Tuesday, 6 Sep 1983

Dear Mom & Dad,

Today we got your letter you sent on 26 Aug. It took a long time to get here. Actually, we got lots of mail today, the day after Labor Day. Jeannie got her curtains that she ordered from Sears. However, the curtain rods haven't come yet, so we can't hang them. (They are all for the living room.)

Also, today we bought a microwave oven. It is an Amana Touchmatic II. It will work on 50 or 60 Hz, 120 Volts. We use a transformer on it here, but it will work fine in the States, also. The Navy Exchange (like the Army PX) finally got some in last week. We have been waiting 4 months to find one. Jeannie used it to fix supper tonight. It is a lot different from the GE we had in Fort Smith. But, it worked just fine after Jeannie studied the instructions. She hasn't used a microwave in 5 months.

About a week ago we got a videotape from Diane and Bill. The first 45 minutes was filmed by Bill with his new video camera. It was scenes from the Pace reunion in Searcy on 12 August. It sure was fun to watch family on TV. They all had to say something to us. They weren't too relaxed in front of the camera yet. Probably they will do better at Thanksgiving & Christmas. They will never be movie stars, but we thought they were nice to think of us.

Jeannie & I decided that the next time you are in Little Rock, you HAVE to make arrangements with Bill to go by their house and let him put you two on film. It is very special to the kids. You buy the tape and I'm sure Bill would film you if he is home. The remainder on the tape could be a movie or Diane, Bill, & Laura. Call them before you leave Harrison. The kids really smiled (beamed) each time their name was mentioned on the TV. Of course, we enjoyed it, too.

I got my fan fixed on my radiator last week. Fortunately, before I sent it to the repairman, someone mentioned a fuse. Boy, I felt stupid. That's what fixed it. Of course it cost me only a few cents. I'm glad I didn't send it to the garage for something so simple.

This evening, while sitting outside, we saw a convoy of the Italian Army (or perhaps their National Guard). Nearly every jeep (about 15-20) was pulling a big camper trailer. How about that? Maybe you should start a new thing with the Guards. The jeeps are green, but the campers were all white. I'm not sure they always use campers or not. Surely, they would have to train with tents, too. Wouldn't they?

Last week Jeannie paid about $200 deposit to S.I.P. (the Italian phone company). We were told by other Americans that we should get a phone in about 3-6 months. The phone company said it would be sooner, but they always say that. We will get excited once it is actually in the house & we dial on it.

I was off all weekend, so we took a wonderful mini-vacation and didn't get home until 11 pm last night. We drove about 750 miles. We didn't have the slightest problem with the car. We got almost 29 miles per gallon. That was with driving 65-70 MPH most of the way.

I rode the bus to work Friday morning and Jeannie picked me up at the hospital about 4:00. We drove to Orte about 30 miles north of Rome and stayed in a nice hotel close to the highway. Most of our trip was on the autostrada, very similar to the interstate system in the States. The tolls cost us 10,900 lire to drive from Naples to Rome. That's a little less than $7. The speed limit is supposed to be 100 KPH (~60 MPH), but almost no one drove that slow. We got into a big traffic jam in Rome and took forever, it seemed, to get through there. (It reminded us of the first time we went through Knoxville, TN.) There had been several cars involved in a wreck and traffic was backed up for several miles.

Jeannie had made reservations for Saturday and Sunday nights through the USO. We were assured that we wouldn't need reservations for Friday night. We were told by the USO that we could stay in an AGIP motel on the autostrada near Rome. Well, there wasn't one. We finally decided to look for a hotel anywhere off the autostrada because it was getting dark.

The hotel was very clean & reasonably priced. No one there spoke English. It seems a true adventure to get a room in such a situation. We had a double bed and one single bed. I tried to get a room with more beds, but was told they didn't have any. (At least, I think that's what I was told.) They offered me two rooms, so I could have more beds, but they weren't adjoining. Angelique slept at the head and Steven slept at the foot of the single bed. We were pleased that Steven didn't roll off the bed.

We had peanut butter & jelly sandwiches for supper about 8:30 and went to bed.

We got up at 7:00 the next morning after a very good night's sleep and left for Florence. After we got there, it took us a long time to find downtown, then a long time to find a place to park.

We had two strollers (one borrowed from Rusty Winfree), so we didn't have to listen to the kids fuss all day about being tired. Angelique even fell asleep in hers.

The first place we saw was the Uffizi Gallery. This is an art museum which contains a great many of the paintings that Jeannie & I studied in college. We were most impressed. Jeannie did a good job preparing Angelique for what we saw. Angelique would tell us about paintings or sculptures that she had seen pictures of.

After eating lunch, we spent some time shopping at the outdoor markets. Jeannie bought a very nice leather purse. Nearly everyone we ran into in Florence could speak English. It was also nice to see how clean the city looked. It was quite a change from Naples. Also, we had to drive like civilized people in Florence. Everyone obeyed all the traffic signs & signals! It was quite a culture shock for us. (Don't misunderstand that the Italians in Florence weren't crazy drivers. But compared with Naples, they were far superior. At least they were more predictable.)

There were lots of tourists in Florence, even though the Italian vacation month (August) was over. We saw lots of Americans, Germans, even Orientals. We ran into 3 people in Florence that I knew from Naples. (One of them happened to be sitting at the next table where we ate supper Sunday night.)

kids in Palazzo Vecchio in Florence - 3 Sep 1983 All the food was wonderful. But it is terribly expensive to eat out so much here. Sunday night, Jeannie & I ate steak. It was the best steak we have had in months. It was as good as any steak I can remember eating in the nicest restaurants in the States. We tried lots of different foods and enjoyed them all. Everyone always watched and laughed at Steven while he ate. He ate every meal like he was starving. The kids drank lots of Coke. Angelique could never decide what to order until the last minute. She has found several pasta dishes that she likes, but we refused to let her have pasta every single meal.

Before eating supper Saturday night we shopped at a market close to our hotel. I bought a very nice leather belt for about $5.00. We had very little luck in bargaining in Florence. Everyone apparently sold a lot of stuff at whatever price they wanted. We guessed that they have found that all these tourists will pay any amount.

The hotel we stayed at had only about 10 rooms. It was run by an English couple. The room had a double bed and two single beds. Steven rolled off his bed one night before he went to sleep. Otherwise, he did fine. It was a nice room but I thought it was terribly expensive. Breakfast was included in the price. Breakfast ("continental") here is only bread and jam. We drank tea & the kids had milk. Angelique said, "This isn't breakfast," and embarrassed us a bit. We explained to her that this is all Europeans ate for breakfast. She thought we should have pancakes or waffles.

Sunday morning before church, we walked to the Gallery of the Academy to see Michelangelo's "David." It is his 2nd most famous sculpture.

We were surprised that Angelique never made any comments about all the statues & paintings of people without clothes.

Right after checking into our hotel Saturday, I called the missionary there and he showed us how to get to church on Sunday morning. The church building is in an old Russian Orthodox church which was built 200 years ago. It has a dome on top. Church Sunday was all in Italian. We did pretty good singing the songs, but we didn't understand a word of anything that was going on.

As soon as church was over we left immediately and went to the Palatine Gallery at the Pitti Palace. By this time the borrowed stroller wasn't working well so Angelique had to walk. We saw many more art pieces that we had studied in college in Art Appreciation class.

the Duomo in Florence - 4 Sep 1983

After this we went to the Medici Palace, but it was closed. We walked around the Duomo (big cathedral) but couldn't go inside for some reason. Then we ate lunch.

We walked back to our hotel & stopped at a gelateria nearby and got ice cream. The lady in the shop thought the kids were so cute that she gave them both some little presents. She probably spoke English, but I just kept speaking Italian to her. We were pleased that people didn't just automatically assume we were Americans. We would try to speak Italian to everyone even when they were speaking English to us unless the conversation got too complicated.

Sunday afternoon I stayed in the room and read & napped while the kids took their naps. They were exhausted and both slept about 3 hours. Jeannie walked and walked and shopped and spent lots of money. She bought an 18K gold necklace on Ponte Vecchio, which is a bridge lined with jewelry shops. It is a very unique and famous place. We saw it on "Ripley's Believe It or Not" before we came over. Jeannie couldn't stand the idea of not buying some jewelry from this famous place. She thinks she got a good price. The necklace has three strands on the front made with 3 different colors of gold. It is very pretty. (If our house is broken into, I am sure it will be stolen.) She also bought some Christmas presents.

Florence is the city that got Europe out of the Dark Ages. The Renaissance began here in 1402.

By the way, all the museums in Italy close at 1:00 p.m. & don't open back up till the next day. Most shops close at 1 or 2 p.m. and reopen about 4 p.m. and stay open till 7 or 8 p.m. In Florence many shops stayed open in the afternoon, especially the outdoor markets.

We saw several other things around Florence. We drove by nearly every important landmark. It was easy to walk around town but it was hard to drive because of all the one-way streets and because of our poor map. We didn't intentionally set out to drive by all these things; they just happened to be on the routes we took.

the Leaning Tower of Pisa - 5 Sep 1983

Monday morning we drove to Pisa. On the way we saw an airplane with people jumping out with parachutes. The kids seemed very impressed. They landed very close to us.

We stayed in Pisa only long enough to climb the Leaning Tower. It was very hard with two little kids who we literally carried to the top. As you can see in the picture there is no rail until you get to the top and it is not sufficient to be safe for kids, so when we weren't carrying them, we were holding tight to a hand. It made us very nervous. One can stop on each level of the tower. We stopped 2 or 3 times to rest on the way up. Steven fussed a lot because he didn't like being held so tightly. We just let him fuss. The stairway was very small, only big enough for one person in places. There were no rails on the stairway and we were sure we would slip on the well-worn marble steps. But we did fine.

Angelique at the very top of the Leaning Tower - 5 Sep 1983

Pisa postcard The grass looked just exactly like it does in the picture [postcard]. I don't know how they keep it so pretty.

The first step you take into the tower made you quickly aware that it was leaning a lot. It was almost the feeling of walking into Dogpatch's Gravity House. The tower started leaning before it was half completed. (It was begun in 1173 and completed in 1350.) They tilted the floors from the 3rd floor (4th in U.S. terms) upwards towards the opposite direction. Can you tell that the top doesn't lean as much as the bottom?

From Pisa we drove to Siena, taking the "back roads" (highways). The country was beautiful. North of Rome there are lots of mountains and several tunnels. We passed a lot of fields of sunflowers and corn fields. The weather was wonderful the whole weekend. It was a little foggy on Saturday morning, though. It was not too hot.

pigeons in Siena - 5 Sep 1983

In Siena, we ate lunch at the Piazza del Campo. It was about 3:30 already. This area is supposed to be one of the finest squares in Italy. It looks practically the same as it did in the 1300's. This is where they have horse races twice a year. Did you see the horse race in the "Winds of War"? It was filmed in Siena right where we ate. There were lots of pigeons which the kids had fun chasing for a while after we ate.

We were through Rome by about 7:30 last night. We stopped at a place called Pavesi. It could be compared to Stuckey's in the States. However, they are not built beside the autostrada, but over the top of both lanes (actually 4 lanes) like a bridge. We ate a light supper, put the kids in their pajamas, then drove home.

We did so much yesterday that it is hard to believe we saw so much and travelled so far just yesterday. It was hard to get into the swing of things at work today. Jeannie and the kids slept till 9:00 this morning.

I will now try to answer your letter. It sounds like Harrison is turning into a desert. Surely, it will be cooler by the time you get this letter. We have had an awfully nice summer. It is starting to get dark now about 7:30 and is quite cool at night here (60's).

I'm glad you got the pictures before your birthday. I took every picture with the grandparents in mind.

Jeannie said you weren't supposed to read the custom tag on the outside of your package.

We still don't have screens. I called this guy 3 times and he assured me he would come each time. After he didn't show up the last time, I decided that no matter how much we needed screens, I would not call him again. Now that summer is almost over, there is no hurry to put them up. We have lots of mosquitoes since we live close to the water. They are big, but do not bother me. When the fan is on, they don't usually land on us. The same is true about the flies.

We can buy video tapes here for about half what they cost at Wal-Mart.

Jeannie washes all my uniforms. They are permanent press and do not need ironing.

A broken toe will heal in 3-6 weeks. If it is left crooked, it will heal crooked. It takes longer to heal if it is crooked. It is treated early by straightening it and taping it to the next toe with cotton placed between the toes. By the time you get this, it will be too late to worry about it. What do you think doctors are for? Both of you seem afraid of doctors.

You said, "The cake was very pretty." You do know that Jeannie didn't make the cake, don't you? The Pink Panther theme was selected because there was practically nothing else at the Exchange when Jeannie got that.

The Commissary (grocery store) was out of sugar for over a week. We had no sugar in the house for a few days. Jeannie bought 15# today. Now they will probably run out again since everyone will be hoarding it.

Jeannie says she just damp mops the marble and uses vinegar & water on the floor tiles. If you wax them, they get too slick.

We argued a lot with the landlord, both before and after we got the house, about the downstairs shower. The water does run all over the floor! We tried to get him to put a lip (dam) around the floor at the shower but he (& every other Italian) didn't think it was necessary. I finally learned how to take a shower without getting water more than 2 or 3 feet outside the curtain. The Italians probably would not even put a shower curtain up.

There is a window opposite the kitchen sink. The stove in the kitchen was meant to go the first thing on the left inside the kitchen and the refrigerator was meant to go where we have the stove. However, Jeannie wanted more counter top space in the kitchen so we had some cabinets built to go where the stove used to be. We put the refrigerator in the only place we could figure it would go.

The microwave is sitting on a cabinet to the left of the refrigerator, next to the closet (or pantry). It is not in an ideal place, but we can't figure out where else to put it. There are no electrical outlets on any other walls in the dining room.

The bombola (gas bottle) for the stove has to set there, for the time being. Jeannie has been fussing about it being there since before we moved into the house. A lot, if not most, houses have it sitting outside the house. We have two problems with that: where do we put it outside and how do we drill a hole through 2 feet of rock (the wall)? The Italian stoves (many of them) have a place inside the stove to put the bombola. Yes, it would be safest outside. Our bombola sits back more than far enough to open the oven door. That is not apparent in the picture.

The finish on the table, etc., is polyurethane. There are several coats and it is almost impossible to scratch. However, I noticed tonight that Steven has put 4 little chips in it from banging his spoon. He's a strong little fellow. We understand that the chips can be sanded down and another coat of polyurethane will quickly make his marks invisible. However, now that we know he can chip it, we will make him eat off the floor. HA!

There is a wall around Angelique's balcony that is higher than her head. You can see that in the picture of her room.

Yes, we can burn wood in the fireplace. I'm not sure I want to fool with that mess though. I suspect wood is quite expensive here.

Our yard is bigger than the average yard over here. We wanted as much yard as possible for the kids to play in. We saw a lot of houses with no more than a 3-foot strip of grass all around the house.

The tree in the middle of the front yard is an Ornamental Palm. It will get much bigger.

Water may get in the tunnel when it rains, but it all runs out because of the way it slopes. The grating you see in the picture of the tunnel is just there for looks under the front porch. You can see this best in the picture where Steven is standing on the fence.

The tufa stones are a little bigger than the flat concrete blocks in the States.

You can see pointed roofs on houses after you get a little north of Naples. The houses look "better" because they aren't built with tufa. The walls of our house are built very similar to the way houses were built in Pompeii 2000 years ago.

The only dent we have in the car is a small one in the right rear fender. It slowly keeps getting bigger, because Jeannie keeps bumping the wall across the road when she backs the car out. Maybe she will knock the wall down before the fender falls off.

No one swims in Lago Patria. It have heard of two opposite reasons. One is that fish are grown there & no one is allowed to "contaminate" the water. The other reason is that the water is too polluted to swim in. I don't know which is right. We walked down there shortly after we moved here and it looks filthy. We frequently see the Italian Olympic rowing team practicing on the lake. We are told no one else is permitted on the lake.

As I have said before, this is a disgusting hospital. I don't know what is peeling off the side of the building. It looks ugly. We all hope it will fall down. (When we are not there, of course.)

I wish I could find some Latex paint. All the paint on the walls here will wash off with water long after it has dried. I'm glad you could use the paint we left. It took nearly the whole gallon, didn't it?

I'm going to have to get me an ice cream freezer. You are making me hungry for homemade ice cream. It seems you mention it every other letter.

Yes, I can buy a VCR cheaper here. The only problem is they will only let me buy one the whole 3 years we are here & I have bought that one. We have a ration card for certain items, probably to keep me from buying & sending you one. Sorry.

I am always afraid of taking pictures without any film in the camera.

Debbie will have a hard time "looking me up" if I don't give her instructions about how to find me before she comes.

I still haven't heard anything about the class reunion. Jeannie got a picture in the mail today from hers.

Fortunately, the compressor on the refrigerator has a safety switch on it to keep it from getting too hot. That's why it didn't cool the refrigerator. It kept kicking itself off before it got cold in the refrigerator.

Let us know what other people have to say about the pictures.

It is late and I'm tired of writing this "book." I have written almost 18 pages. I'm sure there is a lot I haven't told you. I'm too sleepy to go on. Ask lots of questions and I'll answer them.

Did you know that we were going to Florence?

Tomorrow we are supposed to have our wall unit delivered that we ordered from Sweden on Memorial Day. It is walnut. We have forgotten what it looks like.

Take care. Good night.

Love you lots,

Michael, Jeannie,
Angelique, & Steven

P.S. Angelique starts to school tomorrow.

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