Italy’s Wandering Homeless

The first stop during our trip to Italy was the small town of Montorio al Vomano, located in the province of Teramo in the region of Abruzzo. With a population of approximately 8300, the town is surrounded by a river, mountains, but mostly built on hills and flatter land. I was struck by its beauty and medieval architecture and stunned by the fact that it houses the ruins of an ancient temple that was dedicated to Hercules. We have no such history in the United States.

Family brought us to this first stop of our Italian trip and on the first morning, Dominic and I sat on the piazza with our expressos watching the old Italian ladies dressed in headscarves and long dresses drag their shopping carts over the cobblestones while the young women pranced smartly dressed in the latest fashions.

As I watched the scene unfold, I felt a gentle pat on my thigh. I looked down and there was a small cat begging for a handout. I had nothing to give him, so instead, I stroked his natty-looking fur, and off he went looking for more lucrative donations.

Stray DogsMy focus changed then, and as I looked around the piazza, I saw more cats, lolling in the sun or looking for dropped crumbs and generous souls. Then I noticed the dogs, the wanderers, clearly homeless, without collars, and all on a mission. None were interested in socializing, yet they all seemed harmless and fairly docile. I was surprised that they were of good weight, and then I saw why: outside the doors of many homes were little bowls of water, milk and food, mostly pasta.

While there are many kind-hearted people, there are also those who brutalize these poor creatures who mean no harm. Take this story of a stray meeting up with a dog on a leash with its owner. The stray just wanted to say hello to the other dog, but the owner kicked it in the face repeatedly. Fortunately, I did not see this or else I might have found my way into an Italian jail.

So why are these abandoned, homeless animals not in animal shelters? Italy has many animal shelters, most not run very well, which lends fodder to the argument that these animals may be better off on the streets?

Some shelter operators round up as many dogs as possible, cramming them into cages to collect cash from the local, state and federal governments that fund publicly run shelters

Heartbreaking.

So why am I making such a big deal about Montorio al Vomano, in the province of Teramo, in the region of Abruzzo? Don’t we have a similar plight for abandoned animals here in the United States?

Yes and no.

For the most part, stray dogs are not wandering the streets of our cities and towns. Rather, they are locked away in animal shelters (hopefully well run), desperately waiting to be adopted, or the tear-jerking alternative.  Should they be let out to wander the streets, hoping for handouts and the occasional pat on the mangy head?

Germany has an interesting alternative to the world-wide crisis of abandoned and unwanted animals. It has over 500 shelters, known for cleanliness and caring attention to pets, and all with a no-kill policy except for animals who become seriously ill. Dog owners are required to pay yearly taxes on their pets, the amount of which varies by town and number of dogs. The purpose of the tax is mainly to regulate the number of dogs in a household, thereby indirectly limiting the overall number of strays. There is no such tax on cats which lends to more stray felines than dogs.

This issue of animal abandonment and homelessness is not going away, ever. And it is worse in other parts of the world where the atrocities are truly despicable. And on this note, an apt quote by Mahatma Gandhi:

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way that its animals are treated.”

Pet Ownership as Economic Factor

Note to Animal Lovers Visiting Italy

Free-roaming Dogs and Cats in Central Italy

Stray Animals Remain a Problem in Italy

Flying Alitalia

ALITALIAItaly! If you have seen my posts from mid-June to early July, you know how totally mesmerized I was about my Italy experience, and it all started when I boarded the Alitalia plane in Toronto.

The Experience

Our three-hour drive to the airport was harrowing, especially when we couldn’t figure out the parking situation nor how to get to the terminals once we finally did find a somewhat reasonable long-term lot. Despite the remarkably cheaper fares out of the Toronto airport, I was not impressed.

Onward.

We were early – like four hours – for the flight, but I am a nerd who loves hanging around airports looking at people and making up their stories. This time the stories added up to a book.

In the meantime, we ate, drank and made merry.

A half hour before flight time: Enter 4 flight attendants dressed in striking uniforms reminiscent of the 1960s, Jackie Kennedy and the trend-setting styles of Italian fashion of that era. The jackets of the suits were hip length atop narrow, perfectly form-fitting skirts. The look was completed with pillbox hats perched on heads with perfectly coiffed buns, leather gloves (Italy is known for its leather), and lovely satchel purses – all the same. Now the real stunner of these outfits was the colors: the suits were either all green or all red, the colors of the Italian flag. If the suit was green, the gloves and stockings were red, and vice-versa. The mail attendants green suited uniforms were not as compelling.

Next – the pilots: I have been gushing about the head pilot ever since this flight. (Dominic is ready to send me back to Italy). I truly almost fell over when in walked this tall, dark, young-ish and unbelievably good-looking pilot. My goal became to somehow find my way into that cockpit – not. This pilot was my introduction to Italian men, excluding Dominic, of course.

Time to board: The atmosphere was immediately set with a specially recorded version of Volare, originally recorded and released in 1958 in Italy and subsequently sung by such American notables as Dean Martin and Connie Francis. I was hooked. I’ve been listening to this version of the song ever since I’ve been home.

The rest of the flight: good, good, good. A night flight is never fun, but the angst of this one was mitigated with surprisingly good food – dinner and breakfast were served, all the drinks (free alcohol!) we wanted, and attentive service. I almost didn’t want to get off, but Italy beckoned. (More to follow on this.)

The Facts

I am obsessed with this airline and thus I embarked upon a study of it.  This is what I discovered:

  • In 2014, Abu Dhabi based carrier, Etihad, ‘purchased’ the struggling Alitalia with a 49% investment
  • Both airlines assure Alitalia will be profitable by 2017
  • A key part of the new strategy was the new uniforms, launched exactly one month prior to our flight
  • Alitalia seeks to improve the overall customer experience while cementing its image as an Italian- carrier
  • Alitalia is expanding its reach to Beijing, Seoul, Shanghai, Mexico City, Santiago and San Francisco

Flying Alitalia was the most astounding flying experience I have ever had. Keep up the impressive work, Alitalia. I am already planning my trip for next year!

Alitalia’s New Look
You Should Fly Alitalia

 

Taps

100_0611Wednesday

I need to write a piece about my buddy’s dimming life force, how it tugs at everything pure and loving I know. His annoying and twice-his-size bark, his unrelenting insistence on licking my legs – and only mine (except for his favorite Aunt Conny), his eyes that never leave me and no matter how tired or hungry he is, I always hear the click-click-click of his toenails on the floor as he devotedly stays spit-close to ‘his person.’ Perhaps by the time you read this his bark, toenails and vigilant eyes will be forever extinguished. Perhaps not. But it won’t be long now and when the time comes, our hearts will break and life will be full of one very big hole.

Thursday

Always on a pristine morning, spring or summer, never fall or winter. I’ve driven this route before, many times, but today the drive is too short, the sun, blinding and painful, and the fleece-wrapped bundle on my lap too tired and sick to shiver and tremble.

So fast – why does it always come so fast? Just a week ago he was chugging along, not at full speed, maybe not even half, but still chugging. Then, the crash. Yesterday afternoon. Lethargic bordering on limp, unquenchable thirst. Uncontrollable, seemingly non-stop urinating. A rambunctious little boy relegated to a lump in my lap. Dinner? Barely a sniff before he turned his head away.

He told me it was time. They always do and it’s hell to hear, but we must, because otherwise it becomes about us. He never did his leaf-tremble on the way to the vet as he always did. It’s time. When we placed him on the blanket-covered examining table he fell to his side – no strength left to even move – it is time. He could not have said it any clearer, any louder.

Friday

The house has lost its spirit. It’s empty and cold and I can’t stand to be in it. Dom wanted to throw out the dog dishes, the dog bed – I wouldn’t let him. Maybe at some point, maybe not. For now they shall stay. I will not erase his being from my life, no matter how much it hurts.

Crayons, Coloring Books and Colored Pencils

IMG_0017
My first completed “adult” picture. 

About 5 years ago I began my quest to find an old-fashioned coloring book, buy a BIG box of Crayolas (remember the one with the sharpener built-in?), and color away. However, I could not find any “old-fashioned-like-when-I-was-a kid” coloring books – anywhere! What I found were “activity books” filled with puzzles, games and blank pages, with a pathetically scant number of traditional images to color. It made me wonder: was this a function of all the ADD and ADHD diagnosis where kids can’t sit still long enough to produce a finished drawing?

Never-the-less, my unrequited search went on until one Christmas, my daughter-in-law gave me a real live coloring book, which she had found on the Internet. Not only was it the real deal, it was all about animal rescue, a subject near and dear to my heart and life.

Lo and behold, no more than a year after receiving my treasured gift, adult coloring books began to emerge, first in dribs and drabs, and now they are everywhere! The images in these books are gorgeous – maybe some of you have discovered them – but there is just one problem for this adult, and that is that most pictures have mostly miniscule areas to color, and I do mean miniscule. Crayolas – sorry, but you’re off this team. Adult coloring books are strictly colored pen and pencil realm! (My favorite is Prismacolor colored pencils.)

Do you remember how important it was to stay in the lines when we were coloring kids? Truth-be-told, I was at first afraid that my hand wasn’t steady enough to successfully navigate all those tiny spaces without bleeding all outside the lines. Even as a kid I was pretty bad at staying inside the lines. The colored pencils make it easier, but then I got to thinking, so what if I do go outside the lines? I cracked a smile and said to myself, “it will be just like old times.”

Rendezvous with a Stink Bug

BMstinkbugcloseupThe other day, in the early days of February, I was sitting on the toilet when what do my wondrous eyes   did appear: a stinkbug. This lonely sole was meandering in my bathtub as it tried to find its way to wherever it was headed and I suspected it probably didn’t even know.

My limited knowledge about stink bugs is that they find their way into our homes and indoor refuges through windows and doorways in a mad-dash frenzy to find shelter before the snow blows and wind howls. Only this year, at least so far, the snow hasn’t blown nor the winds howled – at least not in the usual sense of a winter in upstate New York. I have read that stinkbugs are benign creatures who seek no harm unless they are unwittingly, or purposefully, mishandled, crushed or otherwise threatened. It is then that their bodies emit the smell from hell, an odor I have luckily never experienced.

Stinkbugs do have their enemies and the numbers are great. They are an agricultural pest and cause damage to apples, soybeans, peaches, and pears.  This is a problem, and surely a reason for what will be their eventual demise. Interestingly, stinkbugs were only just discovered in Allentown, PA in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s.

Lady bugs are another harmless species and as a child I grew up to believe you were in luck if one landed on you.  Technically a beetle, these innocent creatures are actually of benefit to the home gardener because they eat harmful aphids.

So the point is, why hurt these lovely creatures who simply seek to coexist in our human world? As for my little stink bug, I saw one lying upside down in the living room the other day. Was it ‘my stinkbug’? Who knows? Whatever it was, its life cycle was completely out of synch with the normal, early April emergence from ‘over-wintering’.  This makes me sad.

When Good is Not Good

good-and-evil

I am on a crusade, and it is not ‘good,’ at least not in the grammatical sense. I’ll bet you do this all the time: when someone asks you how you are, you answer ‘good.’ For example, I ‘live’ with a bunch of fellow English professors and I hear choruses of “How are you,” followed by “Good” sung in the hallowed hallways all day long.

Personally I never thought anything of it until I was teaching a grammar course to a group of very sharp administrative assistants and someone raised the question about responding ‘good’ in response to the standard ‘How are you?” query. The question stopped me in my tracks. I took a quick peek at Purdue’s Online Writing Lab and I discovered that to respond that you are good is to really say you are a moral, upright, fine human being. It does NOT mean that you are healthy, wealthy or wise!  The correct response to the proverbial question is “I am well,” and of course another option is “I am fine.”

Whatever your pleasure, I am on a self-appointed mission to promote wellness wherever I go!

 

By Whose Standards?

I had a view changing experience recently. I have a dear young man from China in one of my classes. His language skills are excellent, but it’s clear he carries the humbleness of his culture heavy on his shoulders. I gave my class an assignment where they were required to identify their individual strengths and weaknesses as listeners. All of the students did this, except for him. Instead, he wrote an eloquent piece about the importance of good listening without ever referring to himself.

At first I was poised to get out my red pen and begin slashing, but then it struck me: he did the best he could within his own experiential and cultural framework.  The Asian view is one of suppressing the ego, being respectful and behaving passively versus our western view where “I” is at the center of everything.  Instead of grading his paper as I did the others, I decided to grade it where he was – in his heart, mind and culture. Did I do the right thing?

The right thing – for years I have taught students from other cultures – many of them Asian. Yes, of course there were differences in writing and ideas – I mostly got hung up on the poor grammar – but until these last few days I never faced the question – by whose rules? Given his good writing skills, the issue became culture and whose should win – mine or his? Let me be so bold as to pose this response: neither.

Human beings embrace their cultures and often stay cocooned within them. A booming global economy insists that we emerge from the cocoons, interact and at least try to understand each other’s cultures. Thus is the mandate of this global economy. In reality we pretend.

Back to my student. Again I pose the question: by whose rules? Theoretically I should hold all students to the same standard, and in terms of writing quality, he was competent. It was this indirect answer of his that unleashed the Pandora of just how do determine and administer standards. If indeed standards remain rigid, then what kind of educational system is it that would penalize students who follow the norms of their ethnicity while enriching our country with the vibrancy of their culture.

 

 

Staying Alive While Pedaling

bicylingQuite some time ago, I wrote a piece criticizing what I called the arrogant attitudes of serious bicyclists – how they ride in the lane, forcing cars to make dangerous forays into opposing lanes and how they were notoriously unfriendly to passing, not-so-serious riders. I received a very wise and well-written reply to that post, educating me to the true perils of road bike riding and the necessary intensity with which all riders must proceed.

Hmm – more than a year later … I am still a backyard variety bicyclist, yet in the past week, I have been almost clobbered twice. And it was close – cars careening to stops at the end of residential streets and somehow missing a full view of what was in front of them. In both cases I actually slammed my hand on the cars, while screaming about their stupidity, carelessness, don’t-you-know-you-almost-killed-someone, and so on.

Fortunately, in both cases, my trusted sixth-sense kicked in and I knew what they were going to do before they did it.

In today’s world of seriously distracted driving, bicycling is an ever more perilous sport. Serious or casual riders, we simply must follow the rules for safe riding and not complain about any bicyclists with whom we share the roads.

P.S. – Wear a helmet. I had mine on (always!)

Laying Claim to Seniorhood

I recentlyfootsteps%20in%20snow realized I had entered ‘seniorhood’ when:

  • The ‘man’ who came to fix the furnace looked like he was 16
  • Every Peanut Butter M&M I eat adds a pound to my middle
  • No matter what the exercise and/or diet, the middle has decided to take up permanent residency
  • What was it you said to me 10 minutes ago?
  • My legs have taken on the role of roadmap – they can get you anywhere – in the world!!
  • I go to bed at nine o’clock and wake up at 2 for a rendezvous with a Peanut Butter M&M (just one, of course)
  • What was it you said to me 5 minutes ago?
  • The dust on my desk is high enough to use as a wrist rest when I’m typing on my computer
  • I always have to call my son for instructions on loading/deleting apps on my smart phone.
  • I come to meetings with my trusty desktop DayTimer while everyone else has Ipads and notebook computers, nary a pen to be found (except mine, of course!)
  • I am a very vocal advocate for fine penmanship while many young kids don’t have a clue how to write in cursive.
  • What was it you just said to me?

Anyone want to add anything?

The Lifespan of a Mosquito

mosquitoI am obsessed with mosquitos as of late and it’s because they are everywhere – inside, outside, and all places in between. They follow you, stake you out, and feast on whatever unfortunate part of your body happens to be exposed.

Still, despite their considerable annoyance factor, I am a sucker for all living creatures and when my partner Dominic chased down a swarm of mosquitos with a fly swatter the other night, I found myself feeling sorry for them. That then got me to wondering about the life span of a mosquito. I figured it was something very short, like a day or two, but what I learned surprised me. Some other facts also surprised me.

  • The average life span of a mosquito is two months. (Less if you’re in my house being chased down by a madly swinging fly swatter)
  • Mosquitos hibernate! (I thought for sure that when warm weather was done, they simply soared off into mosquito la la land.)
  • A mosquito is a mosquito is a mosquito, right? Wrong! (There are whopping 3500 species of mosquitos)
  • Mosquitos must hatch in water and live there for 10 days. (Moral: be sure and dump any standing water around your yard.)
  • It’s true that mosquitos favor certain people! Why? It’s a matter of body odor – good, bad or indifferent, there are certain odors that these winged creatures prefer. (What do they like? If your cholesterol level is high, lower it both for your health and to avoid mosquitos. They also like people whose sweat contains folic acid, some bacteria, scented lotions and perfume.)
  • Forget beefing up your squadron of bats. (Counter to popular opinion, bats don’t eat mosquitos.)
  • And finally – these tiny creatures are quite robust. (They have been around since the Jurassic period, as in 210 million years ago.)

So the next time a mosquito buzzes in your ear, think of what you learned here today and that these seemingly simple insects are not so simple after all. So lather yourself with Off and enjoy those mosquito serenades. (Buzz, buzz, buzz)