From Chandler AZ October 6, 2006


October 6, 2006 I am back in Arizona for the 50th Reunion of my high school class. I’m still shaking my head as to why I chose to do this. Perhaps it was only to prove that I am still alive–after all, a number of my former classmates no longer qualify in that regard.

Things have definitely changed in my former home town. My childhood home has been bulldozed and is now a new baseball diamond for the high school. My graduating class had some 125 souls. Now there are three high schools in the town itself. and students who used to bus in from Queen Creek and Maricopa now have their own high schools. Chandler grew from 5000 to 9000 while I was living there. I have no clue as to the current population. For a brief time, it served as a bedroom community for nearby Phoenix. Now, since Intel and others have moved in, Chandler has its own bedroom communities. Maricopa, a wide spot in the road with a filling station and a feed store now has malls and countless subdivisions.

I was able to navigate the new freeway system successfully by remembering the old names of the major streets. The names have stayed the same; the streets are unrecognizable. Quiet, out of the way country roads where we used to cluelessly grope each other in the dark are now mall parking lots or front yards of houses.

If there is an area that needs to pray for the quick development of alternative fuels, it is Phoenix and the Valley of the Sun. Public transportation will never work, so everybody is totally dependent on private cars. When gas hits $4.00 a gallon, and this is almost a given, some people are really going to be hurting. (Don’t look for sympathy from me–I pay $5.99 a gallon for diesel in Italy.) Also, you can’t live here without A/C, though we certainly survived growing up without it. But without reliable cooling, this area would lose its attractiveness very quickly. Water will probably never be a problem since the Central Arizona Project, which brings water all the way from the Colorado River, is now fully functioning. Its original purpose was to provide water for the farmers. Now, there are very few farmers since they long ago sold out to the developers. Unfortunately for the climate, the developers used this water to create artificial lakes, thus raising the humidity levels far beyond what was the norm.

I left in 1969 and never looked back. But obviously my lack of enthusiasm for triple-digit temperatures three months a year did not discourage the hordes from coming in. Enjoy, folks–the mild winter is on its way, and it won’t be 105° again until April.

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Before leaving Italy, I spent three days in the nearby Abruzzo. What a beautiful area, so close to Rome, but yet so different. I will have a tour worked out in November for an October 2007 tour of the Abruzzi with an option to continue on across the Adriatic to Croatia.

On my way to Milano/Malpensa to fly to the states, I stayed the night in Bellagio. This will not mean anything to those of you who have come into BET since 1999 as I literally wore out Bellagio and the Hotel Belvedere, taking four groups there in five years. I may have to make up an excuse to schedule it again. I found the streets to be a little bit steeper than I remembered, but the hotel now provides a shuttle from town in case you don’t want to make the trek back up. Alas, Tony the Wine King is no more. Tony held forth in a dusty cellar, and if he was open, you were invited in to sample his extensive wine selection. He was very generous with his offerings, charged nothing for the tasting, and only hoped that you might buy a bottle or two as you left. His establishment has now been thoroughly scrubbed, gentrified, and in its stead is an upscale wine bar–with infinitely higher prices. The Hotel Belvedere has expanded and modernized, but still has its family-run albergo atmosphere. La Mamma still holds forth in the dining room, her daughter Tiziana, the manager, has recovered from the tragic loss of her husband seven years ago in a skydiving accident, and Laura is now the front desk manager. Change is a constant–it is nice when it is for the good.

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Finally, two Toy Stories:
About a month before I bought my car, I bought a tostapane. If you know that pane means bread, then I think you can figure out the rest. It was a beautiful design and looked great on the counter, but I was not wild about it since the result, after seven minutes of waiting, was warm bread and definitely not toast. But to take it back would have involved taking the bus to Amandola and back, so I chose to just live with it. But after buying the car, I decided to take it back to the store to either exchange it with one that worked or get my money back. The following exchange was all in Italian:
“What’s wrong with it?”
“It only warms the bread, not toasts it.”
The proprietor then plugs in the toaster, turns it on, holds his hand over it and looks puzzled as it is obviously heating. I try to explain that if you were to hold your hand over an American toaster for that long, you would get blisters. I am unsuccessful with my explanation. He leaves his store and comes back a few minutes later with a loaf of bread. He puts a slice in the toaster. Seven minutes, count them, seven minutes later he looks at me with a mix of triumph and puzzlement. The bread is obviously warm and there are a couple of edges where it is truly brown. I point out that I want toast, not warm bread, and that seven minutes is way too long. He then explains that you don’t want to have the heat too high, since it would scorch the outside and leave the inside cool. I tried to point out that I thought that was what constituted toast, but my argument was futile–this apparently is not the Italian way. To prove his point, he takes down another toaster, this one made by Philips, a very good appliance maker. Same drill–seven minutes later the result is warm bread. Giving up, I thought briefly of just abandoning the unwanted toaster, but that would have been bad form. Instead, I tucked tail and walked out of the store with my tostapane and figure that I have a nicely designed bread warmer. And if I put the bread through two cycles, fifteen minutes later I can have toast. Hey, by then the coffee should be done!

My other toy purchase was a Tom Tom One GPS receiver. I’ve realized the need for an item like this for several years. Signage is not a strong suit in Italy, and I am constantly going to places I have never been, spending agonizing time trying to figure out where I am and where I want to go. What a difference! I punch in my destination and take off. If I am in a town, I punch in the address and it gives me clear directions. It is not perfect. There have been several times when it has wanted me to cut through a gas station for a street that is on the other side of the fence. And sometimes it doesn’t take into account one way streets. But life is much easier with it than without. “Turn around where possible” it quietly instructs if I have taken a wrong turn. “Exit ahead” it says when I am within 2 km of a turnoff. “In 100 meters, turn right,” all of this in a calm, clipped British accent. (I tried to program US English, but got Ugandan or something else instead. Now I like the Brit voice. I could program it for Italian, but I figure that sitting in confusing traffic is not a time for a language lesson.) If I blow past a street where it wanted me to turn, it quickly plots a new course, if possible. This is particularly valuable when the street has been closed for whatever reason and the logical way is no longer possible. And there is no attitude, no tears. Much better than having your map reading companion yell: “you bleeping idiot, I told you to turn LEFT!!!” This is a perfect guy toy. Since we are genetically incapable of stopping to ask directions, we can now make some pretense of knowing exactly what we are doing! (back)