Trip update: This week brought high winds and rain on three of the seven days. With westerly gusts of 27 knots and occasional frog-choking downpours, I worked indoors, and walked to the Tempo Prezioso Literary Café for my WiFi connection. This cozy café opened up less than a month ago. It features comfortable sofas and chairs, abundant outlets and a powerful WiFi signal. Of course, all the usual offerings of an Italian bar are there, from espresso to the harder stuff. I can eat a tramezzino and put off supper until they close and I walk back to the flat. After the storm front passed, the hills above 300 metres had a dusting of snow. Continue reading
This week I tell a tale of two cultures in the same country. Not counting port visits during Mediterranean deployments, I have lived in Italy four times: 1956-1965; 1972-1974; 1985-1988; 2015-present. Returning to live in Formia almost 30 years after living in Pozzuoli and more than 40 years after living next door in Gaeta has allowed me to consider what has changed in the country where I grew up – and what has not. Continue reading
The Cold War had raged for about 20 years when I threw my hat into the air, collected my commission as an ensign in the U.S. Navy, and later that summer reported for duty on board USS Lawrence (DDG-4), a guided missile destroyer homeported in Norfolk, Virginia. You have read some sea stories from that ship, and there are more to tell. But this week the subject is the Cold War, fleet security, and my very distant connection to that legendary commander of the US Sixth Fleet (COMSIXTHFLT), then-Vice Admiral Isaac C. Kidd, Jr. Continue reading
Trip update: After singing in the choir at St. Paul’s Within the Walls in Rome last Sunday, I spent the rest of the day finishing up a book translation so that I would have the week free to begin working on my move. However, that night, an email arrived from an excellent client, so I accepted one more job. Such is the life of a successful translator. Continue reading
I was a weird kid. I knew what I wanted to do when I grew up – always. Be a Naval Officer. And to do that I knew that I wanted to go to the Naval Academy in Annapolis. One of my persistent daydreams as a boy and a teenager was to march in the Drum & Bugle Corps. When I started Plebe Summer in June of 1965, that was the first activity that I checked into – and my first of many disappointments. The midshipmen in the D&B Corps all were accomplished musicians, usually first chair in their high school band or orchestra with at least four years of top-level playing. I was not even eligible to apply.
But I liked music, and I noticed an announcement on the Chapel bulletin board about auditioning for the three Choirs (two Protestant and one Catholic). Chief Musician Joseph McCuen, USN, the organist at the Naval Academy Chapel, directed the Catholic Choir. He also directed the Naval Academy Glee Club. Slim, short and almost always smiling, the silver-haired musician made an announcement about auditions at our first Sunday in Chapel. I genuinely liked church, and I like participating by more than sitting in the pews. I wrestled with my pessimism about auditioning after the D&B Corps experience, but my roommates encouraged me to try for it. The delay put me at the very end of a line that stretched out into the street. The odds looked terrible, I thought. It wasn’t that big a choir. At least while we were standing in that line, no upperclassmen would harass us, so I stayed.
Chief McCuen was sitting at the upright piano in his office. He motioned to the chair at the end of the piano, then asked me why I wanted to be in the Choir and about my musical background. My answers took less time than the questions, though today I cannot remember what I said. He pulled an Armed Forces Hymnal from the pile on top of the piano and opened it to a hymn near the middle.
“I’ll give you the first note, then you sing the bass line,” he said, tapping his finger on the lowest line of notes.
“Don’t sir me. I’m a Chief. You’re an officer.” He hit the note. I noticed that all the lowest notes were on the same line and that they were all round circles. Nothing sticking out of them.
“Eternal Father, strong to save…” I sang in the steadiest monotone I could muster, careful to make each note the same length. He stopped after one line.
“That’s good.” He said, closing the cover on the keyboard. “You’re a second tenor. Rehearsal is at 2000 in the Choir Loft. White Works uniform.”
“Yes, sir,” I said.
“Don’t sir me. Everyone in my choir calls me Joe.” He smiled and shook my hand. “It’s going to be the only four hours of sanity you get every week for a year. Welcome aboard.”
Back in Bancroft Hall, my roommates were elated. I did not understand why they were so pleased for me.
“JT, you’re such a dummy sometimes,” said Larry, who was in the Drum & Bugle Corps. “You have just gotten out of all Sunday morning formations and marching to Chapel forever!”
“Because the Choirs have to muster a half-hour before the services to warm up. Didn’t you realize that’s why there were so many guys lined up to audition?”
Thus began fifty years of singing in Choirs, Music Shows and Choral Societies. Joe asked me to join the Naval Academy Glee Club at the end of Plebe Summer, and I have been studying music and singing ever since.
Trip update: I had an appointment at the US Naval Hospital Naples (which is near Aversa actually) at 0830 on Wednesday of this week, so last weekend, I decided to make a week-long trip of it. On Monday I rode to Pescara, and spent the night, so I could take a faster train to Aversa on Tuesday. Most trains up and down the Adriatic Coast don’t stop in Fossacesia; the ones that do stop everywhere. I got to Aversa in two hours less time than ever before.
After the hospital appointment (every was OK, all part of my checking into the system), I rode to the train station at Aversa and went to Formia to choose an apartment. One of the two finalists rented before I got there, so yesterday, I signed a contract for a two-room, ground-floor flat in the historic center of Formia. Not much if you want a permanent home, but quaint, with easy access for my bicycle. It will be a perfect base of operations for my wanderings around Europe. Today, I am on my way back to Rome and Pescara. Then back to Piane d’Archi both to pack up and say goodbye, and to plan my travels this spring. It should take a couple of weeks to touch all the bases (while the Formia landlord finishes having the new flat painted, and the utilities turned on).
Until next week,
Smooth roads and tailwinds,
Trip update: The first Sunday in Piane d’Archi (27 September) I was invited to join a charity ride. About 100 cyclists gathered in the rain outside the Bar 45 RPM to register and plunk down their €10 for the privilege. Marco Di Nella, the organizer, told me that they had 200 riders last year. So, in one morning, I met all the cyclists in the Sangro River valley who were dedicated enough to ride in the rain. By mid-October I was no longer l’amico della scozzese [the Scotswoman’s friend] but l’americano in bicicletta [the American on a bicycle]. Old men sipping their beers outside the cafés wave as I run my errands, and neighbours in their cars toot or shout as they pass. My Scottish colleague Denise Muir gets credit for bringing me to this friendly, pleasant town. Continue reading
On Monday, 14 September, we pushed our bikes from the hostel across the street to the train station. We changed trains in Bologna, and sped through the Bisenzio River Valley to Prato. Looking out the window, I thought that the Valley was just as impressive looking up as looking down. In Prato, we switched trains again, and soon found ourselves rolling back in time as we crossed from the train station south of Lucca through the massive gates of the medieval city. Continue reading
Saturday (5 September), we checked out of our four-star hotel and rolled into a brilliant sunny day. The Bologna Centrale station lay less than 400 metres away, but we ran into a problem with the train. Whoever assembled the train failed to include a bicycle car, even though the train was scheduled to handle bicycles. The capotreno refused to let us on board. “If I let you on, I have to let everyone, and the train is not equipped for bicycles,” he said, eyeing a large American family with a half-dozen bicycles at the end of the platform. While we waited for the next train, the family disappeared. Continue reading
Monday, the last day of August, found us hoisting our bicycles onto the train in Arezzo. It would have been relatively easy ride down the fertile Valley to Cortona, but time was short, so we opted to use the train for detours like this. Cheryl had been south of Cortona to the town of Castiglione del Lago on Lake Trasimeno, and had always wanted to visit the mysterious medieval town-fortress that dominated the plain. It is a beautiful part of Tuscany, rich with vineyards and farms. Continue reading
Back in the hotel Friday night (28 August), Cheryl saw a picture of the Gola del Furlo (the Gorge of the Furlo River). She wanted to ride there, and then go to Arezzo, which, according to her, was as interesting as Ravenna. Besides, I could go to Ravenna later, while I was riding up the Adriatic Coast. And we both wanted to go to places neither of us had seen. Continue reading