a devastating loss for these close-knit communities that have been there for centuries.  These picturesque mountain villages are sparsely populated.  As you can see by my collage above most buildings have crumbled.  I heard an old man saying on TV "il mio paese non esiste piu" /my village does not exist anymore.  It is heartbreaking.  I read an article talking about the seniors living in these villages, saying (in Italian and I translate)  "...Old people who have lived their whole lives in familiar four walls saw them collapse in a matter of seconds.  They are lost in the crowd of desperate people who have lost everything, like them.  Almost.  Because when you're old you no longer have the time to reconstruct a different life.  You do not have time to get used to a house that is not yours, and that you never knew.  No time.  And perhaps not even want to.  They are left there to watch the ruin of their past and the massacre of their future..."  Below are photos of Amatrice from before (on left) and after the earthquake (on right,) courtesy USA Today.

I went to look at the internet site of the city of Amatrice, which had been voted last year as one of Italy's most beautiful historic villages.  It still showed an ad for their upcoming festival for the 50th anniversary (on August 27 and 28) of their famous sauce for spaghetti called Spaghetti all'Amatriciana (invented by local shepherds in the Middle Ages.)  I copied the artwork you can see below.  It also showed the welcoming sign, at the entry of the town which said "Amatrice, 955 meters above sea level, citta' degli spaghetti all'amatriciana/city of the spaghetti a l'amatriciana."

But the festival did not take place, alas.  For a sad remembrance of their beautiful festival and to honor the people of Amatrice I drove to the DeKalb Farmers' Market in Atlanta (40 miles away/64 km) to buy the necessary ingredients to make Bucatini all'amatriciana.  It is a classic, simple but hearty Italian pasta dish.  The dish has six ingredients: bucatini pasta, not spaghetti (bucatini pasta is thick and hollow,) guanciale (cured pig jowl) but pancetta can be used, pecorino cheese, red pepper, white wine and genuine tomatoes from San Marzano.  I added a small onion in mine.  I was pleased to find the bucatini pasta and a genuine can of imported San Marzano tomatoes.  It did not take long to cook and it was delicious, but bittersweet.

I wished to finish the end of the 2016 summer with something positive.  To bring these villages back to life, they should not be just names on a map.  There was joy there, the love of good food; so we need to keep alive their famous pasta sauce, Amatriciana (there are many recipes on the internet.)  (for those who wish to help, here is a link to .)

I hope all my blogging friends had a good summer 2016, filled with good memories.

Above is a photo of the Frecce Tricolori (Tricolor Arrows) the aerobatic demonstration team of the Italian Air Force (the Aeronautica Militare Italiana.)  This is to express my sympathy to the members of the Italian Air Force (I enjoyed working with them for almost ten years) and to Italy.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Clouds, the friendly skies and more ...

In my last post I explained why our trip to Orange County in California and back had been a challenge; click here if you wish to read it.  What was upsetting to me was that I did not remember the name of the person at Southwest Airlines who helped us find our lost luggage.  That made all the difference for our attendance to our daughter's wedding, the next day.  When we came back to Georgia I wrote a letter to Southwest relating our experience and asking if they could locate their staff member who had found our luggage and give her our warmest thanks.  A week or so later I received an email from Southwest acknowledging my letter with a reference number and a telephone number.  A couple of weeks later I did call the number, curious to see if they had found the luggage person.  I am not sure whether they had found her or not, but the SW employee told me she was sending me two vouchers for $250 each to be redeemed on their airline before August 2017.  Then another couple of days later, I received an email, from another PR Southwest employee, giving us 50% off saver coupons good on any of their flights, and valid until the end of January 2017.  Yesterday, I received another email from an executive in Southwest PR with profuse apologies about our challenging trip and an offer for reimbursement of any extra expense we incurred on the trip.  I had not even sent a letter of complaint, just a letter to express our gratitude to one of their team members ...

After all this I guess we have to get back on a trip in the friendly skies, -:).  I am checking Southwest's route for a possible destination for a short winter trip - somewhere warm.  I would not mind going back up in an aircraft to watch the clouds from above.  Looking at my photographs I noticed that I have a very large number of cloud and sky pictures, both from above and below.  Habits that one started in childhood are often kept throughout adulthood.  When I was a wee child in Paris - I am talking 4, 5 years old, during World War II, my mother and I would look out of the living room window (pictured below) to see if any German planes were flying our way.  Then later, every morning my mother would ask me to look out of that window to check the weather.  The habit was formed to look at the sky.  We would often walk up the 15 minutes to the Sacre-Coeur of Montmartre in Paris.  The view of the sky from the hill was striking.  When my parents bought the house in St Leu la Foret, a Paris suburb, I would hike to the forest top with my dog.  If the sky was clear I could see the Eiffel Tower in the distance.  Here in Georgia we are close to Kennesaw Mountain with a great sky view to Atlanta from the top of the mountain.  (Click on collage to enlarge.)

As I was looking often from the window mother would ask me: "Are you seeing some cumulus? Or nimbus? Or nimbostratus?"  Then she would add "You should know, you always have your head in the clouds ..."  My favorites are the cumulus clouds.  They are fluffy, look like cotton candy or even look like a nice head of cauliflower.  I also thought they resembled little sheep in the sky.  Below are the different types of clouds (courtesy US and French Wikipedia.)

I really was surprised at the number of cloud and sky pictures I have accumulated.  My husband looks at clouds every time we go shopping, or anywhere.  As I drive, he will tell me to look up at a nice cluster of clouds.  Often I have to stop, park the car and look up - then I take a picture.  I found many pictures of lovely cloudy skies from the trips we made.  It is difficult to choose from some of the pictures I took on our coastal voyage from above the Arctic Circle to Bergen, Norway, as the Norwegian fjords were breathtaking under any sky, any weather, as shown below.

Even if one is not of a poetic inclination, it is difficult not to become lyrical while looking at these beautiful clouds and skies from Norway.  A quotation from the Prince of Roeulx, of the Royal House of Belgium, comes to mind: "Clouds are fantastical dream machines - wondrous and magical, and in touch with infinity."

For about 26 years I worked in an aircraft manufacturing plant here in Marietta, at the Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company, Air Force Plant No. 6.  It is a huge facility containing about 4.2 million-square-feet.  There, I was the Customer Liaison in the C-130 Hercules transport aircraft division for about 15 plus years.  Then I worked for about 11 years as an Analyst in the C-130J Super Hercules' Supply Chain Management for one of our customers, the Italian Air Force.  The production floor is huge, with no windows, just two grand openings at each end of the building.  When I drove the trainees or customers to the various labs, such as the Avionics lab, or Power Plant lab, the first thing I did was to look up at the sky, always.  There could be one of our C-130s flying, or a C-5 ...

"There is a certain feeling of courage and hope when you work in the field of the air.  You instinctively look up, not down.  You look ahead, not back.  You look ahead where the horizons are absolutely unlimited."  Robert E. "Bob" Gross, Lockheed's Chairman/CEO 1932-1961.

I also like to look down at clouds while flying.  I never get tired of watching clouds, as long as there is light, rather than watching a film or using a laptop or iPad.  All these ethereal clouds let you imagine that you are in the land of dreams, with no stress or constraints, with infinity ahead.

Pictures must be taken quickly when flying over a group of clouds.  They pass by in an instant or change shape, from transparent to fibrous or silky.  They can be soft looking with opalescent colors or have a somber aspect, with menacing dark shapes.  They can form a halo or be quite dense, thin or semi-transparent.

Clouds have inspired painters.  Below are two such paintings.  On top left is Cloud by John Constable, English (1776-1837) next to Study of Clouds by Simon Denis, Belgian (1755-1813.)

They have also inspired poets and novelists.  Below is an excerpt from Marcel Proust's school writings, 1885-1886.  I'll translate it below. 
« Dans tous les temps, dans tous les pays […] les nuages ont dû séduire l’imagination de l’homme par leurs formes changeantes et souvent fantastiques. Toujours l’homme a dû y deviner les êtres imaginaires ou réels qui occupaient son esprit. Chacun peut y trouver ce qui lui plaît. […] Il peut découvrir alors dans les nuées […] toutes les fantaisies brillantes de son imagination exaltée. […]Ces belles couleurs de pourpre et d'or donneront à son rêve un éclat magnifique et grandiose  […] Puis, se laissant aller presque involontairement à une rêverie qui l’absorbe, l’homme oublie peu à peu les objets qui l’entourent ; ne voyant plus rien, n’entendant plus rien près de soi, il prête à son illusion le caractère de la réalité, donne la vie aux formes qu’il a devinées et assiste à un spectacle grandiose que lui-même il a créé. »  (Les nuages).

Translation:  "At all times, in all countries [...] the clouds had to capture the imagination of man by their changing and often fantastic shapes.  Man had to always guess in them the real or imaginary beings that occupied his mind.  Everyone can find in them whatever he wishes. [...]  He can then discover in the clouds [...] all the brilliant fancies of his exalted imagination. [...] These beautiful colors of purple-red and gold will give his dream a magnificent and grandiose radiance.  Then, almost unwittingly indulging in an absorbing reverie, man gradually forgets the objects that surround him; seeing nothing, hearing nothing close by, he lends to his illusion a character of reality, gives life to forms that he fancied and attends a splendid spectacle that he himself has created."  From "The Clouds" Marcel Proust, French (1871-1922.)

I just also realized that for a heading, when I started this blog, I selected a photograph of clouds over Newfoundland, Canada - I did not think about it until just now as I looked up.  I like to take pictures of cloudy landscapes whenever I see them.  Below are 3 pictures taken in Hawaii, (starting with the palm tree) then on the left column is Long Island, NY, above a bridge over the Mississippi in Memphis, TN.  On the right column, below the sunset in Honolulu is a beach at St Pierre et Miquelon, French island near Canada, then all the rest are pics of New York City.

We flew to New York City numerous times.  I was there for a visit in October 2001 - see post here.  Then we were there again in October, 2011, to visit the 9/11 Memorial, see post here.

 As I am writing this post, it is past midnight now, and it is September 11, 2016.  We remember that day with sorrow but also remember that we all came together in this nation, and many other countries joined us, people of all religions or no religion, to stand together to mourn the victims and to stand against hate.  It has been fifteen years since this horrible tragedy, but we will never forget, we still grieve.


Addendum -  We live close to Kennesaw National Battlefield Park.  This afternoon as we were driving around the north side of the mountain, near the visitors' center, we saw a multitude of flags.  

It was a beautiful sunny day with a light breeze.  We stopped and sat under the shade of an ancient tree and watched the flags waving in the wind.  They are there to remember and honor those who lost their lives on that fateful day.

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