Mark your calendar for Sat., April 29, and get ready for the People’s Climate March

I read today, as the media and environmental groups gear up for this year’s Earth Day, about the damage that the ubiquitous plastic drinking straw is doing to the environment and to wildlife. You probably never thought about it. I didn’t. But it’s just another symptom. There are too many things we aren’t thinking about, and as a result, we are leaving a legacy that generations behind us will pay dearly for.

The article quoted experts and volunteers explaining how pitching in to clean up a beach or a public park raises awareness about the consequences of ignoring the environment. Such self-education then spurs further efforts to learn more and get active.

A café owner, motivated by the anti-straws campaign, has banned them from her establishment. She was moved by a video of a plastic straw being extracted from a sea turtle’s nostril. “Now that we’ve been made aware of it,” she told the Chicago Tribune, “we have to do the right thing.”

Which brings me to the People’s Climate March, which is set for April 29 in a city near you. The big one will be in Washington, but there are sister marches all over the place, in this country and elsewhere. They are probably within reach no matter where you are. There are also busses headed to D.C. from as far away as Wichita, Kan. I’m going to the one in Chicago.

Now I’m not naïve enough to think that even millions of people marching on that day will change Trump and the Republicans’ attitude about climate change. What I think is that it could change you. Because while polling shows 48 percent of Americans “worry a great deal” about climate change, it didn’t even come up in the top 10 of issues that were “very important” to how voters picked their candidates in 2016.

Those numbers have to change and change soon or we will be leaving the generations that come behind us with ever-growing parts of the earth becoming uninhabitable. That’s not the legacy I want to leave for my children and grandchildren. So go march. It might change you. It might even change the planet.

Time to act on the climate

When will a critical mass of people decide that “I have to do something about climate change”? I’m not talking about the personal steps, which certainly are a tiny but positive effort, like buying an electric car, installing solar panels on your roof or replacing all your light bulbs with LEDs. I’m talking about politics.

Hot Temperature In Earth Planet
Image from Mother Jones

We have all the information we need to take precautionary steps on this issue. It’s not a scientific issue, it’s not a matter of one more report will do it. One more national climate assessment, that’s what will solve the problem. One more new analogy and people will get it. Information is not the answer. The answer has much more to do with who we are as humans, and how we function politically. (Katherine Hayoe)

My oldest and still close friend, Steven Brubaker, has provided me with a good example of the kind of activism it will take to turn things around. He’s an architect and part of a group called Architects Advocate, which has just put out an open letter to President-elect Donald Trump calling for immediate action on the climate. More than 275 architecture and design industry firms from at least 24 stats are signatories. Their next steps include “…outreach to regional and local elected officials as well as discussion forums with members of the general public to highlight the challenges and opportunities associated with climate change.”

One of the barriers to individuals taking action, as I see it, is the lack of a vision that shows us what our lives will look like if we are able to make the changes necessary to rein in carbon emissions and start to slow, then halt, human-induced global warming. Of course there’s substantial disagreement on that.

There’s the view best articulated by Naomi Klein, who argues that capitalism itself is the main barrier to breaking free from fossil fuels. Thus we need a political revolution ala Bernie Sanders.

There’s the Al Gore view that all it takes is the political will to switch from fossil-fuel power to renewable-energy power, chiefly wind and solar. Once we switch to electric cars and heat and cool our homes with renewable energy, everything will be alright and we can go on with our current lifestyles mostly intact.

There’s the “Carbon Footprint” model, where individuals voluntarily calculate their carbon footprint and pay to fund “offset” projects that reduce atmospheric carbon, either by carbon sequestration or reducing emissions.

There’s the counter-culture model, that we have to quit eating meat and dairy products, drastically reduce our use of air travel, rely on human-powered transportation, source food locally and make other lifestyle changes, some of which may be seen as radical.

Each of these paths forward has strong advocates and serious detractors. There are no easy solutions now. Here’s the problem in easy-to-understand numbers: It’s Time To Redo the Climate Math.

We have pressing problems in this country that will obstruct the shift to a green economy and weaken the resolve to muster the political will if we don’t deal with them – income inequality and race-based oppression chief among them. But we can’t put climate action aside. We need to find ways to act on these problems together.

climatememeI don’t have the answers, but I do know this: we have to put a price on carbon and we can’t wait much longer, and that’s a political problem. We have to be climate voters and we have to make our elected officials know that we expect them to do their part to fight climate change. I recently wrote to both of my U.S. senators urging them to oppose confirmation of Trump’s four climate deniers in key cabinet posts: EPA, Energy, Interior and State.

Here’s another good piece from the New York Times that will help put it all into perspective: Short Answers to Hard Questions About Climate Change.

And another from Canadian climate activist Rolly Montpelier: Unsettling and Ominous – Climate Alarm Bells of 2016.

It probably isn’t too late yet, but we clearly don’t have much time until it is.

Retirement? It’s great! But…


Hiking on Mt. Adams in the Cascades

Donald Trump becoming president, Hillary Clinton NOT becoming president, terrorism, global warming, Alzheimer’s disease, inner-city violence, resurgent racism, attacks on unions: these are among the things that loom largest on my worry list. Retirement has been good to me – I read; I write; I stay physically active and fit – hiking, biking, health club, basketball; I travel; I spend time with friends, my kids and grandkids; I work in my yard; I go to movies and plays; I eat in great restaurants; I even do a little gainful work as a writer now and then.

But the worry list intrudes.

Donald Trump – I’ve often said that one makes major mistakes in politics by underestimating the power of racism in the political arena. Trump is obviously betting that the other side will make such mistakes.  Could he actually win this election? It’s hard to imagine how bad it could get if he is president. Will armed, private militias in the mold of George Zimmerman’s neighborhood watch group roam the streets? Will we be involved in an endless Middle East war? Will we abandon our commitment to stem carbon emissions? Will religion become a test for admittance into an ever-expanding list of civic institutions? Will his administration accelerate the shift of the nation’s income, wealth and power to the 1 percent? The prospect of a Trump presidency is enough to fill up any rational person’s worry time.

Hillary Clinton – She’s got so much baggage and is such a mediocre (at best) campaigner (though I thought her DNC acceptance speech was quite good). Can she possibly win an election and rid us of this vermin? Will the forces of reason be able to generate the necessary turnout?

Terrorism – It boggles the mind to think that people believe they are doing good by killing and injuring other people in the name of some cause. I fear this kind of desperation will only increase as the number of climate refugees (also see The Ominous Story of Syria’s Climate Refugees) climbs and the amount of livable space contracts. There seems to be no one who has a clue about how we go about stopping this. I rather doubt that the mass killing of people is the answer.

Global warming – You knew I wouldn’t leave this out. As opposed to terrorism, we have some very good ideas about how to at least slow down the process of climate change. But we have three major barriers to the massive mobilization it will take to implement the solutions: 1. The feeling by people who understand the dangers that they can’t or don’t need to do anything themselves; 2. The resistance from people who don’t understand how dire the crisis is; and 3. The obstruction by people who stand to lose financially and the politicians who are beholden to them. There are many proposed policy solutions. Here’s one that makes a lot of sense to me, alternately called carbon fee and dividend or a revenue-neutral carbon tax. Most of all, I would like to see climate change become the defining issue of the 2016 election, not just for president, but for every elected office on the ballot. Not much hope for this I know, but it definitely won’t happen unless we say we want it.

Alzheimer’s disease – my mother has some form of dementia, probably Alzheimer’s, that has taken away her ability to make decisions about her life. Those decisions are now in my hands. It is a terrible responsibility. I have plenty of problems running my own life. Now I’m running hers, too. It’s heartbreaking and engenders a kind of moral dilemma that I really can’t figure out how to cope with.

Inner-city violence – Here in Chicago it’s worse than almost anywhere else in the United States – mostly young people killing one another over who gets to sell drugs. Day after day there’s news of another shooting or shootings. Innocent people, good kids getting killed. And not so innocent kids getting killed, dragged down by the hopelessness, joblessness, racism and poverty that’s driving it all. Then police shoot kids, kids shoot police. It’s all so sad and demoralizing for the entire city.

Resurgent racism – There is much to gain by fanning the flames of hatred, and too many people willing to do it. The Tea Party, Donald Trump, racial profiling, outrageous unemployment levels of black youth, unwarranted police violence – all symptoms of an embedded, institutionalized, premeditated system, backed by official terrorism that maintains an underclass to serve the needs of the rich and powerful. My biracial grandchildren and my black grandchildren, even as they grow up in safe neighborhoods and middle-class homes, live in a world that places barriers in their paths I never had to think about.

Attacks on unions – I spent most of my working life fighting back against the all-out assault on unions and the working people they represent. Now my union, AFSCME Council 31, whose newspaper I edited for 20 years, is under direct attack from a governor who has promised to eradicate it, leaving the public service employees it represents to fend for themselves as he lowers their standard of living and robs their families of a decent quality of life. Busting public employee unions, one of the last bastions of resistance to the corporate elite’s political agenda, is one of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s prime goals. Right now he is aiming directly at Chicago Teachers Union and AFSCME – trying to force Chicago Public Schools into bankruptcy and trying to force a strike of state employees.

The antidote to worry is action. I have tried to find a place for myself in the climate battle, not with a lot of success yet. I show up for union and climate rallies. Today I went shopping for a new shower curtain, and socks that can accommodate my mom’s swollen feet, so I can mail it all to her facility in faraway Florida. Somehow, I have to do something on this election. Hillary winning is important if we are to do anything about climate change soon enough to matter, as is taking control of the U.S. Senate away from Mitch McConnell and his minions. Here in Illinois we can contribute to flipping the Senate by helping Tammy Duckworth beat the incumbent, Sen. Mark Kirk. And of course, there’s the blog. Just writing this post has alleviated some of the anxiety.

Happy Earth Day! and a little bit about my palm oil project

When you talk about guilty pleasures, these are ones I just can’t resist: brownies, chocolate chip cookies, peanut butter cups, potato chips. I have a weakness that creates a need for prodigious amounts of exercise to control my weight. Imagine my dismay when I found out, by reading labels, that Trader Joe’s dark chocolate peanut butter cups are made with palm oil.nikid-cups

I had already sworn off their chocolate chip cookies and brownies for the same reason. And then I started looking at the labels of more of their products. They are certainly not alone, but Trader Joe’s, it turns out, is the purveyor of a whole lot of palm oil.

Even if you don’t know about palm oil, I’m sure you suspect this is about climate change. It is. But first the nutritional aspects of the story. Palm oil, alternately called palm kernel oil, glycerin and a whole bunch of other aliases, has a lot of saturated fat – ounce for ounce as much as butter. And we’ve lately been warned that saturated fat, not cholesterol, is the clogged-artery_1thing that raises the levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol in our blood. Besides its use in lots of things you find in grocery stores, from Ritz Crackers to Nutella, from Cheerios to Oreos, palm oil is used to make a whole lot of the deep-fried fast food available almost everywhere. (It’s also in lipstick, shampoo, lotions and other such products.)

But I’m not here to give you medical advice.

The bigger problem with palm oil, in my opinion, is its contribution to global warming. “Globally, it’s estimated that 5% to 20% of global (greenhouse gas) emissions are attributable to deforestation,” writes John Sutter, lead reporter on CNN’s Two° series on climate change.

And that’s the connection to palm oil: “Large areas of tropical forests and other oil-palm-plantation-vlecosystems with high conservation values have been cleared to make room for vast monoculture oil palm plantations – destroying critical habitat for many endangered species, including rhinos, elephants and tigers (and orangutans),” according to WWF, formerly known as the World Wildlife Fund.

One day I was complaining to a checkout clerk at Trader Joe’s about all the palm oil, and she suggested I write to the stores’ corporate officials. So I did:

I have recently begun noticing how many products at Trader Joe’s use palm oil (it has a lot of different names, including: Palm fruit oil, Palm kernel oil, glycerin, vegetable oil, etc.). It is found in ever more snack foods, sweets and pastries and on and on. I know you say that you get it from “sustainable” sources, but there are no such sources (there is a significant amount of debate on this point). Palm oil is bad for individuals — with significant amounts of saturated fat — and bad for the environment. The destruction of rain forests to add more space for palm oil plantations is destroying habitat of endangered species of plants and animals and adding significantly to climate change. You should be on a straight line to eliminating all palm oil products from everything you sell.

Can you tell me if this is a policy you are willing to adopt and how quickly you will move to implement it?

trader_joe_sI got a surprisingly prompt response.

Dear Lincoln,

Thank you for your feedback and inquiry on this important issue. We do want to let you know that much of the palm oil used in our Trader Joe’s products comes from small scale family farms in South America. These farmers are certified by ProForest, which ensures that they meet strict social, environmental and technical criteria.

With regard to environmental criteria, the assessments are carried out at the landscape and operational level at both the farms and processing facilities. These assessments cover environmental impact on the soil, water, air, biodiversity and local communities. The lands the farmers use are not lands that were deforested. The lands used to grow the palm fruit are lands previously used for agricultural purposes (cattle, rice, bananas, etc.).

Still, though, while much of the palm oil our vendors source is as described above, it is impossible for us at this time to ensure that all of our palm oil is sourced this way, and some of it is definitely sourced as a commodity. We appreciate your input, though, and we hope this information helps inform your shopping choices.

Trader Joe’s Customer Relations

So far I haven’t gotten a response to my follow-up reply:

Dear Amy,

Thanks for the prompt reply. A couple of thoughts after reading and re-reading your response.

First you don’t address the health problems caused by substituting palm oil for vegetable oils that have less saturated fat and more polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats.

Second you are using what journalists call “weasel words.” Especially the word “much,” which could, I suppose, mean 20%, but undoubtedly is less than 50%, or you would have said “most.”

Finally, you articulate no intent to eliminate products that use palm oil from plantations on deforested land, which means you are among the companies who are providing strong incentives for deforestation.

Thus you really have not addressed my concerns. Only by using progressively less palm oil in the products you sell can you decrease the incentive for deforestation. Only by using progressively less palm oil can you move your product line in the direction of improving nutritional standards for your customers.

 I think it would be great if everyone who reads this and shops at Trader Joe’s would say something at your store or write to corporate, or send an e-mail to my friend Amy —

More about palm oil:
Palm Oil and Tropical Deforestation
Palm Oil and Global Warming
WWF on Palm Oil

The politicians won’t act on the climate – until it becomes politically dangerous not to

The morning I wrote this post, it was zero F when I woke up, which makes talking about global warming seem a little silly. But weather is different than climate, of course, and despite the polar vortex that froze us out last winter, 2015 was the globe’s hottest year on record.

The Paris climate talks that I discussed in my last post are over, and some measured success emerged: necessary steps were taken, but they are far from sufficient.

These two graphics by Perrin Ireland that I got from Rolly Montpelier’s website give you a neat little summary of what was agreed to. (The second graphic explains who those little guys are who are walking down the yellow brick road in the first graphic.)



Estimates vary, but if every country lives up to the commitment it made, global warming will be limited to somewhere between 2.7 and 3.5 degrees Celsius. That amount would be disastrous for humanity, “wiping low-lying islands off the map as seas continue to rise; pushing many plants and animals toward extinction; increasing the intensity of droughts, floods, heat waves and storms; and costing all of us a lot of money,” as CNN’s climate beat reporter John Sutter lays it out. (The agreement resets the target for atmospheric carbon at 1.5 degrees, down from 2 degrees. It’s now around .8 degrees C. and moving up faster than expected.)

But the agreement also entails accountability and calls for subsequent meetings where the world’s nations can assess their progress and reassess their goals. Most climate groups thought the Paris agreement was the best that could be expected and believe it is heading the world’s nations in the right direction.

But I have trouble sharing the optimism, given the state of politics in these United States. While in many, probably most, of the nations that signed onto the agreement, the imperative of responding to climate change is not a political issue, that’s not the case in our country. Sure, it’s been cruelly cold in Chicago for a couple weeks, but what’s really bone chilling is the Republican primaries.

Just like Ronald Reagan took the solar panels off the White House, his political heirs have resisted every government effort to deal with climate change. And each of the GOP candidates for president plans to reverse the steps the Obama administration has taken to slow carbon emissions.

Here’s what came from the Republicans when the agreement was announced:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Obama is “making promises he can’t keep” and should remember that the agreement “is subject to being shredded in 13 months.” McConnell noted that the presidential election is next year and the agreement could be reversed if the GOP wins the White House. (Dec. 13, 2015, AP)

It seems incredible that anyone could live with themselves if they actually stopped the country, and with it, most likely, the rest of the world, from doing what nearly every nation in the world has deemed imperative.

As Secretary of State John Kerry said:

“This has to happen. I believe this will continue because I just personally cannot believe that any person who doesn’t understand the science and isn’t prepared to do for the next generation what we did here today and follow through on it cannot and will not be elected president of the United States.” (AP)

I think I know what he means. Incredulity certainly strikes me, too, when I see the politics of denial in action.

But, then, here it is, for all to see:

Trump: Obama thinks it’s the number one problem of the world today. And I think it’s very low on the list. So I am not a believer, and I will, unless somebody can prove something to me, I believe there’s weather.

Cruz: The scientific evidence doesn’t support global warming. For the last 18 years, the satellite data – we have satellites that monitor the atmosphere. …Climate change is the perfect pseudoscientific theory for a big government politician who wants more power.

Rubio: We’re not going to make America a harder place to create jobs in order to pursue policies that will do absolutely nothing, nothing to change our climate. America is a lot of things, the greatest country in the world, absolutely. But America is not a planet.

Bush: I don’t think it’s the highest priority.

Chris Christie: I think there’s a lot more important things to worry about.

To me, the only thing that can ensure a U.S. follow through is a grassroots movement big enough to take the issue out of partisan politics. But that isn’t likely to happen in 2016. The best we can hope for is that there are candidates at every level who run on support for COP21 and Obama’s Clean Power Plan – and win. (Yes, states and cities, not just countries, can put a price on carbon and invest in renewable energy. California, for one, has already taken some major steps.)

First, that means stay informed. A good start would be John Sutter’s postmortem of the Paris conference and his five things that must be done now.

Second, don’t throw up your hands in despair. That would be easy to do. I find myself making plenty of excuses about why I haven’t written this post sooner, why I haven’t yet investigated installing solar panels on my roof, why I have only given one Climate Reality Project slide show presentation. And I’m retired, with plenty of free time on my hands. So I know it won’t be easy for you. But I also know my grandchildren, and yes, my children, will have a better life if we start NOW to stop burning fossil fuels.

Keep your eyes on Paris

Are you nervous? You should be. I sure am. And I’m not talking about the terrorists.

If the international conference on climate change in Paris, COP21, which is scheduled to end on Friday, Dec. 11, doesn’t result in a strong agreement to move decisively and rapidly toward eliminating the burning of fossil fuels, the consequences will dwarf whatever harm the terrorists can do.

As I write this, delegates to COP21 are pulling all-nighters to finish a document that 195 countries agree on. Some commentators believe these negotiations could “help determine the fate of the planet.”

COP stands for Conference of the Parties, referring to the countries that have signed up to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The COP in Paris is the 21st such conference.

Basically, the agreement will call on the “parties,” 195 countries, to declare what each will do to eliminate the use of fossil fuels for power, and how fast they are willing to move in that direction. It will also place responsibility on rich countries to help poor countries cope with the already inevitable consequences of global warming.

Here in the United States, the Obama administration has used its regulatory authority to put in place the Clean Power Plan, which for the first time regulates emissions from power plants. These newly imposed standards will help the U.S. live up to its COP21 commitments. Of course the climate-change deniers and pretty much all of the Republican Party, and a chunk of the Democratic Party as well, are going to resist such radical changes to our nation’s economic system.

What to do? I’ve spent a bit of time lobbying for the Illinois Clean Jobs Bill, a measure that would go a long ways toward putting our state in compliance with the Clean Power Plan. I’ve written about the bill here .

I’ve met with state Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, a sponsor of the Clean Jobs Bill. I’ve tagged along as a coalition led by the Sierra Club delivered 35,000 petition signatures to Gov. Bruce Rauner’s Chicago office, urging him to get on board with the federal Clean Power Plan. I’ve talked to a Sierra Club lobbyist. Mostly they’ve been explaining why nothing’s happening.


A coalition of climate activists deliver petitions collected around the state urging Gov. Bruce Rauner to get the state on board with the federal Clean Power Plan.


Things are moving slowly in Springfield these days, what with a partial government shutdown, as we suffer through a seventh month without a state budget.

But once the logjam is broken, the coalition behind the Illinois bill will be ready to move.

“We’ve held 50 or 60 town hall forums or round tables across the state,” said Jen Walling, of the Sierra Club. “We are going to have to have a state implementation plan,” to comply with the federal Clean Power Plan, which allows greenhouse gas emitters to design their own ways to cut back. The alternative is for the state Environmental Protection Agency to write carbon-emission rules, which nobody wants.

Feigenholtz seems cautiously optimistic.

“Like many complex things in Springfield where there are diverse interests, especially when there are federal dollars on the table, those interests will hopefully negotiate what’s good for the environment and what moves the state forward.”

She says the General Assembly’s green caucus is “growing dramatically,” and “all the greens are on the same page. The public is demanding environmentally sound policy. I’m optimistic that there will be negotiations in earnest.”

Without a COP21 agreement, the momentum for all of the good news at the state and federal levels will surely be lost, and the political will to take the difficult next steps could easily crumble.

There I go again — adventures in Italy

For many people who know me well, this story will sound all too familiar…

Duomo_di_orvieto_orizzontaleOn the A1 Autostrada heading into Rome, we pulled the rental car off around 19:30 at an aree di servizio to wait for the nearly blinding downpour to let up. Two weeks into our delightful, stimulating, exhausting trip to Italy, we decided we’d had enough of wandering from hill town to lovely hill town and wanted a couple extra days to explore Roma.

The good news was, the parking lot had covered spots, and I pulled under one. The bad news was … just about to hit.

I jumped out of the car, pulled open the back door to grab my trusty GoreTex rain jacket out of … MY BACKPACK WASN’T THERE! It wasn’t anywhere in the car. I was crushed. I wanted to cry. OK, don’t panic, think.

Up to then, it had been a wonderful day.

Around noon we left Montalcino, Tuscany, a hill town famous for the coveted, and delectable, BrunelloBrunello wines (the Whole Foods by our house in Chicago has a bottle for $65). But not before a shopping trip at the local alimentari (a lot like the old “corner grocery store,” only the food is so much better), where we stocked up on edibles for the road and, before we left Montalcino, a picnic lunch with a view of the Tuscan countryside. Then we rolled out, heading for Umbria and a tiny settlement, Pievelunga, just outside the small town of Parrano.

Sandi had been plotting this little side trip since well before we left Chicago. Pievelunga, population 26, is home to the retired farmer/outsider artist, Girolamo Ricci. My wife loves outsider art, and Signore Ricci’s version is more appealing than any I’ve seen – a work you can literally become immersed in – poignant, witty, creative, colorful, emotional.

IMG_2105When we knocked on his door, we found an open-arms welcome. He IMG_2111spoke not a word of English and we spoke only a few words of Italian, but we managed to communicate with each other. First, though, he wouldn’t even begin to talk about art until he’d served us a tasty lunch of salume, cheese, bread and wine. Only then did he begin to show us around. I took pictures with my ipad as we browsed his outdoor “art environment.” What a terrific and, I think, brilliant old guy!

We left before wearing out our welcome.

Next stop was the caffe’/bar in Parrano. Run by a husband and wife team, the little bar served the usual, though a bit stripped down. We settled for a cappuccino and a bottle of sparkling water and, most importantly, a trip to the rest room.

Then it was on to Orvieto, where we thought we might spend the night. But figuring out where to park and how to take the funicular into town seemed too daunting, so that didn’t work out. But on our way back to the highway, we stopped at another bar, for a snack and another pit stop. After making arrangements to return to Bibi and Romeo’s B & B in Rome where we spent our first three nights in Italy, we hit the Autostrada. Then the rain came.

Had I left my backpack at Signore Ricci’s in Pievelunga? Or in the Parrano bar? We figured that our host at the B & B could make phone calls to try and track the bag down, so we continued down the Autostrada towards the chaotic streets of Rome. We settled into the same room we’d had the first three nights and started looking for phone numbers. Romeo, our super-host, had promised to make the calls in the morning.

I was distraught. There were several things of significant value in the bag, though fortunately not my ipad, which often resides there. I didn’t sleep well. Tossing and turning I kept going over the past day, trying to visualize every move. Maybe my days of world travel were over. Maybe I’m too old, too absent minded. Maybe I should just stay home.

The fact that I had the ipad helped me think through my actions of the afternoon. My best guess was that I had taken the pad out of the bag in the Parrano bar and walked out to the car with the pad in hand. All we remembered about the place was a big sign in front advertising LaVazza coffee. I asked Google for bars in Parrano. There was only one. Google Maps confirmed that it was the one where we stopped and gave us the phone number.

Then again, I had taken pictures with the ipad at Signore Ricci’s, so maybe I took my trusty device out inside his house and left the bag in. We didn’t go back in after touring the outside art environment, so maybe it was there. Unfortunately, we found that the old guy doesn’t have a phone. I feared the three-hour drive back to his home might be imminent.

What about the bar in Orvieto, Sandi asked. No, I had gone back to the car to get the ipad when we were sitting in that bar. I got it off the passenger seat. The bag must have already been gone.

Morning came and Romeo called the Parrano bar. The owner was there and he didn’t exactly remember us, but no, there was no bag left there. However he said he’s friends with Girolamo Ricci and he would go out there later in the afternoon and see if the bag was there. That was all we could do for the moment, so it was off to explore Rome. It was what we had planned all along – walking in Rome, getting a feel for the city, seeing some of the sites we’d missed the week before.


Trajan’s Column

On the agenda: The flower market, Campo de’Fiori ; the Jewish Ghetto, for fried artichokes and for a look at the spot where Nazis rounded up Jews for deportation to the camps;  Trevi Fountain (dry and fenced off for repairs); Trajan’s Column (which tells the story of Rome’s Dacian wars with 2,662 figures in 155 scenes carved into the column). In the process we crossed the Ponte (bridge) Vittorio Emanuele II, passed by Marcus Aurelius’ column (patterned after Trajan’s) and the sunken ruins of Largo di Torre Argentina, where Julius Caesar met his assassins. We walked nearly 10 miles that day. It was fun, but would have been a lot more fun if I hadn’t been fretting about the bag.

In the meantime, the bartender got back to Romeo: No bag at Signore Ricci’s, but the artist said he’d look outside when the rain stopped. That’s when I thought, maybe I brought the bag into the bar in Orvieto, realized the ipad wasn’t in it, and went back to the car to get it. While I was running to the car, Sandi moved to a table on the patio, so maybe the bag got left inside.

Back to Google maps. We used the street view to try and find the bar. Sandi recognized the sign in front. We relayed the phone number to Romeo, but the bar was closed that day. He’d call in the morning. At least all the walking tired me out.IMG_2148

We woke up the next morning to the ringing of Sandi’s phone. It was Romeo. The bag was in Orvieto Scalo at Bar Pasticceria Nando! Paola had it and she would be there all day. We asked Romeo if we should give her money and he said no. Sandi bought a blank greeting card and designed a special thank you message.

InsideOrvieto Duomo

Inside the Orvieto Duomo

So we headed back to Orvieto, about an hour and a half away and got the bag. As long as we were there, we went up to the old city and saw the spectacular Duomo. Then back to Rome for our last Italian dinner and packing our bags for the long flight home the next morning.

Romeo took unbelievably good care of us. Way above and beyond what’s expected of an innkeeper: From our first day in Rome, when he took his motorcycle out, found a parking space for us and blocked it with the cycle, walked back and hopped in the car and guided me to the spot, where I left the car for the three days we were there; to the long conversations we had about life in Rome; to the tips he offered on how to avoid the long lines at the main tourist sites; to the days when I had no idea how I’d ever find that bag. He said, “I’m there for you.” And he was.

That was two weeks ago. I was ready to get home, as I always am after a long trip. Now I’m wishing I was in Rome again – the food, the art, the history, the open markets, the fascinating city life, the mysteries of a new place. So much more to explore. And maybe next time, I won’t lose anything.