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The Road to Taos: A Writer’s Memories

Friday, October 4th, 2013

The air is dry now, the early October air singed with a fresh crispness, aspens hurry to turn gold. Signs of pueblos dot the countryside. Unexpected rains force flowers from the barren earth, while overpasses and cement walls north of Santa Fe blush with mosaics.

The drive from Albuquerque to Taos is full of memories. As we travel, I often ponder a writer’s memory and the relationship between memory and imagination. New Mexico conjures up memories of Pueblo bonfires licking the night air on St. Francis Day and Christmas eve, parades of Indians carrying an adorned Virgin Mary in gold —often thought of as Mother Earth. San Geronimo races, Turtle and Deer dances.  Rebellions against the Spanish, invasion of the Anglos, Kit Carson, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo—ah, I’ve moved into borrowed memories, perhaps another word for research and yes, being a dedicated reader and student.

As for imagination, does it ever spring from a vacuum? From nothingness? Hardly. I believe in the collective unconscious carried by genetics. We all arrive on this earth with substantial prior learning. Early learning further occurs as the brain bursts forth in years 0-3. A two-year-old watches a hummingbird propel itself, the wings keeping it steady, holding it in place, so its beak can target an innocent blossom. Years later the experience becomes a metaphor, and Igor Sikorsky invents a helicopter. But I digress….

Why are we On the Road to Taos?


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The Road to Taos: Are Book Tours Worth It?

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

Bob Hope and Bing Crosby never made a movie entitled, The Road to Taos, although they performed admirably in Morocco, Bali, Singapore, Zanzibar, Rio, and Hong Kong. All on a back lot at Universal Studios. Not likely that they ever attempted the Road to Needles, which is where we drove this morning.

But a few words about last evening at the delightful Skylight Bookstore on Vermont Street in LA. A small crowd, so without friends and relatives, I have to wonder if it is worth it. As we drive through the desert, images of book talks float like mirages, and singular occurrences surface.

…on the Mendocino-Sonoma coast, The Cairo Codex outsells The Zealot, and every other book. Ok, loyal friends are great.

…at Book Passage in Marin, a woman from India tells me she intends to recommend The Cairo Codex to her book club on her arrival back home in India.

…at the Capitola, CA, Bookstore, a woman who lived in Cairo for four years invites us to her house to see a painting by a friend of the inside of St. Sergius Church in Old Cairo—the very church where the Codex was found!

…at Skylight books in LA, a woman from the Midwest who married an Egyptian, has a film agent son named Ramses, and asks, “Can you write a screenplay?”

If serendipity is the magic that catapults a novel onto the public stage, perhaps book talks are worth it. What do you think?





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72 Hours in Cairo-Part 4

Sunday, August 11th, 2013

Day 3: Meet your driver—who is now your long lost brother—for a trip to the Camel Market in Birqash. Nearly 40 miles out of town, into the Delta, the views along the way are fascinating and the Camel Market is not to be missed. Traders from the Sudan in flowing robes hold hands until a deal can be struck. Brace yourself for the rather cruel treatment of these awkward creatures. Here also is one of the Community Schools for Girls that collapsed during the earthquake.

As you return, you will drive through Bulouc and Shoubra, two of the poorest areas of Cairo, arriving at “a secret garden,” Mataria, where the Holy Family rested on their way into Babylon (as Old Cairo was then known). A sacred child is buried under the ancient sycamore. Justine experiences the holy ground,

“…Inside the enclosure, natural spring water bubbled through an ancient stone fountain and down into the collection pool below. An elderly woman dressed in a green kaftan and white hijab held out her gnarled hand, catching and sipping the holy waters. Justine rested her exhausted body on a stone ledge facing the vista and ancient sycamore alongside, its tired, twisted branches held stable by hefty wooden props. Bare limbs with giant clusters of leaves were smothered at the top by the unrelenting smog. Jasmine and honeysuckle sprang boldly in irregular patches from the sacred ground…”

By early evening, you may need another rest and shower. Dress up for your last evening in Cairo (perhaps you should also pack before you go out). You can walk to the Taboula Restaurant at 1 Latin America Street in Garden City (2792-5261) near the American and Canadian Embassies, where the team that would unravel The Cairo Codex first met. The restaurant might have been a stage set for One Thousand and One Nights: carved Arabesque brass tables, lounging seats with red recessed lamps, ancient Oriental artifacts, cozy corners, and ornate pipes giving an air of timeless mystery. If you might be hosting four people, order a full mezza, tabullah, kofta, and labna. When you finish dining, it will be quite dark, and since the sidewalks are uneven and treacherous then, ask a staff member to call a taxi to take you to The Bar at the Four Seasons Hotel on the Corniche, where Justine’s romance with Amir began, a romance that blossoms through the entire Justine Trilogy. It’s an easy walk back to the Shepheard. Fall into bed for you have an early flight—and much to think about:

Were these stories about the Holy Family true? Could they be?

Why such tensions among the three religions of the book when they

all originate with Abraham?

What did I observe about the Egyptian people, their economy, and


Which of my original assumptions about Egypt have been overturned?

What stories will I tell back home?


Read before you go: The Cairo Codex by Linda Lambert (but, of course); Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell; Midaq Alley, a short story by Naguib Mafouz.

If you have more time: Alexandria (Metropole Hotel), Luxor and the Valley of the Kings (The Presidente Hotel), Aswan (Old Cataract Hotel) and Abu Simbel (return to Aswan for the night), a cruise down the Nile from Aswan to Luxor. Yes, north is “down” in this case.

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72 Hours in Cairo-part 3

Friday, August 9th, 2013

Day 2: On your second morning in Cairo, walk to Tahrir Square, the center of revolutionary foment (ignoring any “helpful” persons along the way, especially if they claim to be a doctor).  Take the underground to the Mars Girgius Station in Old Cairo, stroll past the Roman fortress and into the Hanging Church suspended over the fort and dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Wind through the narrow pathways to Saint Sergius Church, the actual home of the Holy Family in 2 BCE where Justine discovered The Cairo Codex during a major earthquake. Don’t worry, earthquakes are infrequent in Egypt. Walk to the front and through the nave of 4th century St. Sergius, into the backroom to the left, and take the stairs down into the crypt where the Virgin Mary’s diary tumbled from the wall. Warning: it could be still flooded with ground water from the earthquake. The docent will explain.

Take the underground back to Tahrir Square and walk east into the heart of Cairo’s fashionable shopping area (carrying a map at all times during your trip), stopping to eat lunch at one of the sidewalk shawarma (towers of sizzling beef spinning on a metal stake over a fire) shops along the south side of Talaat Harb Street. As you approach Midan Talaat Harb Square and the looming statue of the founder of the National Bank, you’ll find Mr. Harb in his towering tarboosh. Groppi’s blue mosaic façade can be spied on the left corner. This historic bakery and teashop was once a gathering place for writers, adventurers, self-appointed celebrities and pashas. It is the setting for two crucial scenes in The Cairo Codex and is a great place for a relaxing cup of tea and a couple of desirable dainty chocolate frosted cookies before returning to the hotel. You may not be able to resist buying a pair of flamboyant shoes at one of the many shops along the way. Return by way of The American University of Cairo.

It is now early evening of your second full day in Cairo. Employ your personal driver from the hotel to take you to the Great Pyramids and the Sprinx. Ask him to wait as you explore on foot (leaving a clean blouse or shirt and alternative shoes in the car).  Change clothes and shoes, modestly, and ask the driver to take you to the elegant Mena House Oberoi, nearby, for Darjeeling tea in the lounge overlooking the pyramids and dinner in the exotic Moghul Room. This “Palace of the Pyramids” was built for Sheikh Isma’il Pasha as his hunting lodge. Winston Churchhill, Agatha Christie, Queen Mary, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle were frequent visitors. You may dismiss your driver as you enter the hotel since the staff will arrange for transport back to the Shepheard (he can take your dusty shoes and clothes back to the hotel to be left in your room).

Day 3 tomorrow!

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Poisoned Pen Review: The Cairo Codex

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

This well written debut novel by Professor Emeritus Lambert who once served as a State Department Envoy to Egypt is both meaningful and entertaining. Meaningful in that she walks us inside modern Cairo-it’s 2007 in the story-with  its many communities in the Old and fast-growing new city, the growing factionalism affecting the secularists, moderate Muslims, the Copts, Jews, scholars, tourists, etc. Her tone is sympathetic, her view well rounded, she’s an informed tour guide. How shall I be a modern Egyptian woman, thinks Justine, conscious of her dual heritage. The backstory begins in 2CE in the family of elderly carpenter Joseph and his family who’ve been living in a cave in that part of Cairo called Babylon for several years, refugees from Israel (Palestine). The bridge is the small, battered, diary kept by Joseph’s wife and found by accident when Justine is trapped in a cave under the ancient church of St. Sergius during an earthquake and aftershock. There’s a death in the modern day as several agendas clash once the discovery of the book and its contents become known. So not Dan Brown, in fact more Bruce Feiler, part women’s fiction, part a meditation on three major religions and more (Tao figures in). The prose flows so comfortably it’s easy to gloss over the serious issues and read this for fun. Fans of Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody books will lap this up, too.

-Poisoned Pen Bookstore, Scottsdale, Arizona



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Could the Virgin Mary have been literate?

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

It’s more than plausible. Mary of Nazareth’s grandmother, Faustina, came from Mt. Carmel north of Jerusalem. This community was a stronghold of the Essenes, the peoples who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls.  In The Cairo Codex, Mary discusses women, writing, and equality with her son, Jesus:

“Why the papyrus? For writing to family in Palestine?”

“Yes, my son. Family members are hungry for news from us. They ask about how you and your brother are growing up and what it is like to live in this land. They miss us. And your father misses his family.” I take a few clusters of garlic from my pocket to hand to the scribe. My son hesitates before asking the question I knew was pressing on his young mind.

“I have noticed that Rachel and Noha do not write. Can only some women write?”

“All women can write if they are taught how. Just as you were taught to read and write….”

“How did you learn to write, Mother?” my son says, balancing on the edge of the rock and folding his tunic between his tanned legs.

“It is unusual for women to learn to write. You observed well. I was fortunate. My grandmother taught me when I was but a girl. She thought it important for women to be able to do many of the same things men do. Grandmother considered inequality the source of all evil. I wish you could have known her.”

“What did she mean ‘inequality is the source of all evil’?” he puzzles. The tea arrives in two chipped, unmatched cups. I hand the boy a cluster of garlic. My son has an inquiring mind, much like I was as a child. “What do you think she might have meant?”

“I don’t know. To me, most people seem unequal; Noha is not like Rachel, Isaiah is not like Samir.”

“I see the same things. But Grandmother also talked of inequality between the rich and poor, men and women, the educated and uneducated, the old and the young, Jews and pagans, Romans and Israelites. These inequalities lead to misery, hatred and wars, which are evil. Her family came from Mt. Carmel and had many strong ideas about how life should be lived. Many of these ideas I carry with me.”

“But why did God make us unequal if He wanted us to be equal? I don’t understand.”

“I’m not so sure God made us so. Perhaps we did that to ourselves. It is we who choose to obey the powerful and deprive others of their rights. Perhaps God gave us these choices to test our compassion.”

Women, writing, and equality are elegantly interwoven. That is why we are compelled to educate young girls.

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Cairo’s City of the Dead and Girls Education

Monday, July 22nd, 2013


A Community Schools for Girls in the City of the Dead challenges pre-conceptions about what is possible in non-traditional communities.  Again, from the forthcoming The Cairo Codex:

The City of the Dead. Nearly a million of the living joined the thousands buried in Cairo’s notorious cemetery, an area nearly as large as Venice. Small tombs that looked like dollhouses had become home to families who subsisted without basic plumbing and water services. For years, the government had sought to dispel this encroachment upon holy ground, but it had finally given up. Now, small shops and an occasional water faucet made life there somewhat more bearable.

Justine felt as though she was still observing the scene with the uncomprehending eyes of the teen she’d been when her father had brought her there. Flies crowded around the eyes and mouth of the small girl of about five who stood in front of her. Her curly hair, the same color as her skin, looked as though it had never been combed. She wore a faded pink cotton dress with a sash that had come loose on one side; the long sash with a bow in the middle touched the dirt near her bare feet. The young girl stared intently at a dead donkey lying in the middle of the street. Across the back legs of the donkey lay a dog, both surrounded by flies.

She couldn’t take her eyes off the girl. She wanted to hold her, to comb her hair, to chase away the flies, to sew her sash. Such a beautiful child. What does it mean to care? Her western notions connected caring with cleanliness and order and combed hair…and battling flies.

As though on cue, a somewhat older girl emerged from the doorway beside the child. The older girl was wearing a clean blue and white school uniform and carrying a backpack, ready for school. The contrast between the two girls was disconcerting.”


These schools, the reason Justine came to Cairo, are at the heart of the women’s movement in Egypt—in sharp relief from the echoes of abuse now plaguing the great country.


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NPR Interview-Egypt in Crisis

Friday, July 5th, 2013

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Death of a Saint

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

Ansaf Aziz, a young woman with sparkling eyes and intelligence from Upper Egypt fell in love with her English teacher, married him and moved to Assuit, where she would give birth to three extraordinary children, one boy and two girls.

Madam Ansaf, as we called her, later moved to Cairo and began a program of micro-loans for poor women before Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh (winner of the Nobel Prize) thought of the idea. She had been successfully carrying out this loan program for nearly 20 years when we met her in 1989—the year my husband and I moved to Cairo. She loaned monies to women so that she could earn an income for the family and become independent entrepreneurs. A bean pot, a sewing machine, a small oven, plus skills, and craft bazaars for fund-raising—support wherever needed.

Soon after our arrival in Cairo, where I worked as a State Department envoy working with Egyptians to set up a national curriculum center, we had dinner with Andrea Rugh, a Harvard anthropologist and author of multiple books on the Middle East.  We asked Andrea, who is now with the Middle East Institute, how we might work and learn with the poor people of Cairo without going through the cumbersome bureaucracies. She took us to meet Madam Ansaf, a close friend of hers and the focus of the text she was working on at the time.

From that day forward, Ansaf adopted us and our three children when they visited. We had many dinners at her home in Shoubra and became friends with her family, especially son Hanna and his wife Laurence and daughters. Her joy was contagious as though she knew that her path was blessed.  I had the honor of accompanying her into the back streets of Boulak and meeting with groups of women who gathered to talk about their lives. As a Coptic Christian going into Muslim homes, she annoyed the Brotherhood, but no one dare touch her. For the next two decades, we contributed to her work.

My husband, Morgan, then working as a page editor for The Middle East Times and part-time instructor at American University, Cairo, wrote a tribute to her entitled, “Mother Teresa of Cairo.” Indeed she was.

I remember when she was around 85 (she thought—no one knew for sure) and she had never been to a doctor. Her son told her that as long as she was doing God’s work she would be well. Her grandson, Nader Wahbi, just wrote to us that his grandmother turned her faith into action. Indeed she did.

We last saw Ansaf in May, 2011, when we visited Cairo to learn about the aftermath of the revolution. She was in decline by then, but insisted on staying in her own home, which was leaning significantly as a result of the last earthquake. She would eat very little and told me, “I cannot eat when I know there are so many without food.”

Madam Ansaf, known as the Mother of the Poor of Boulak, was a saint. She passed away peacefully on March 10, 2013.

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Travels in Italy…

Monday, May 28th, 2012

April 22

The Tryannean Sea rushes inward through this ancient town of Fiumicino so fiercely that the confluence of the river and sea is nowhere in sight. Enormous, rocking fishing boats with towering masts line the river on either side. An arched pedestrian drawbridge straddles the river at the waterfront where handsome men and women dressed in leather jackets and boots—more Sicilian than Roman—sit in sidewalk bars smoking and drinking expresso.  Too early for the restaurants to open, we walk by open fish markets and cafes and settle into a table near the water, ordering Prosecco and Panini, and watching a well-dressed couple making love at the adjoining table.  He, a suave middle-aged man, she an attractive and much younger woman.  We enjoyed speculating about their “torrid affair,” and playfully wondered if anyone in the audience was speculating about ours.

We’d been traveling a day and a half without sleep, so we return to our hotel, take a shower and fall into bed.  We have managed to stay awake until 7:30 p.m., thinking that surely we can sleep the night.  It is now 2:00 am.  When it’s light enough to find coffee, we’ll take off for Pompeii in our rented Ford Fiesta.

It is now 6am and we’re getting our bags ready to load the car after enjoying a

Buffet breakfast.  Pompeii and the Amalfi coast beckon us!

April 23

Forecast: three days of cold and rain. Reality: three days of beautiful weather. When we woke up Sunday morning (sans Meet the Press and the NY Times), we debated whether to tackle the harrowing drive down the Amalfi coast to Positano.By the time we arrived in Sorrento, however, the fog was lifting from the dramatic cliffs and we continued to drive to one of the most beautiful places on earth.

We nominated other contenders: Big Sur and Sea Ranch; the Dalmatian Coast of Yugoslavia; parts of Hawaii; Ronda, Spain; coast of British Columbia—you may add to our list.  What makes a place beautiful?  Positano has the sea and sharp, rocky mountain cliffs, quaint architecture—much of it built into the mountains where the man-layered stones blend with natural stone; breathtaking views; history.  Linda has decided that it is the most beautiful place on earth—Morgan likes to be more fair-minded.  John Steinbeck captured it well: “Positano bites deep. It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoning real after you have done.”

From Positano, we ventured along the breathtaking cliffs of Sorrento before setting off for Naples (challenging driving!) and a late lunch, which we enjoyed at Nero’s. Wonderful house wines and pastas.  The most striking images that remain of Naples are the giant working port and incredibly immense structures of all kinds: castles, government buildings and villas, walls…larger than could have been imagined. (Kosta, take noteJ) Naples was established by Rhodes.

This morning we were armed with what proved to be unnecessary raincoats and umbrellas for the trek through the ruins of Pompeii.  Pompeii was established by the Etruscans (but, of course) some 2800 years ago, becoming an official Roman state in 20 BCE.  You may charge us with talking in superlatives, but this is the most vast area of remains (hundreds of acres) that we have visited.  A major earthquake in 62 AD did major destruction to the now-Roman city, but it was 79 AD when the “plug” and ash of Mt. Vesuvius blew 28 kilometers into the sky and rained down pumice rock and ash onto the city, burying it until the 1500’s.  The dug out remains host many terme (baths), temple to Isis, Apollo, Zeus, Minerva, and a grand theatre with seating capacity of 5000. From a “Big History” point of view, this was the time of the writing of the gospels in Alexandria, the missionary zeal of Paul and the Christians in the Roman Empire.  To what extent—and we expect a lot—did the gods fall from grace?

With the inimitable resilience of humans, present day Pompeians have rebuilt their city into an intriguing community of civic pride and spiritual presence with museums, the famous ruins, plazas and a grand cathedral.  We are at the stylist Hotel Diana and are off to Vesuvius in the morning to see for ourselves.  It is now raining.

April 26

We can now testify that Mt. Vesuvius is temporarily safe—no smoke or heat.  However, that’s perhaps what the ancient Pompeians thought.  From Vesuvius, we drove the five hours to Arezzo in pouring rain and stayed in the old quarter of this little-visited ancient city.   (We got lost…once again… trying to find Montepulciano) We had to be satisfied with a humble suite in downtown Hotel Continentale. The disadvantage of traveling by car is that we get lost; the advantage of traveling by care is that we get lost.

Yesterday…on to nearby Il Pero for the beginning of a week of festivities. We no sooner move into our apartment in this 13th century stone estate and say hello to proprietors Baroness Miranda, Baron William Taxis, daughter Annie, and friend Mary Lane from Taos and Jane from Edwards, Colorado, than we are whisked off to a Festa party (April 25 is Festival Day all over Italy).  Thirty Italians and the three Brits welcomed us to a feast under the trees that lasted for hours. The weather was scrumptious, the food delicious, and the singing nothing less than spectacular (the host Donato, an internist from Florence, brought a karaoke machine with three mics). We guests joined in on Elvis Presley and the Beatles.  No Frank Sinatra in sight. Donato’s wife, Esmeralda, spread her homemade jewelry on the table that was quickly purchased by us American guests.

We’re off to three small nearby towns this morning with Mary Lane and Jane; other guests who will share our apartment arrive today.  We hear that the book talk party on Saturday is now up to 45 people!  Oh my.  We’ll be back with another journal entry in three days or so.

April 29, 2012

Italian Journal—“the day after”….the book release party at Il Pero, Tuscany, for Etruscan Evenings. Our guests, brother Zane and sister-in-law Janet from St. Helena, Kristy and Julie from Denver; grandson Jered and friend Joe from Chico, Mary Lane from Taos, Jane from Colorado, Catherine and Kris from Santa Fe, Emily from Gualala—and 30 Italians invited by Baroness Miranda and Baron William Taxis and their two beautiful teenage daughters, Isabella and Annie. Two special friends, Cheryl and Emerson, came from their home in Fiesole; a family of five from Canada; and a couple of writers from England.  In the Medieval hall lit only by dozens of candles, we enjoyed hors d’oeuvres, wines and conversation. Miranda surprised Linda by arranging for an introduction by Zane, lovely words about their childhood together, likening her kindly to their mother, both dreamers.  Linda dedicated the evening to their mother, Lucretia, a key character in the novel.  Generously, each of our guests from America read their favorite sections from Etruscan Evenings, lending multiple voices to the event.

We went out to breakfast this morning with Jered, Joe and Miranda and she told us stories of a nearby town burned by the Nazis in 1944, a town visited by Morgan and Bob Blackburn (whom Miranda describes as “unforgettable”) five years ago. We have two more days in this luscious country estate, then on to Rome and Florence.  More later.

May 4, 2012

The journey into our “Roman Holiday” was an intriguing combination of travel through hilltop pastoral villages into one of the most complex and densely populated urban mazes we have ever experienced (sans Cairo).

Setting out for Rome from the Taxis estate in Tuscany, we decided to take a detour to Todi, the small village that two of our American fellow travelers had recommended highly.  Leaving Highway #A1, we skirted a gorgeous lake and forest preserve and climbed up a hill to a plateau with a large parking lot.  There we left the car, rode a lift up the incline to the heart of the delightful village of Todi.  We highly recommend this village on your own journeys. (Other favorite Tuscan towns: San Gimignano, Chiusi, Volterra, and Cortona.)

“Todi’s history can be read in layers: the interior walls show Todi’s Etruscan      and even Umbrian influence, the idle walls are an enduring example of Roman know-how, and the “new” medieval walls boast of Todi’s economic stability and prominence during the Middle Ages.” (Lonely Planet)

As we traveled on, approaching Roma, Linda opened the computer for instructions on how to traverse the complicated 36 turns to our hotel, Casa De Sara, in Piazza Navona.  Morgan drove as Linda read instructions, turning left (“sinistre”) and then right (“destini”) at every block or two.  Getting discouraged after a while, Linda called Antonio (who speaks almost no English) at the hotel for directions. Shocked to discover we were coming by car, he was of little help.  So Morgan double parked outside the Piazza area and Linda disappeared for a half hour, eventually finding the hotel and returning to the car accompanied by two handsome Italian men.  Morgan was instructed to surrender the keys to Antonio who quickly found a parking space in an alley near the hotel. Antonio introduced us to our hotel neighbors and told them how amazed he was that someone of antique age (his passport revealed that dark secret) could actually survive driving through such a maze!  The austere room with a tiny balcony overlooks the labyrinth of alleys, teeming with shops, restaurants and people of all colors and dress.

We chose this area because several Roman scenes in Etruscan Evenings are set here or nearby (all of which we set out to find and enjoy once more, especially the Caravaggios in the Church of St. Louis). We are forever enchanted by the many faces of Navone.  In the early morning, the alleys are filled with fruit, grocery and news stands, motorcycles, and locals enjoying expressos. By noon, the restaurants are filling up—replacing the street foods, the stands are transformed into stations for antiques, jewelry, hats, and luggage. Gelato, wine and pizza are omnipresent.

Ah, but it is the evening that is most magical: diners at tables line the alleys, any blemishes disappearing in the evening candle light, sounds of violins and saxophones float through the air, the chatter of voices in many languages…and nearby the magnificence of the Piazza itself, filled with artists and vendors, fountains, churches, restaurants.

The grandeur of Rome never disappoints. We walk, take public transport, and gratefully get lost in the Via Veneto, Pantheon (This place erected for many gods still has the great opening at the top from which our grandson, Jered, reported that he watched a feather make its way hundreds of feet down into the granite below), Coliseum, neighborhoods seen from the tour bus (a great way to get the overview once again), The Church of St. Maria sopra (meaning on top of) Minerva.

Tonight we have dinner with friends near the Trevi Fountain  (as in Three Coins & La Dolce Vita).  Off to Florence tomorrow.

May 7-Day in Fiesole

From our delightful Hotel Maxim near the Duomo here in Florence (Firenze), we set about by car for Fiesole to meet two individuals and give them copies of Etruscan Evenings (EE). After our classic experiences of getting lost, we eventually rose on the mountain road to perhaps the most glorious small town in the world—making it just in time for our 10:00 appointment with Marco De Marco, Director of the Etruscan Museo in Fiesole.

She crossed the main square and approached the Zone Archeologie of the Etruscan Museo…Her feet found station in deep emerald grasses and red poppies. Olive, cypress, pine, and mulberry trees surrounded the massive zone of Etruscan, Roman and Longobard ruins laid out horizonally next to each other. Justine turned to face the Etruscan Temple of Menrva…(EE).

Our visit with Marco, a major character in EE, was warm and welcoming. He was pleased to receive his copy of EE and excited about continuing finds about the mysterious Etruscans, which he assured Linda he would communicate to her.  He gave us a copy of his newest book on the Etruscans.

After a walking tour of the Zone and town, and lunch at the Aurora Restaurant, we joined Patricia Soviano at the Villa San Michele, which began its glorious life as the monastery of St. Michael the Archangel in the 15th century. It seems only fitting that Michelangelo served as midwife, designing the imposing façade and loggia of stucco, crowned with lions’ heads. The hotel has been owned and operated by the Orient Express for the past 30 years.  A brief aside: as Morgan and Linda waited for Patricia, enjoying cappuccino and refreshments in the loggia, we speculated on the cost of a room. Linda said $800. or more; Morgan said $400.  As Patricia later took us on a walking tour of the grounds, we learned that the daily rate for an elegant garden room is $3500.

At 31, Patricia serves as Guest and Public Relations Director at the hotel. Like Marco, she had provided information and photographs for the novel; and like Marco she related childhood experiences that influenced her life.  Patricia recalled wanting to be “boss” at the age of eight so she studied business in Paris, learned five languages and moved from Madrid to Italy.  Marco lived near the Duomo at age two and can still hear the bells in his heart.

Last night, we went to a stunning opera performance at the Santa Monica church built in 1400, then walked back across the city. Today we retraced EE tracks to the Caravaggio room at the Uffizi, the world’s best chocolate at the Rivoire in the Piazza della Signoria, and the site of a romantic dinner at the exclusive Enoteca Pinchiorri.  Tonight we will visit friends of Miranda and William Taxis in their home here in Florence and leave for the Rome airport in the morning.

More tomorrow night on the politics and elections this week in Europe. We thank you for being patient readers of our personal journal….

May 9, 2012

One of the advantages of traveling in Europe is access to more international news (in the north) through the International Herald Tribune. It has been fascinating to read about US and world news in the IHT with its mix of perspectives from NY Times favorites like Brooks, Krugman, Dowd, Friedman, as well as various global edition writers.  Last weekend’s elections sharply drew the battle lines—already evident in the US—between austerity and growth stimulus, social spending and the role of governments. It was on display most dramatically with the defeat of Sarkozy and the election of socialist (with moderate tendencies) Hollande.  Marine Le Pin—the far right equivalent of the Tea Party—received 18% (at least they’re not as strong as in Indiana).  Angela Merkel has lost her most devoted ally and co-designer of the austerity demands–Sarkozy.  Greece has been unable to form a government because of sharp divisions regarding the austerity demands.  Putin may be back on top, but can no longer count on a rubber stamp Duma.  It was interesting to note that one of the “long time personal friends” present at Putin’s “welcome back rally” was Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi (maybe eager to plan his own reincarnation?) Resentments are running high throughout Europe.

What changes have we observed in Italy in the last 5 years?

• More accommodations for the handicapped, including bathrooms. Therefore, more travelers in wheelchairs.

• We could no longer find BBC, CNN or Al Jazeera English at any hotel.  (An austerity move to pay for fewer channels.)

• More women police

• Berlusconi is gone—meaning a more realistic view of austerity (Although that could be changing as Italy has elected local mayors in 1000 cities that (so far) have been overturning Berlusconi’s rule of local politics).

• Unemployment is at a 12-year high.

• An even sharper division between the prosperity north of Rome and poverty south of Rome.

• We met more travelers from eastern Europe, including the Ukraine and Poland.

• Some indications that social media and internet are having an influence in Italy.

A political leader announced via internet that he wanted people to suggest ways

he could combat corruption.  Within hours there were 100,000 suggestions.

No action yet, but a sign of changes coming?

Linda and Morgan





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