Friday, May 22, 2009

Friday Five: Vacation, all I ever wanted...

Mary Beth has vacations on her mind, and wants to know:

1) What did your family do for vacations when you were a child? Or did you have stay-cations at home?
Summer was my father's busiest time of year, so we stayed home then. If we got away during the winter, we usually went to visit relatives--seldom more than a few hours' drive away. I can only remember a few big trips: a visit to Eureka Springs and surrounding areas for the Folklife Festival when I was in sixth grade; trips to New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast (my first visit to the beach) a little later, and a trip to Nassau (my first airplane flight) when I was about fourteen.

2) Tell us about your favorite vacation ever:
Two years ago, the Scientist and I were blessed to spend three weeks in Italy. We were with a congenial, very small group as we explored Sorrento, Pompeii, and the Amalfi coast, followed by sojourns in Rome and Venice, day trips (not enough) to Florence and Siena, and a whole week of roaming around Tuscany. Wonderful scenery, interesting sights, and you can imagine the food and wine. I hope I am never so old that I forget the things we saw and did on that vacation.

3) What do you do for a one-day or afternoon there a place nearby that you escape to on a Saturday afternoon/other day off?
We have lived in the suburbs for seventeen years, but we are urban creatures at heart. We love to spend an afternoon around our old stomping grounds in Houston, wandering through one of the museums or some out-of-the-way gallery, then having supper at one of our favorite restaurants, or trying out a brand new place.
Because Houston is so hot and humid much of the year, the office buildings and other public buildings downtown are connected by an elaborate tunnel system, full of shops, restaurants, and other businesses--a subterranean city. At midday during the summer, most people are underground, and the streets are nearly deserted! We keep saying we are going to take a day off sometime to explore the tunnel system--maybe this will be the year.

4) What's your best recommendation for a full-on vacation near you...what would you suggest to someone coming to your area? (Near - may be defined any way you wish!)
Anyone who enjoys city life and its amenities, including art, music, and good food, could have a great vacation in Houston. In October, November, March, April, and May, it's beautiful and the climate is pleasant. Take your pick of ballet, opera, symphony concerts, along with music and dance provided by smaller local companies too. There are a number of fine museums and interesting small galleries. Because Houston is such a multicultural city, you can probably find whatever you would like to eat, from mom and pop cafes of every description, to the finest of fine dining. And bring your swimsuit and flip flops so you can go and stimulate the Galveston economy!

5) What's your DREAM VACATION?
I dream of going back to Italy, with enough time and money to roam at will, as long as we wanted. To spend a week or two at an agriturismo in Tuscany or Umbria, or to rent a little apartment in the Dorsoduro district of Venice, or to see everything we wanted to see in Florence and Rome, and then wander north to areas we missed last time, like the Lake Como region. Maybe someday!

Bonus: Any particularly awful (edited to add: or hilarious) vacation stories that you just have to tell? ("We'll laugh about this later..." maybe that time is now!)
We laughed until we cried when this happened (you had to be there), and it still makes me laugh! In Italy we fell in with two couples about our age; one couple had deep-south roots, and the other couple was from New Jersey. The week we were in Tuscany, it rained--sometimes a little, sometimes a lot--every day. We didn't really care. But on our last night in Cortona, the six of us were walking to a local restaurant when, with little warning, the sky opened. We dashed for a nearby archway, where we huddled, drenched, watching sheets of rain blow across the street. No one spoke, until our Jersey girl, in her pure Joisey accent, muttered, "Tuscan sun--my ass."

Friday, May 08, 2009

Friday Five: A Bug's Life

Sophia says:
As I was walking the beach today, I was surprised and delighted to find it swarming with ladybugs. The sweet little red beetles are one of my favorite insects and also my daughter's blogname--though as of this morning she was thinking of changing it to Butterfly. I'll keep you posted.
This got me thinking about spiritual insect trivia: Did you know that medieval mystics and theologians esteemed the bee for its dedicated work and transformation of ordinary ingredients into sweetness? That Spider Woman is an important creator Goddess to many Native American tribes? Or that Francis of Assisi was reminded of Jesus not only by lambs being led to slaughter, but also by worms (think "I am a worm and no man" from the Psalms)-- so he picked them up and took them out of stomping-vulnerable spots?!
In that spirit, this week's Friday Five is a magical mystery tour through God's garden of creepy crawlies!
1. Ladybugs or ladybirds? Pillbugs or roly-polys? Jesus bugs or water skeeters? Any other interesting regional or familial name variations?
Ladybugs, roly-polys, and water skeeters. I probably would have been scolded if I had called them Jesus bugs. Can't think of any variations...
2. Stomp on spiders, carry them outside, or peacefully co-exist?
Either stomp, or peacefully co-exist, depending on my mood. An exterminator once told me that the chemicals required to kill spiders are so toxic that you really don't want them around the home--plus, after all, spiders do eat other bugs. I've never seen a black widow or brown recluse at my house, so I tend to leave the spiders alone.
3. Favorite insect?
Butterflies, I suppose.
4. Least favorite?
Roaches and silverfish!!
5. Got any good bug stories to share?
When my friend Joy and I were children, we often passed part of a summer day by staging roly-poly races on my back steps. Champion racers would race again and again, as long as they didn't roll up into a ball to escape!
Sophia's account of the ladybugs on the beach reminds me that one of my pleasant memories of California is of hiking in the mountains with friends and coming upon a fallen tree, covered with ladybugs. That was the only time I've ever seen such a thing.
Bonus question: share a poem, song, quotation, etc. about insects.
When I was a child I had the odd little book pictured above, by Edward Gorey (creator of the cheerfully macabre intro to PBS's Mystery!, among lots of other cheerfully macabre works). The Bug Book is a simple story of a group of bugs whose peaceful existence is threatened by the appearance of a large bully bug. They confer, drop a big rock on him, and celebrate his demise with a party. That's it. Pretty strange. What's even stranger is that the first edition of that book goes for about $885 now!