Cats on a plane

I took my cat with me to Italy for ten days. Don’t judge me, I have my reasons. Anyway, you can carry your little pet in the cabin of the plane here, provided that there is no more than one other animal coming aboard as hand luggage and that the case they are in is sufficiently tiny. Tiny enough to fit under the seat of a Vueling flight, which has notoriously little legroom as compared to a coach seat on a normal size airplane. So kitty hopped unknowingly into her soft case with three mesh windows and I carried her out of my apartment building on a Monday morning and off to the airport.

But first came the metro ride, which in retrospect wasn’t such a smart choice. The metro is so much more bumpy and loud than a human who tunes out with ipod earphones jammed into her ear canals whenever facing public places would notice. Kitty’s stress level was pretty high after her first metro ride that also included a train change and several stair cases, escalators and tunneled walkways. A walk through the heart of the city surrounded by people and cars to catch the airport bus was next, so by the time we got onto the bus, Kitty was not a happy camper.

At the airport, things were quieter and Kitty seemed almost content to hang out in her little bag. We went through ticketing just fine, where no mention of a CAT PASSPORT was made, which evidently is the last of the requirements needed for Fuzzy to fly the friendly skies. But we are in Spain, and the girl at the ticket counter in Barcelona never asked for anything regarding the cat, not even permission to stick her hand into my kitty carrier to scratch Kitty’s head to receive a bite in return.

Going through security was also easy. You have to remove your pet from their carrier and put the carrier through xray while you tote your pet in your arms through the metal detector. Kitty was happy to get back in the bag and was calm boarding the plane. It wasn’t until take off that I heard sounds coming from my cat that I never knew were possible. She was in the carrier at my feet and we were crammed next to the window in a full row so I couldnt see her. All I could see was the bag deforming and thrashing around on its own while Kitty wailed like a human baby. Fortunately, there were no fewer than three screaming children on the plane, so Kitty went (sort of) unnoticed.

Once we landed in Milan and were in the car, she was exhausted and dozed until we got home, only waking to meow pathetically to let us know she wanted out soon. At home, she was happy to eat and play like nothing happened.

Returning to Spain however, was not so pain free. Day of the flight, we drove carefully to the airport and she arrived quite calm. So when the lady at the ticket counter asked for her passport as well as mine (remember the cat passport?), it was ·I· who panicked and thrashed like I was in a flexible little  carrier under an airline seat.

So Yeah. I had to leave my fricken’ cat in Italy. What’s more, the bitch at the ticket counter argued with me about the fact that I brought my cat from Spain on the plane to Italy without a passport in the first place. “Impossible” was her constant reply. That and “no, you didn’t” when I explained that I flew with the cat on her stupid airline 10 days earlier.  It’s not the first time an airline ticketer in Italy has called me a liar and/or treated me like shit, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. That’s Italy for you.

So I went back to Spain and Kitty stayed with GP’s parents for four days until I could arrange a cat passport, which, this being Spain, was ridiculously easy. i just paid the vet and he backed dated and stamped the kitty passport and I was set.

Then I had to spend 250 Euros and an entire Friday flying to Italy, waiting for the cat delivery, and flying back to Spain. I don’t know if it was that Kitty knew what she was in for or if GP’s father’s driving really is that bad, but Kitty arrived at the airport practically traumatized. She had peed in her carrier, which she had never done before, and was crying incessantly. Even her fur was all rumpled like she had been wrestling with another cat. And there were still more than five hours to go before we would be home.

We checked through ticketing with her new passport just fine and made it through security without too much drama (though I do have a few new scratches to show for it). I had a couple of hours of waiting in the airport to do and was able to calm Kitty down before the worst part of the trip came. I was so grateful to have the only row on the entire plane to myself thanks to a noisy, kicking child seated behind my row. The guy assigned next to me opted to move to the row in front of me, even before I arrived with a meowing cat in a bag.

What followed next was the longest flight of my life, despite it lasting only an hour and a half. I don’t know if the pilot was lost or what, but we taxied around that bumpy airfield for about 25 minutes, which was a good setup for the bouncy takeoff and turbulent climb wherein Kitty went bananas. Then, of course, the entire flight was marked with sudden dips and drops as the plane surged through the clouds to its final delayed landing, which called for more bumpy circulating before the pilot finally figured out where he was. Poor kitty peed in her case again at some point during the flight, between her bouts of pitiful mewling and frantic caterwauling.

I have to add that the entire flight I was trying to calm her down by petting and talking to her through her case. There is no question that the guy who moved seats made the right move not sitting next to the crazy cat lady who smelled like pee. If he hadn’t moved before I sat down, I’m sure he would have moved after.

By the time we landed, I had decided not to even deal with the bus and took a taxi straight home for 24 Euros. Taxi guy made me put he case on the floor after I refused to put her in the trunk of the taxi, but thankfully he drove pretty smoothly and there was no traffic so we got home quick.

Once inside the door to my apartment, I put the case on the floor and opened it up. I was ready for a drink and a nap and wondered if Kitty was going to be stressed, disoriented, desperate for her litterbox or what after her ordeal. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised when Kitty trotted happily out, went straight to her dish for a snack, then attacked her toy mouse with gusto, tossing it into the air and chasing it where it landed as if nothing had ever happened.

I’m thinking that maybe I won’t skip the bus next time. Or at least I’ll consider putting her in the trunk when I elect to take a taxi home.

 

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DIY motocross races

It’s a crisp cold autumn day in Northern Italy. Summer is over, the fields have been cleared of all the corn, it isn’t raining nor snowing yet, and everyone wants a last hurrah before the motorcycle season is over and the cold winter arrives.

Why not throw an impromptu neighborhood motocross race in one of the neighborhood fields? If you get the word out soon enough, a few volunteers will step forward and before you know it, you’ll have everyone in the neighborhood racing. Just follow these simple guidelines:

  • Erect signs so that people will know where to find the race.

  • Tape off areas for spectators, or find a natural barrier to separate spectators from the track.

  • Tape off a starting grid near the main spectator area for maximum impact.

  • Make sure your volunteer race director wears a timer around his neck to look professional.

  • Hire a food truck for hungry participants.

  • Put a few seats out so elderly spectators can enjoy the races comfortably.

  • Tape off a course tight enough to create some racing action.

  • Provide a jump or two, even if you need to build them by hand.

  • Don’t forget the kiddie class.

 

Salone del Gusto. Part II.

We had just finished sampling some chocolate in the last post, right? Let’s move onto some of the more unusual stands.

How about some oysters?

Mutant lemons soaked in booze?Waffles.Oh please, more cheese! (Inserted here to demonstrate the overwhelming variety of cheeses showcased at the Salone)Fish fries:This photo is a little blurry, but these cakes are rounds of cheese. The one in front is covered with porcini mushrooms, the small one to the right is covered with salmon, the cakes behind offer grapes and strawberries.Speaking of mushrooms, there were lots.My favorite part of the entire show were conceptual portable food holders.

Behold the “snack holster”:

And do not overlook the utility of the “beer walk”:

I suppose the “beer walk” would be great if you were sporting a full right-angled arm cast. But regardless, how are you supposed to drink your beer without flinging your nuts and chips all over the front of you?

Salone del Gusto. I Went. Part I.

Every two years, the former Fiat factory in Torino becomes a giant salon of food at the Salone del Gusto. This is a Slow Food Foundation event geared toward protecting food biodiversity more than it is a hoity toity meeting of foodies (of which I am decidedly not. I think I burned the majority of my taste buds off through year of eating fiery hot sauce and ultra spicy dishes.)

Anyway, we went because it was something to do on a Sunday, as GP lives 35 minutes away.

The first interesting thing encountered was spiraling ceiling in the Lingotto building. This was used as car storage when it was a factory. (You might also know about the test track – on the roof of the building!)

After resolving to return when we can view the track on the roof, we entered this food fair.

Since this event is in Italy, the majority of the focus is on regional Italian foods (there were International salons as well, mostly European and South American). We sampled plenty of  Italian cheeses, like giant wheels of hard cheese covered with the post wine grape corpses(called “vinaccia”) :

Delicious cheese covered in dead grapes.

And stinky French cheese, made by mountain people in Northern France, aged by burying in the dirt or grass for various lengths of time.

Incidentally, the regional inhabitants looked like mountain people as well.

Other interesting  things cheese is buried in includes grass and animal poop. Animal poop cheese is called “fossa” in Italy. In case you were wondering.

I tried the grass cheese, and given that it tasted reminiscent of tangy grass, I skipped the poo-cheese.

Would you like some grass cheese?

In truth, there was so many cheeses from all over Italy and Europe, that after sampling a Polish cooked cheese, I was cheesed out.And ready for some wine.

We found many samples in the regional salons, though the samples were small.

Me, wondering if the wine pourer will pony up some more wine.

You could purchase another entrance to a wine tasting salon for another 6 Euros, but we passed. A glass for purchase or wine tasting/wine pairing discussions were all over the place.

And wine stewards, tired of standing in their funny uniforms all day, that could be coaxed out of a glass or two for some diverting conversation.

I also came across a cigar/booze pairing discussion. I guess Italian farmed tobacco is protected just like regional cuisine.

Come here to learn what to drink with which stogies.

And beer, including Abba beer (no relation to the band, unfortunately).After booze and cheese, it was time for something a little more substantial, of which there was a lot of at this fair: Meat!

I’m generally not a meat eater and never have been (I remember spitting steak into napkins as a child every time I was served it and flushing sausages down the toilet), but animals for consumption in Europe, especially regional specialties (with the exception of France) have natural diets, are humanely raised and slaughtered, are not treated with any antibiotics, hormones, etc that they taste entirely different and I will occasionally eat meat here. And nothing is better than a sandwich of a couple slabs of simple organic meat and bread!

Tartar that GP drooled over.

After our little snack, we sampled probably 50 different olive oils and breads. GPs favorite oil was from Puglia, which is a region full of ancient olive orchards and oil production. Some breads had branding marks on them, or no salt, or were rubbery or chewy. But all were seriously delicious.Of course, we sampled tomatoes and tomato sauces, the best in my opinion coming from Sicily.

The Sicilians have a very distinctive interpersonal manner. They are engaging and can remain stony faced while being humorous trades people, and therefore very charming to my American sensibilities. These guys were wrangling customers and no doubt were killing it with the Americans who were visiting the Salone del Gusto (I heard a few here and there).And then there was my favorite part.

Endless jams, cookies, biscuits, crackers…And don’t forget …chocolate!

“Woo” chocolate with vanilla from South America was pretty good.

I’m not sure why the racist images of blacks are ever present in Europe and associated with chocolate, but there they still are.

I have more photos to share, so this post is to be continued.

I’ve Been Busy

Oh hello, I didn’t see you there.  Evidently I have a blog I forgot about.

I’ve been busy, so let me recap quick like and then I can get back to posting photos of food and crap like I have been doing.

– I went to the Mugello GP with the boyfriend. Met my home girl Susanna there and two of her friends. Boyfriend stayed in a house with his team and I stayed in a hotel with Suz, where all of my former co-workers, including former  boss, were staying. Awkward?

– Been riding mountain bikes a lot in Italy. Boyfriend was a downhill racer, wants to return to the sport, and has hopes that I will want to race downhill too. However, it has become clear this is not a sport I am going to excel in. I tend to look forward to the parts of the ride that are on the pavement instead of the rocks, and I like uphill better than downhill. Oh yeah, all those beautiful mountain trails and river runs? SWARMING with mosquitoes. Maybe growing up in the desert gave me no resistance to mosquito spit or something, because I scratch bites until they bleed and scar. And of course, freak the fuck out when they cover my legs and are swarming in my face and ears.  My behavior is, as my boyfriend says in his special English, “like a children”.

– Gave up the supermoto racing plans. I mean, supermoto is fun and all but 1) I’m slow 2)  I prefer roadracing. I’d like to return to roadracing and will start on a 125 again if I do. I’ll of course keep you updated if that happens. But I HAVE been preparing for it. You know, as in breaking my collarbone.

– I lost 15 pounds. (This is related to preparing for racing but it merits it’s own bullet point.) I can now wear the same clothes I brought with me from California when I came here in 2008. The bike riding has helped, but stopping with the eating of the chocolate every single day for the last two years (I did not miss one day, call me consistent if nothing else) maybe helped a little as well.

– And finally, there is work. The project I am on is ending in two weeks or so and the deadlines are inflexible. Not only that, but daily I receive tasks from various departments that are marked as Urgent and have a COB deadline  (that means the end of the day for you non office types. Mom.) COB in California is 5pm. For me, that means 2am. So yes, I’ve had some late nights. Last night, in fact, I worked until 3am. Did I mention yesterday was Saturday? So yeah, I’ve been under a little pressure from work. And based on how many emails I sent and received yesterday  I am not the only one working on the weekends. Remember that Loverboy song that goes “Everybody’s working for the week-end”? Well that song doesn’t apply to me. Just sayin.

And now my friends, I have to get back to work. But before I go, let me just share with you that as I write this, there is an American style (?)  rodeo/horseshow literally in the field next door. Complete with American flags flying. Announcers blabber (in Italian)  and music plays over the loudspeakers for 12 hours straight – Shania Twian and Willie Nelson, and when they run out of country CDs they play Lady GaGa and Jay-Z. Oh and right now, they just played the American National Anthem to present awards to a group of 6 year olds. You can’t make this shit up.

Italian children horse show contestants wondering when the US National Anthem with finish and the DJ will get back to playing Jay-Z. Photo taken from the balcony of boyfriend's house.

Half-Naked Calisthenics

So, I’ve had this pinched nerve in my shoulder. Pain shoots straight up my neck and down my arm and my last two fingers go numb.  It’s better when I am seated or lay down, but walking around really aggravates it and it becomes rather unbearable. Subsequently, I become rather unbearable and extra whiny unless I’m sitting down.  My boyfriend is a lucky man, isn’t he?

So said boyfriend made an appointment for me to see a friend of his who specializes in this kind of thing. That appointment was two nights ago. This wasn’t your typical chiropractors visit. First, it was at a pizzeria way up in the mountains. At ten o’clock at night. This guy runs his family pizza restaurant as his full time job and practices sports therapy on the side. There is a little room upstairs above the ovens and dining room with a chiropractors table and books and papers everywhere that serves as the treatment office. The patrons are mostly guys in their early 20s who come in to socialize and have a beer and look at each others clothes (a national past time here in Italy). Anyway, we arrived, said our greetings, got looked up and down by the patrons then boyfriend, the treatment guy and me all hoofed it upstairs.

Once in the treatment room, I took off my jacket. I had a tank top on underneath for easy access to my entire shoulder and arm. Specialist guy  motioned for me to take that off too. I took my arm out of my tank top and bra strap. He motioned again – off! I looked at my boyfriend – am I getting naked here? Boyfriend says yes, take it all off.  So I am sitting there, nude from the waist up, on the massage table or whatever it is, while these guys have a conversation about my pinched nerve and how it’s related to my now three times broken collarbone.  OK, people here are comfortable with nakedness, and I don’t really care, so not a huge deal so far.  I just want my shoulder fixed. I’m just sitting there naked while they move my arm around to discuss where the pinch is originating and where pain is transmitting across my shoulder and down my arm. In the US, words would be an effective method to convey this information. But conversation in general is impossible for Italians without a hands on approach.

Next, I lay face down and treatment guy starts manipulating nerves in my arm and neck. He keeps telling me to relax, which I find difficult when someone is raking their fingers over ouchie areas. Fortunately, he quickly gets a couple things snapped into the right places, then has me sit up. This is where I was asked to perform drill team moves while sitting on the table, half nude. Arms straight out in front. Look back and forth with arms in crucifixion position. Reach over my head and wiggle my fingers. Arms out again with eyes closed. Squeeze thumbs insides fists. Did I mention I was half nude? At this point treatment guy starts asking my boyfriend where his girlfriend is. Meaning, my boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend. Perhaps he assumed I am comfortable doing naked gymnastics for all of my friends, as well as people who are not doctors? Heck, in that case, we should have just carried the table downstairs into the main dining room since so all the patrons could enjoy the show as well. Or maybe he did figure out I was the girlfriend and he just didn’t care? Either way,  I’d say this experience wins the awkward award.

But it worked. And while I didn’t get paid for my performance, it was still an excellent trade off.

Italian Minibike races

Last weekend, the second Italian minibike series in the season commenced. GP (that is the boyfriend) has a bike/rider in this series every year to hone his engine and chassis building, tuning and team management skills.  We went to support the new engine and to have some fun.

Minibike racing (50-80cc two stroke and 125cc fourstroke) is a big thing in Italy. It’s professional, very competitive and draws a big crowd. There is quite a bit of money involved, as in most racing, but not usually minibike racing. There is also just as much posturing as any other racing series, with photos and numbers of the pilots on the side of race rigs and campers. And of course a lot of guys who think they may as well be in the world championship just because they won a few races. They tend to wear their shades any time they are not on the track.

The bikes must all line up at the starting gate before the ten minute qualifying.

Lunch break is an hour and a half. People pull out the long tables and BBQs and tons of food. And wine, which everyone drinks including the pilots. This is normal for any lunch in Italy. Why should racing be an exception? Why indeed.

They also indulge in harder spirits before the races. For real.

The racing itself is pretty exciting, with lots of shouting and cheering from the sidelines and crowds. I don’t have any photos because they look like any other racing photos you have seen. Throughout, GP wrenched on his bikes. And yes, his rider won all his races.

Dinner in the little town was so stereotypically what Americans think of when they imagine Italy, it was almost embarrassing. Just look at this guy. Of course he is making pizza.

The pizza was delicious but it was the mustache that deserved an award.

Incidentally, this guy is probably from Southern Italy by the looks of him. Northerners generally hold a lot of resentment against the South. I even saw graffiti in this town that said Dio salve il Nord – God save the North. However the transplants who come to work in the North are respected, because unlike the rest of the South, they are working.

And that, my friends, is your cultural lesson for the day.