08.29.11

Under My Tuscan Sun

Posted in Travel at 5:47 pm by Administrator

Hello,

We’ve had the most incredible three days in recent memory!  Our friend and host Gerard not only lives in the most mellow place I’ve ever been, but he also loves to cook and bake and eat in the Tuscan style.  We’ve sucked down life-changing wines, packed away cheese, prochuttio, wild boar and a memorable thin crust fungi pizza that made we want to sink to my knees and weep with gratitude!  As I write this the kitchen is animated with the sounds and smells of the preparation of bistecka Florentina to go with freshly-baked bread.  Two bottles of local white wine are nestled in ice.

Earlier, in the cooler morning air we ambled down the dirt road with a cheerful little fluffy white dog named “Attila” to the earth-toned medieval village nesting on the hilltop over the valley.  We joined the locals sitting at the outdoor cafe in the cobblestoned piazza and lingered over our €1 capuchinni. Back at the villa, during the hottest part of the day we cooled off in the pool, dried ourselves in the sun then read in the shade.

A restored stone Tuscan farm house, the villa sits on a hillside surrounded by heart-breakingly stunning rolling wheat fields with patches of woods full of a very tasty variety of wild boar.  There is a deep quiet here and warmth that makes one want to walk about naked.  A wooden table outside is where we dine in the warm night by candle light. We enjoy those long rambling wine-fueled discussions under the brilliant constellations.

The culture here is about living well; things should be beautiful, food must be excellent and everyone seems happy.  What’s more Gerard and his wife Heddy have designed the place to be rented out, which means that anyone can come here. In my opinion this is what an enlightened Renaissance society engineered as proper living.  Who are we to argue?

08.23.11

Vesuvius burps and you’re fried

Posted in Travel at 3:18 pm by Administrator

Hello,

We are sitting by the pool with Mt. Vesuvius (of Pompeii fame) glowering at us with dark menace just across the Bay of Naples. One burp and it would fry us where we sit, although I’m not sure the oily tourists grilling nearby in the brutal sun would even notice.

Whoever said “It’s the journey, not the destination”, has clearly never flown Iberia Airlines. I’ve registered a few complaints with various airlines over the years, but this was the nadir of the genre.  I’d rather pull out my molars with a pair of rusty pliers then ever put myself at their mercy again. Things went right to hell starting with the checkin – where an angry clerk took our bags and only once they were safely out of our reach, announced with undisguised glee that we were 17 kilos over some limit specified in the fine print and at 10 € per Kilo that would cost us the equivalent of almost $250 –  And “no” we couldn’t have the bags back and in fact she was “doing us a favor by not charging us more”! After a few moments of distress where I almost blacked out with rage, I got the supervisor who dismissed our petty complaint with the infamous Gallic “fuck you” shrug of the shoulders.

Once aboard, the duct tape holding together parts of the interior did nothing to improve my mood (yes I have photos). With our knees up near our chins, as if preparing to give birth, we sweltered in the un-airconditioned craft while the Spanish speaking crew tried to communicate with the French tourists heading to Italy. The drink cart flashed by without stopping which was a small kindness considering the bloated prices. 

Short of crashing I can’t imagine a worse flight. But I digress.

Once we made good our escape from Iberia we proceeded on the next leg of our Batan Death March to Sorrento. Without boring you with the hideous details, we wound up pulling our (overweighted) suitcases down the dark cobblestone streets of Sorrento, sweating like marathon runners, as we plaintively begged people (none of whom seemed to speak English like God intended) on the street if they knew where our hotel was.

Even though we finally arrived we’ll need years of intensive psychiatric therapy to be fit for public society.

08.17.11

Paris smokers

Posted in Travel at 7:51 pm by Administrator

Hello,

Its a miracle that French people aren’t keeling over dead in the streets from lung cancer! If a French person isn’t smoking, (s)he is either tossing a smoldering butt into the street, stylishly poking a coffin nail into his or her mouth, blowing smoke into someone’s face (preferably a non-smoking foreigner, but anyone will do in a pinch) or hand rolling another death stick. Naturally, the best seats at the numerous Parisian Cafes, namely the ones outside in the sun and fresh air, allow nicotine addicts to blanket the area with the foul cancerous stench of tobacco as one attempts to tuck into his gourmet meal and delicate wine. But, we are visitors in a strange land so we say nothing, smother our hacking and dab at our watering eyes to be polite.  Which begs the question; why exactly does French cigarette smoke unerringly make a twisting blueish thread directly to my nose? I just chalk it up to one of life’s unanswerable deep mysteries.

And speaking of mysteries, who are these tourists dumb enough to play three card montey with greasy-haired hulking scar-faced men working off the top of a cardboard box? This laughably transparent sleight of hand scam draw clouds of out of towners here in Paris, even taking into account the “shills” acting as accomplises who disguise themselves as players who win.  I thought anyone with the IQ greater than that of a flush toilet would know to avoid such rank knavery.

Well, thats the news from Paris.  Oh yeah, we saw some museums (they seem to have an awful lot of pictures of Jesus), old churches (I mean, come on, can’t they afford some new churches?) and had some good meals too.

Cheers,

Fred

08.11.11

A wee dram for Mary Queen of The Scots

Posted in Travel at 6:49 pm by Administrator

Hi,

Edinburgh, Scotland is a beautiful city with much of its medieval architecture intact.  We arrived to celebrate our 25th anniversary of wedded bliss – for you see we were married in Edinburgh and haven’t been back since.  By coincidence we were there for The Military Tattoo (a bunch of marching bands as far as I could tell). Imagine our joy when we found out that at the same time the far more to our taste Fringe Festival was being held. The latter we had never heard of and were charmed to find Operas, plays (over 2 thousand of them!), symphony performances (including one by San Francisco conductor Runnicles), jazz, comedy, and street performances – all on an “open source” basis!

Every night the castle on the hill had torches flickering ‘or its parapets, with the plaintive humming wail of bag pipies drifting on the breeze.  Then, explosions and fireworks – but we barely noticed as we wandered the dark rain-slicked cobblestones led about by Adam Lyle (deceased) looking very much dead as he showed us the places witches were burned, bodies dug up from fresh graves for the medical school, and the ever popular hangings.  The Scots, polite to a fault, would allow the condemned a final fortifying drink at the “The Last Drop” Pub before the neck stretching, which was a popular form of entertainment in the “good old days”.

At the-still operational Palace of Holyrood, we saw the exact spot where the hapless Mary Queen of The Scots found her closest advisor stabbed 52 times by her new husband (one Lord Darnly).  She returned the favor by blowing up a house with her husband in it, but when that proved insufficient to dispatch the poor fellow he found himself mysteriously strangled in the smoldering wreckage (talk about your marital spats!).  Enraged, the good citizens of Edinburgh ran her out of town (she 9 months along with the fetus of the future James 1st) on horseback. She escaped to England where Queen Elizabeth had her head chopped off!  Who says they didn’t know how to show a lady a good time back then?

On to England!

Cheers,

Fred

08.06.11

London Calling

Posted in Travel at 8:14 pm by Administrator

Hello again,

In the pouring English rain we tramped to the British Museum.  I had a mental image of myself quietly posing before The Rosetta Stone as my lovely wife took a snap.  The reality was closer to being stomped to death in a mosh pit during a Sex Pistols concert.  My arms were pinned harshly at my side by pushy tourists bellowing in rapid-fire dialects from all over “The Continent”. Collectively they all seem to exude a sweaty beery sort of garlic miasma, and each one comes equiped with a sniveling toddler and a sullen teenager. Finally I caught a brief glimpse of the fabled rock before being ejected from the scrum like a seed out of a stomped grape.

Pushing through the throng, I was squirted out into the magnificent presence of the famed Elgin Marbles, pried off the Parthenon by the eponymos Sir Elgin in the early 1800s.  Carefully, I framed a camera shot of an exquisite horse carved into the sugar-like marble. In the brief moment I let my attention focus on the camera, I was swept up into a rushing torrent of stampeding Asian tourists charging after a guide with a flag. Ten meters downstream my finger was shoved against the button providing me with an excellent image of the floor.  On my next attempt a sturdy woman wearing a festive Mumu stepped into my carefully composed shot, her back to the Elgin Marbles, staring off into space with bovine stupidity.

There was nothing to do but muscle our way out of the museum – our targeted destination being Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub -recently rebuilt in 1667 after a spot of bother when London burned to the ground. There I enjoyed a pint of bitter ale (or two) in the same spot frequented by Samuel Johnson, Boswell, Dickens, and lots of other dead guys. In fact it looks like they just left, as the furniture and such haven’t been upgraded in several hundred years.

London is full of Europeans off on holiday.  I mean really full, swinging from the chandeliers full!  And when it rains apparently all of them go to The British Museum.  As one woman succiently put it when asked where all the museum visitors came from, “It was the rain what done it”.

Cheers,

Fred

08.01.11

Steaming over The Titanic

Posted in Travel at 10:50 am by Administrator

  Hello,

There something sobering about looking over the railing of one of the world’s largest ships (The Queen Mary 2) as “The Commodore” announces that we are 500 miles from the nearest land and The Titanic lies moldering roughly 3 miles below us. We are 4 days into a 7-day crossing of “The Pond”. What was once an endless expanse of stolid steel vessel has contracted in our minds into a flimsy cork bobbing on an endless expanse of pitiless heaving main.

Fortunately, there is much to keep our minds off the emptiness of the Atlantic; a 10,000 volume library, movies, those execrable pseudo-Broadway musicals cobbled together by the off-duty crew members, a gym, shops crammed with over-priced shiney baubles, and even a production of Hamlet!  But most unbelievably, along with the shuffleboard, the pools and the bars, this ship has a planetarium! Yes, a planetarium. And there is, of course, the food. Lots of food. Acres of food!

Despite the fact I am required to cut off my air supply with a necktie at the formal Britannica Dining Room, our fellow passengers at the table provide us with ample diversion, such as the lady who offered to “slap” Ada when the latter had the temerity to disagree with her.  One senses immediately how amusing the evening can be. There is of course dancing and drinking and gaiety (in both the classical as well as the contemporary sense of the word) late into the evening.

There is in fact Internet service aboard, and after signing away exclusive rights to my right arm and my first born son (should I ever produce one) – they allowed me a few precious moments to shoot off this epistle. Soon we shall arrive at Southhampton and proceed into the wilds of Great Britannia and The Continent from whence we expect great edification and adventure. So stay tuned . . .

Cheers,

Fred

New Yawk Fugittaboutit!

Posted in Travel, Uncategorized at 10:46 am by Administrator

So we get to New York, see. I always want a “New York” moment, you know when someone yells something like: “Yo, Vinee, dis mook wants a cawfee ovah heah.” or the like. We didn’t have long to wait! 

Picture this: Penn Station, first we help a fellow passenger who fell backwards on the escalator and was being dragged feet-first upwards. We emerge into the sticky hot night. It’s brutally hot, I feel like I’m being grilled alive. In fact it’s a new record. 

A disorderly mob of sweaty pissed off people is milling around the cab queue. Apparently the uniformed cab director quits at 9:00 PM and some *ahem* freelance gentlemen are offering an opportunity to jump the line for a modest fee. We are offered this arrangement and decline – somehow this is interpreted as being “disrespectful” – never one to pass up an opportunity to put my diplomatic skills to use, I offer the gentleman in question a one time opportunity to “kiss my ass”. After a few choice epithets and my yelling for a cop, a cab pulls up. A large angry cabbie barges out, mad as a bull! He starts shouting at the freelance guys who pocketed his previous fare by convincing a passenger that (s)he could pre-pay the fare with them. We pile in, the driver speeds into traffic in a rage. In his haste we sideswipe a car, which results in a colorful interchange with the civilian driver who takes the cab number inferring darkly that dire consequences await.

I turn to Ada and say, “Welcome to New York”! 

Then it got weird.

More later,

Fred & Ada