I’m glad someone knows how to cook.

We’re in southern France now, but here are some pictures of our week in Italy.

We ate well, and one of my favorite dishes was this lovely tagliatelle at a place in Montecatini Alto (Tuscany).

Tagliatelle with zucchini flowers.

One of the best gelatorias (I guess that should be gelatorie for plural?) we found was La Botega in Montecatini Terme, just a short distance from where stayed.

Mmm, cassata and avocado gelato.

But the best best gelato we found was at a place across from where we had a fantastic lunch at Trattoria Anna Maria on via delle Belle Arti in Bologna, unfortunately, we never got a picture of the gelato or wrote down the name of the place because we were too busy eating.

While in Bologna I managed to find the pasticceria of which Francesca of Fluffbuff reminisced of her grandmother getting chocolate covered ground cherries. It’s Zanarini, and as she described it is a pasticceria under the portico by San Petronio. I spotted a ground cherry among the fruit atop a cake, so I asked about alkekengi, as Francesca calls them, and was told that they would have them in a couple of weeks. I would have loved to try them, but I settled for some yummy miniature pastries instead.

Despite the fact that we didn’t know a lot about the Montecatini area, we really enjoyed it, with Montecatini Terme being a nice small city and the big bonus was nearby Montecatini Alto, overlooking Terme. We went to Alto twice for lunch on the piazza, taking the funicular once, which my son took great delight in as his first train ride.

One thing I didn’t think I would do was make the stair climb to the top of the Tower of Pisa; it just never appealed to me and I had never been that fascinated by it. Also, we were under the mistaken impression that we would need reservations to go up, so we wandered about the base of it and visited the other buildings, and I became more intrigued by this world famous mistake. So I decided to ask about entry and found that all we needed was to purchase tickets. Within minutes my 75-year old mother, my sister and I were making the climb up the crooked tower. One thing that I didn’t expect about the climb: dumb as it seems, I didn’t know the stair climb would be crooked; I mean, it never occurred to me to think about the logic of it. Also, I didn’t know the stairs would be so dark, that there wouldn’t be an handrail installed, that the steps would be the original marble and, therefore, warped and worn smooth and curvy by centuries of footsteps, and that as I got closer to the top, the stairs would become more narrow, and finally, that I would threaten not going any further as we got higher.

For once, it's not my fault the image is crooked. This is looking toward the side that leans 15 feet over, so it's lower than where I was standing.

It was when we got to the lower of the two “observation” levels and I saw the security guard leaning against the rail that it dawned on me that I was way up high and I began to feel a bit dizzy, but I walked cautiously around that level, gripping the rail to enter the steps to the upper level along with everyone else. Until… Until I saw how dark, steep and narrow the final set of steps were and then I lost it. Much like the Cowardly Lion cowering in front of The Great and Powerful Oz, I announced that I WOULD be turning back and proceeded to do so. My mother wasn’t doing so hot about going on either, but she had made it to this point encouraged by a young couple from India (who had climbed the Duomo in Florence earlier that day) behind her, and now they were behind me and pushing me back up the final set of stairs encouraging me all the way, and I made it to the top just in time for a beautiful sunset. The view is worth it, but getting to the top does nothing to relieve acrophobia, and I spent much of the time taking pictures with one hand while gripping the rail with the other.

It didn’t take me much longer than my first day to find yarn; I swear, I can smell it.  I happened upon a yarn shop in Lucca and bought two skeins of some beautiful machine washable laceweight merino wool, for 6.50 Euros each, that about $11.00 US$10.00 each for 1250 meter skeins.  I’d wandered into a few yarn shops in Italy quite by accident, since they seem to double as button shops, sweater shops, underwear (as opposed to lingerie) shops or general clothing shops.

A real frog.

No frogging to report, but here’s our real resident frog:

This little one has been hanging around our garden hose spigot much of the summer. Until moving to this house, I'd never seen native frogs and didn't know they could be so colorful.

Too bad my Mac isn’t a frog, especially since I doused it with water the other day while typing instructions for the pet sitter.  It was a tense evening in the Domesticshorthair household as my husband came to Mac’s aid in Mac Intensive Care Unit.  It survived the incident, suffering a few damaged files. Whew!  Unfortunately, something’s still a bit funny about it, and I can’t edit pictures very well yet, so my pictures are a bit funky right now.

As for knitting, now that Cabled Coat is off the needles, my attention has been free to look at other things, such as my friend Pamela’s sweater coat. So I set about studying it and jotting down how it was made. I even worked-out the stitch pattern.

My very first, rough attempt at the stitch pattern.

Does this mean that I will be knitting a similar coat soon? No. In fact, I won’t even venture to attempt knitting one any earlier than next spring or summer or even beyond, but I’d sure like to have a copy of it. I decided I’d better write down as much as I could before giving it back to Pamela (it’s getting really cold at night now), because she has never washed it and is afraid to because she doesn’t know what it’s made of and would hate to ruin it. I figure that if I don’t document sufficient information on it, it’ll eaten by moths, and be lost to all knitting-kind. If I don’t have a enough to do, I am writing a pattern (of sorts) at the same time as writing this post, switching between two screens: a feat for the unfocused mind.  As for washing the coat, despite her concerns, I had to wash it and now it’s a much brighter shade of yellow and I can return it to its rightful owner knowing that it’s in good shape to be worn, as well as knowing it’s well documented.

This is my last post before we go on our trip to Italy, France and Switzerland.  I’m so EXCITED!!  I can’t tell you how much I’d been yearning to travel out of the country, especially to Italy, and we’d had no plans for even thinking of such a trip for a few more years.  And then my sister won this trip, and now we’re going!  I’ve been studying Italian and French CDs right and left and I can say that I sound good enough, but I seriously doubt that I’d be able to communicate much without phrase books.  What surprises me, is that I’ve enjoyed learning French more than Italian, I guess because it holds more of a challenge for me (like learning Italian isn’t a challenge?!), plus, it was the first foreign language I was taught some of at the age of 4 at the preschool I went to, and I still remember bits of it. I am so looking forward to eating GREAT food on the trip.  My only other trip to Italy was 4 years ago as a chaperon to 11th-graders and all they wanted to eat was pizza throughout the trip; on the last day, I broke free from the group as they went to an Il Fornaio in Rome and I snuck into a little hole-in-the-wall panini place around the corner that all the suits were heading to.  It was excellent!  This trip is going to be great!  Because all of us are like-minded:  we want real food.

So I’ve finished my instructions for the pet sitter and next I’ll pack.  Packing.  What to bring?  Which knitting project to take?  I really want to take Grand Duchess, but I probably won’t, since it requires too much concentration, a steady hand and nothing but the best of lighting.  I’m thinking Bird’s Eye Shawl and Matcha Market Bag or Purple Autumn.  Purple Autumn is Evelyn A. Clark’s Autumn Lace Scarf for which I’m using Habu Bamboo XS-45 20/3 in eggplant. I really like the pattern (I think I like all of Evelyn’s patterns), although the bamboo lace is tricky to use because it’s pretty slippery and slips off of the needles very easily.  Hmmm, doesn’t sound like a good travelling companion, does it?

Fabled Cabled Coat

Whew!  It’s done!  I’ve finished Cabled Coat.  For me, it proved to be a tortuous path to get here, wrought with dumb mistakes, vague instructions, and pattern errors or omissions but it’s all done now.

I rather like the design of it, in fact it’s quite special, but it is a bit flashy for the usual casual me. Maybe it’s time to get away from the usual casual me. Kudos to Norah Gaughan for her rockin’ creativity, design and spin on the ordinary sweater coat concept. Wouldn’t it be cool if car designers put that much creativity into the design of a car?

It may not be the best choice of design if you have hips, a pear-shape perhaps, not that that’s a big problem for me, but it’s a consideration if you’re thinking of making one.

Here it is all to pieces on the floor, with my cat Phinney inspecting my work (actually, she wants to know when I'm going to sit down, brush her and relieve her of her thick undercoat).

It’s a bit of jigsaw puzzle to assemble because the back and side panels are not shaped like a normal cardigan, but just laying them on the floor helped me visualize it better. My plan of attack: 1) sew the godet in place; 2) sew the collar panels together; 3) sew one side panel on only where it joins the collar; 4) sew one sleeve at the collar and next to the first side; 5) sew the back only at the collar join; 6) sew the next sleeve at the collar; 7) sew the remaining side panel at the collar; 9) sew the upper sleeves at the top part where they join to the sides and back; 10) sew the remaining lower part of the sleeves and the sides starting from the wrist down to the bottom of the coat.

Pieces set together before sewing.

I regret blocking it: it relaxed the cables and flattened them out, and I didn’t even pin it.  So next time I wash it, I’ll just fluff it out and not lay it quite so flat.

I may add a button, since it seems to beg for one, otherwise it hangs sort of funny and obscures the interesting design by all the fabric on the front just flopping down.

I’m just soooo relieved to have it done!  I didn’t realize how much it weighed on me that it wasn’t done and that I kept messing-up on it.  So many times I felt like giving up. A word on the yarn: Wool of the Andes is very nice and soft to touch, but it does get a bit knotted-up on itself. I spent numerous times undoing nasty tangles that mysteriously appeared. However, all my labor and persistence with the pattern and yarn paid off and now I have this warm sweater coat to wear.  Pretty cool!  And just in time for fall.

Cabled Coat by Norah Gaughan (Ravelry link)
Vogue Knitting, Fall 2007
Knit Picks “Wool of the Andes”, 19 skeins, 2090 yds. (I used exactly that amount with about 24 inches leftover)
Needles: U.S. numbers 5 and 7