Saturday, June 24, 2006

A Break in Degree

Got a few days ahead in my "Just Barely Acredited Master's Degree Online Program" so I have some time to play.

• Cruising websites I found someone who wanted to post a picture of themselves, but didn't want it to be of themselves.

I can only ask "why?"

• And post this lovely "Pearls" (a strip I either get completely or find wildly boring) strip about my online existence (or lack thereof):

hey, the guy's computer is one of those nifty all in one Macs. Money is of no importance.

• And then some lyrics I know I must have post-posted before this post. From the brilliant early, Sugar, one of the many bands the cranky Bob Mould has complained in. Oddly, this is written by a different band member:

Wilhelmina remained convinced that her relief was waiting beyond
The suburban half-life she loathed from the shadows
She didn't know which way to turn until the carnival of freaks passed her by
And whisked her away to where diamonds are halos

Every little bit helps. Believe me
Every little bit helps. Believe me
Every little bit helps. Please help me.
Release me.

• At some point I need to post all my reactions to the online education deal.... I still have, saved, everything from the worst online undergraduate class ever and I think it's worth posting. And the Master's has been interesting. Very few real "teaching moments" in this program (OK, only three classes in). The communal teaching in a classroom cannot be over-valued. An instructor can make, on the fly, comments that touch every student's learning experience. Similarly, mistakes or triumphs of other students are out there and real.

Online, most responses are personal, so the class does not get the advantage of them. Also, in the two programs I've been in, there has been very little response to assignments. I get back grades, and occasional summaries of where I am and what I should be doing, but nothing like the extensive responses I got to papers at Cal, or even in high school.

I wonder if online instructors are paid less?

The Dreaded CataComb-Over

Today is a day of few pictures. Last night my... my... well he's related to me some how...... my young friend Gabriel. (The son of the son of my stepfather - you do the math ..I'm a Roman Senator and I want more pig!) arrived in Italy on a welcoming wave of complete miscommunication. We knew he was coming and although I blew off my description of last night's dinner, I primarily did that so that I could end the fucking post. Last night's dinner worked into the vaudeville that was our lives.

In fact, prior to dinner, the B-man (grandfather to the Gabbo) headed off to Termini to catch Gabriel on the train as he entered town. There was some uncertainty in schedule which quickly became uncertainty in reality. B-man was going to pick Gabbo up and then head back to the flat, where we would catch a lovely 8:30 or so meal. Early by Italian standards, but as advocates of daily showering and respectful driving we clearly aren't Italian. So I (again, we're still on last night) went to the Steve McQueen pub and awaited the POSSLQ who, with the zealotry of her race ("The Totally Fucking Insane") had headed off to another bookstore (I really haven't highlighted here, the insanity with which she found and entered every English selling bookstore in Rome. The fact is I am too old to even explain it) and promised to meet me back at the regular. I read, drank, and talked to the bartender and the POSSLQ arrived between big rainy squalls. We sat about until we realized it was past 8:30 and then we raced to the restaurant which was just around the corner. No one we recognized there, and a bit of charming misunderstanding based on the fact we had no Italian, the servers had little English, and we raced into the back dining room like cheap hoods out of the "Godfather" series.

Anyway, no one we knew, so we headed up to the flat, where beloved mother awaited. We shared some theories about where the B-man and Gabbo might be, and then we got really hungry.

So we put a note on the door and headed down to the Goose (the restaurant which I have inexplicably been referring to, up to this point, as "the restaurant"). The food was plentiful, the wine digested our stomachs instead of how it should have been, and just as we were ready to leave, the B-man showed up completely bewildered as to what had happened. B-man had stayed in the station for many more trains beyond the one the boy should have been on, and the boy wasn't on them.

No answer to that kind of problem, so we all wandered home. At about 11 oclock I heard our doorbell ring and, alhough I'm the drunk, I'm often the one paying attention. I ran down to the front door, and there was our lad. By this time the others were milling about and we all went up, had a 15 second relieved greeting, and then got to the serious business of assessing who the hell was at fault for everything that had gone wrong. ;-)

Gabbo had apparently arrived on one of the trains that B-man had been waiting for and they had somehow missed each other. So Gabbo waited around a while and then decided he needed to find his own way to our flat. A good idea, but when the guidebooks tell you only to use official cabs from official cab stands? They really are trying to help. Gabbo got an "unofficial" cab driver in a beat up old FIAT who not only charged him something enormous, like 57 Euros, but also took him to the wrong "Aurelian" Avenue. The lad then found an official cab which took Gabbo to where we were staying. Gabbo no longer had the Euros to pay for the ride, so he asked the driver to wait while he ran in and rang us up.Here the story gets hazy. Although Gabbo says he stood outside the door of our flat and actually heard us talking, he knocked (sez he), ignoring the excellent doorbell, and when no one answered he went back out and bought the cabbie off with his remaining dollars. He then sat outside in the fenced plazza until about 11, when he finally did ring the doorbell and my Eagle-like hearing picked it up.

I guess the good news is that he finally made it into the fold.

The next day was off to the Sepulchre of St. Sebastian, the patron saint of pincushions, where we would get a lesson in really old history.

And, we would stand on the Appian Way. This had meaning to me because the Appian Way was frequently mentioned in my high school Latin classes and this made me really, really, want to urinate on the dusty fucker.

Anyway, train to bus to the sepulchre which when we arrived, in typical Italian fashion, was closed for a two hour lunch. So we headed off to our own. After which we took the catacomb tour. This was a bit claustrophobic, since the tunnels were hacked out of tufa by the smaller men of yore who surely weren't going to waste any energy chopping a bit more stone than needed. The claustrophobia extended to our guide's spiel which kept returning, much like the small tunnels, to a few salient areas. "And thus, cata and comb, catacomb!" he declared triumhantly at least every 25 seconds. The tour was cool, though I was dissapointed that there were no bones to be seen. Over there is a picture of St. Pincushion. He was a Christian, Roman soldier, and in a personal competition with another priest (Polycarp) to see who could be martyred first. Very Islamic, if you think about it. Anyway, Sebastian "won" the contest.

St. Sebastian was condemned to death by Emperor Diocletian. Sebastian was stuck through with arrows and left for dead. The widow of St. Castalus, Irene, who was on burial detail, discovered that Sebastian was still alive. She helped him recover, a kindness he repayed by immediately searching out and accosting Diocletian, who took the opportunity to have Sebastian beaten to death and chucked into a sewer.

One of those happy stories.

Anyway, the catacombs were pretty cool and when we got out we immediately marched to the bus stop and refused to enter the first bus that passed. This was before we figured out we were on a one-way street and it was the only bus gonna be in town. We decided that if we followed the bus's route we would eventually get to some spot where there was two-way traffic and we could catch the bus the other way. A nice theory, but after about 20 minutes of negotiating an increasingly dissapearing shoulder with insane Italian drivers fighting for position immediately to our left, we surrendered and returned to the crypt. Where, about an hour later, a bus did arrive.

If I were being paid by the word for this tripe I'd launch into a long description of all the "official" Italian Government cars that whizzed by all traffic with lights and sirens blaring. Suffice it to say that we thought these were cops, but some web-search indicates almost any petty Italian official (weird, while "petty" and "Italian" are redundand, "Italian" and "official" don't seem like they should go together at all. Yet all three words are in the same phrase. I need another beer.)

Anyway, as we went I started noticing bus signs going the other way and mentioned this to the crew. The B-man opined that they were just going to get us the same bus we were on, just going the other way. Possibly true, thought I, but the bus was boring, so I hopped off and, last minute style, the POSSLQ jumped off with me. We crossed the street and discovered that the B-man was correct about one thing. We were only two stops from the end of the bus line we had just hopped off and if it was the next bus we were going to catch, most likely it would be the actual bus we had just hopped off.

As we sat there, three 631 busses went by us, but the POSSLQ was adamant she would not get on them even though they were going the right direction. Finally I asked if she had her map. She did, and even though it didn't extend out to where we were I could pretty much prove by the bus signs (very nice.. they list all the stops on the line and the stop you are at is indicated in a red box) that this bus would take us to the train line by Termini, from whence we could avail ourselves of almost any cross-city transportation. So 30 minutes later, with the POSSLQ gagging on some imaginary bit of detritus she swore the wind "blew" in her throath, I finally dragged her on to the 631. Lo and behold, it took us to the Metro which, 20 minutes later, deposited us on the Vatican Museum side of the Vatican.

It hurts me to admit, since my sense of in-city direction is usually the envy of the boys and desire of the girls, but I immediately started marching away from our flat and the Vatican. Fortunately the POSSLQ again whipped out her map and re-oriented, we headed to St. Peter's square where we each had a beverage and lolled about admiring the architecture and sculpture. We stayed for a bit and then marched off to the Gelato joint where the POSSLQ added one of the 7 or so lbs she gained in Italy in an orgy of chocolate smears.

After all that, we wandered back and on the way ran into Gabbo and the Parentals. They had not had quite the fun time that we had, but in an effort not to embarass them for their silly failure to follow my lead, I will just sum it up in Gabbo's words, "worst bus-ride ever."

After that, we had dinner and discussed our plans for the day. POSSLQ determined that we would get up early and head up into the dome of St. Peters. She also made certain promises to other flatmates that she would betray in the morning, but as I was lolling in the bedroom with a glass of wine and a book, I was blissfully unaware.

Anyway, the light fingers of sleep caressed my brow and then drove a knitting needle into my prefrontal cortex.

I slept like the baby I am.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Finally.. Back to Rome!

A beloved relative asks me to finish this story up... so, much later I get to within two days of the end....

Today was a day of catching up. The B-man intercepted my mother's plan to have us journey by train, bus, and alpaca-sheep pulled jitney to a place on the coast where we could then mount vaguely trained pigs with unstrapped saddles. After a two-hour porcine perambulation we might hit a beach where it was rumoured we could "see" every kind of sand that made up the Italian coast. Oddly, pictures are forbidden at this site - in fact you are required to wear a mask that obscures all sight, in this way you can't describe the beach or its approaches to others. Apparently this keeps the mystery intact although it makes the experience primarily tactile. You are also required to strip down to your underpants as a protection against theft of sand. After, there is a quite invasive security check to make sure that sand is not escaping in any of the odd body crevices that it seems to do after beach visits.

But moms wanted to go.

B-man and I had a short discussion of light-hearted boy type things: What it costs to have a relative declared insane; the likelihood the tide would take out a woman mysteriously rendered unconscious on the beach; the chance there was a strip-bar anywhere near the Vatican. Instead of any of those options, we decided to listen to our hearts, and we stayed downtown to catch up on some things we hadn't quite done. This began with a trip back to the forum, which I loved just as much as I had the first time. It's a cool place, partly because it may be the perfect visual definition of a ruin - there is enough totally cool shit there to allow a visitor to sit back and indulge in their Roman Senator fantasies....

"I want the one with the sultry eyes! The sassy one with the wiggle in her walk. Centurion, bring me THAT one!" Then of course, at the senator's command, the Centurion approaches the unwilling object of desire who is helpless to refuse the demands of the Senator. She struggles anyway. It is to no avail, as we say when imagining books with Fabio on the cover. The Centurion throws her under one of his beefy arms. The senator smirks with sweaty anticipation and derision.

The senator loves him some those bacon strips, and that pig is headed straight to the Senatorial butcher's chamber, only to return as bacon, chops, and unameable piggish delicacies."

Which probably isn't how you thought that little fantasy was going to end, but that's the great thing about being a Roman Senator. It's your own goddamned fantasy and plebes like the reader haven't a damn thing to say about it. In any case, the ruins are sufficient to allow you to glimpse the past, but they are also ruined enough so that you know this particular game of pigs is entirely over. There's a beauty and wistfulness to this combination that can't be overstated.

We went through the Forum rather quickly, since we had been there before, and we headed on to Palatine Hill. We took a short detour over the Emmanuel Due Thingy so that I could reshoot a picture of the POSSLQ in my favorite pose: Eternal Repose.

I knew Palatine Hill from my years taking Latin, although it had primarily stuck in my dope-addled head because of the Palatine Geese. The Palatine Geese saved Rome, you see. The evil Gauls, taking a break from fighting amongst themselves, asses painted blue and wearing hairdos out of a Mel Gibson movie, had attacked Rome. It had something to do with a booze shortage back in the motherland. The Gauls cut off the food of the noble Roman defenders who, with a l'orange sauce in hand occasionally contemplated the geese who resided in the temple of Juno. Thank God(s) the Romans were superstitious gits who were afraid to offend Juno who, up to now, had been doing a splendid job helping them - Gauls about to overrun and kill them all notwithstanding. One evening a valiant soldier, Marco Manlio, who was no doubt out for an evening slash, heard a noise. He also noticed that the geese were all aflutter. Manlio (who had the butch-est name in all of Rome) ran along the defensive wall and shortly found himself nose to nose with a Gaul, who was followed by a few buddies who had bad thoughts in their hearts. Manlio, living up to his name, tossed the first Gaul back down the wall. He hollered like a child, the geese upped their cackling and the Romans woke up and repulsed the Gallic attack.

Which is why it came as a dissapointment to me to figure out, once we got up on the Palatine Hill, that it was actually the Capitoline Geese and that the Capitoline Hill was an entirely different hill. It lends credence to the argument my mother made during my high school years that I might be smoking too much dope.

Anyway, we bought tickets to the Palatine Hill (and Coliseum and Mostro) and it was gorgeous. The ruins were bigger... less columnar than the Forum.. but vast and in many cases better preserved. The hill it is built on has a large, flat top and there were some pretty awesome vistas. That picture below on the right is a poorly stitched panorama or pics showing one view of the top. The bigger picture is available somewhere like here. The picture below it to the right is just one little bit of the larger picture and I leave it to the sober eye of the reader (if there is one) to determine where it fits in the big picture. The hill also had a lovely view of the Circus Maximus which was named after P.T. Barnum in the last years before the birth of Christ. We wandered around for a couple of hours. I kept looking for this one shot that I knew was out there --- I'd seen it -- a shot of the Coliseum from above and to the right of the large wall. I wandered and wandered but that part of the hill was closed off, even though I could easily see where the photos had been taken from when I stood below the Palatine hill near the base of the Coliseum. That was a bit frustrating, so I had a lovely beer from one of the vendors at the place. Perhaps more than one.

That picture over there to the left is... well, it includes several important historical features. Yeah, I think that's pretty safe to say. ;-)

The POSSLQ and Parentals had taken a different path than I, so I squatted in the dirt until they caught up with me. I think that must be a metaphor for something. Anyway we went in search of the Mostro, since I had already seen the Coliseum and we agreed that if the Coliseum were left for the afternooon the others could see it while I snuck off in search of the strip bar.

The good news, as I shared with kith and kin, was that I knew where the Mostro was. I had spotted it the first time we came over to the Forum/Coliseum/Mostro and I got separated from them. While I had waited I had also reconnoitred. As canny native guide I walked them around the Coliseum and proudly pointed the Mostro out. It was just as popular this day as it had been the first day I spotted it. But B-man was staring at me like a Roman Senator might stare at a bit of bad pork.

"That's the subway station," said the B-man.

I looked. Lo and Behold. It was the subway station. I didn't really know what to say.

"Well, look, it is popular," I tried dispiritedly."

B-man just stared and shook his head in resignation.

Unfortunately, while B-man and I had been passing off this Wildean dialogue, the POSSLQ had wandered off and decided she needed a picture with one of the rent-a-centurions who plague any Roman ruin, looking illy-shaven and sucking down cigarettes.

The next 10 minutes alternated between the POSSLQ wandering in random semi-circular patterns crying for a rent-a-centurion and the rest of us trying to figure out what the hell the "Mostro" was and where we could find it.

Wisdom came before expenditure and someone told us the "Mostro" was just the Forum and, no, our informant had no idea why something that was free to the public was listed on a ticket that cost 11.5 Euros.

POSSLQ, sensing that I had squirreled away just enough money for a hooker and some absinthe, actually found three freaking centurions (each a towering 5 foot 5 - I have no idea how Rome ever won any war that required physical exertion - the were cigarette smoking dwarves, and when I saw their soccer team I also discovered they were world class floppers/divers/surrenderers). So this cost me 5 Euros that I could have spent on delicious, delicious, memory-erasing alcohol.

At least everyone mostly forgot my brilliant guess as to where the "Mostro" was.

In the meantime, perhaps before, I scarpered off to take some kind of cliched picture of the Coliseum.

Can't come back from Rome without a picture of the Coliseum.

We buggered off for lunch, after which mom and I started walking home, whereupon the rain fell in biblical proprortions. We hopped the bus while B-man and POSSLQ had headed off towards to Coliseum, which they thoroughly checked out.

I read the rest of the afternoon away, perhaps interrupted by the odd swig of red wine an smidgeon of crackers and cheese. Staying in Rome can be pretty tough.

After that it was the traditional wine-red dinner and the big sleep.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Meat on the Hoof and Plate

Today was simple but nice. A couple of days ago the POSSLQ and I had accidentally walked home from lunch near the Spanish Steps via the Borghese Gardens. Today was the day we formally went up there. 46 bus to Venezia and then POSSLQ and I walked out while the parents took the 119 bus. We wandered around for about an hour or so, and then decided to go take a look at the zoo.That picture of the lion is only included here because he has a plant growing out of his head and we all thought that looked kind of cool. Also a nice sculpture, I suppose, but there are so many of those in Rome that your eye learns to tune them out after a while.

Interesting zoo, as it is clearly on its way from one kind of zoo to another. Some of the displays were frightening in that old-fashioned "eff the animals" kind of way. The giraffe was on concrete, as were the elephants. The black bear was in one of those old "slice of cliff" concrete layours with a moat, that zoos used to use. He looked like he wished he were dead. This approach to live animals was shown out in particularly odd light when you consider the fact that the statue of baby Noah being launched into the river (above right) was planted with papyrus and other plants native to Egypt. It seemed weird to treat the statuary with more ecological respect than the live animals. But the newer exhibits (particularly the retilarian) were all about treating animals right. And the bear exhibit (which I think was second newest) intentially worked at the distinction between old models and new models. Outside of an outstanding mini-environment was a picture, from 1935, of a bear actually being baited. Then a window into the underwater and land area of the new exhibit. To the right was a picture of the bear exhibit only 7 years ago - same old concrete and cage approach. So they are clearly making progress, and the bears were entirely digging it. It was also about 72 degrees and clear, so they were in exactly their kind of climate.

Possibly the oddest exhibit was in the "old" bird section. With thousands of seagulls flapping around the zoo and park, some genius had gone to the trouble to trap on unfortunate individual and create a "seagull" exhibit. As you'll see, they apparently maimed th poor thing in the process. Noticing all the pigeons in the park I asked a groundskeeper where the pigeon exhibit was, but he just looked at me as if I were completely mad. Our lack of a shared language made this difficult for me to explain, so we let it trickle out before fisticuffs were commenced.

The newest exhibit was the reptile/conservation one. It started off in an unpromising fashion. We were forced to enter a fake commercial airplane and watch a movie with two older and demented Italians dressed up as a flight attendant and captain. They went through a bit of really cruddy shtick that was rendered extremely hard to follow by the subtitles, which moved around the screen fairly randomly. But after that there was a cool exhibit of birds and reptiles and the only thing that made it miss perfection was that POSSLQ and I were not with Baxter when the bird in the aviarium shit on him.

Can't have everything on a vacation.

After the zoo the POSSLQ and I ate something from the Bibite truck while the parents, unfortunately, ate in the zoo cafeteria. The whole concept of a cafeteria next to a zoo concerns me, and the parents said the food was quite awful.

POSSLQ and I sat on the lawn, alternately napping and reading, for a couple of hours, and then we caught the bus home.

Dinner was odd, but outstanding. The usual place was closed, so we wandered up a different street and into a restaurant that only looked provisionally open. The front door was open, but no tables were out and there was no one working at the door. We wandered in and seated ourselves as a guy ran up to us and said "no pizza tonite" and then ran off as abruptly.

He was the owner and the place really only was slightly open. This was the one night a year that he comped the friends and family of all his staff. So the menu was limited, but this restaurant was the real deal. Just outstanding food.. probably the best I've had here. I had some kind of broiled chicken that was Italian and also reminded me of pressed Chinese duck -- but no grease. Bax had pasta vongole that actually had vongole in it and POSSLQ had the best ravioli I've ever tasted, Great service as well. The owner was a middle-aged guy with a bit of stubble, a gold chain and an outstanding attitude. We were one of only two tables that paid, the other folks had kind of snuck in as well.

Just a really nice way to end a half-assed day.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Lost in the Garden of Eating!

Lazy day, but that seems it is all I can be up to. This traveling lifestyle is starting to grind me down and I'm looking forward to getting home and having a bed and board I'm familiar with. And some private time. The flat is very nice and all, but one bathroom and four people in it? Just a bit high on my people meter.

Rain in the morning so we stayed in and did very little. Headed down (walk) to Testraverse along the Tiber. This is a lovely little, they say "poor", part of Rome, but is featured at least one cool church and a nice open market. My mother and POSSLQ chattered dementedly on about anything they noticed or thought of. Baxter and I hung back just far enough to hear the incessant rattle of female voices and spent our trip looking around. After two bridges, my informal way of judging distance along the Tiber, we swun off to the left, down a crooked little road that dropped us off on a traditional cobblestoned road/path which we walked slowly. We arrived at a little gate of some sort (the picture) covered in vines, and once through it we seemed to be in Testraverse proper.

We wandered a bit.. including wandering into some kind of museum (what isn't a restaurant, gelati store, or tenement in Rome is, in fact a museum or a Tabachhi) that immediately shoed us out because 1 pm was closing time. Fine with us, we wandered a bit farther and had a lunch. Like all lunches it was accompanied by a pitcher of wine, and all mellowed out we wandered down to the Church. The Church was rather nice, although it had something I had never seen before. As you walked in, to the left of the altar was a little box.. a box that charged you for turning on enough light to take a picture of the altar and architectural and artistic features behind it.

The Church will always find ways to separate the flock from their fleeces. They need to do a little more work on this clever scheme, I think, as it only cost 30 cents for three minutes. At that rate if the thing is on all freaking day they'll only make 144 Euros per day. And given the Italian schedule there is no way they are open all day.. any day. Take away Mondays (everything is closed on Mondays) open at 9 and close at 3? You've only got 206 Euros per week.

That won't even keep the average Priest in wine, condoms, and other nasty rubber novelties.

It's a good business plan, but a bad pricing point.

Anyway, we wandered outside and the church was surrounded by an outdoor market which was primarily focused on the plaza in front. 90% of the tables sold jewelry, so Baxter and I were a bit bored. We wandered around with the map trying to find the street an English bookstore was located on. As it turned out we passed the street once and had an Italian guy point us off towards somewhere in the vincinity of the South Pole.

Fortunately I had the map.

Unfortunately, while I had the map the POSSLQ was unsupervised by an adult and by the time I had turned around to snap the picture on the left she had unaccountably engaged the services of the Parakeet on her hand to tell her fortune. Not free, of course, so we had to pony up (a weird phrase to use with respect to a parakeet).

The good news? Parakeet picked a slip of paper which claims the POSSLQ will live until she is 98.

The better news?

I will be long in my grave. ;-)

We wandered about a bit more and finally found the bookstore which was operated by a charming Irishman with whom we shared pleasant lies and polite evasions.

We also purchased some of his product, so he was happy.

On the way back I separated from the rest of the crew. I'm still trying to find that perfect shot of St. Peter's. I tried to walk up this big hill that is kind of next to it, but I kept running into the walls of some kind of seminary school. Finally, after finding no chink in the Italianate armor I more or less walked into the hill and found a five story, excavated car park. Biggest one I've ever seen complete with restaurant, bus level, and 50 cent toilette which I gladly availed myself of. I even caught up with the others as they had dawdled over ice-cream.

Oh yeah, that dude is just some guy I saw in the square whose combo of big sweaty head and Italian cool struck me as, well.. cool.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Pope Shits in Woods

Hungover and stupid, I headed off to the Emanuelle Duhe (sp?) mega-building with the whole crew. The bus was absolutely jammed with people and it was the first time I felt like a pickpocket really could have done some work. We were ass to elbow with everyone else in the aisle, and each bus-stop brought a mini-riot as people fought their way off and on the thing. We finally got to the Piazza Venezia and headed up to the museum. There was a bit of confusion there, our lack of language really, as the signs said to "enter at the bookstore" but at the bookstore they wouldn't let us enter because we didn't have tickets. Well, they let Baxter in without a ticket, but don't worrry, they got even with him later. The nice lady walked us around the corner the where the tickets were available and we purchased four of them.

Sort of.

I say sort of because we had plenty of money, but the ticket booth had no change. This seems pretty common here. Every second store I purchase something in more or less demands exact change (until such time as they obviously will not be getting it, and then, with some ill will, out comes the change-box). So we are all digging in our pockets for change (I should not that there are no Euro bills below the 5 Euro denomination, just 2 Euro and 1 Euro coins) and we assemble our 32 Euros. Well, except Yvonne tries to sneak a 2 Won coin from our Korea trip into the payment and the man isn't having any of that. We ended up putting together a collection of Euro-dimes and hitting the number exactly. This got us into a small plaza with about 20 pieces from an enormous statue of some dead dude?

It seemed like a bit of a ripoff until we notice a small and unmarked door which led to a staircase. This staircase led us to all kinds of cool things. I went completely wild with the camera as we hopped from place to place over the first two hours of the day. This is why it was of immoderate concern to me when I noticed, as we were almost ready to leave the museum, that I had neglected to put a CF card in my camera and, despite a mightily calloused shutter-finger had no pictureSo, I had to run back down three floors, across the museum and out, and then wait to get my killer perch on the side of the observation deck from which I shot the following lovely panorma, which as usual has a bigger version here.

The first time we returned from the panorama deck (or whatever it is called) we nearly had an international incident as a guard asked us for out tickets. Baxter couldn't find his and despite the fact he was obviously with us, the woman was not about to budge. Bax and the woman chattered at each other in mutually incomprehensible languages until the ticket mysteriously re-appeared and Bax didn't have to go all World War III on Italy.

That picture over there on the right is of the spooky gravestonatorium which featured music from a bad horror movie, inexplicable renderings of contstellations on the ceiling, and a bunch of headstones. People didn't seem to linger very long in this tunnel and I was able to get pictures with almost no one in the frame even during the busiest time for the museum.

The last thing I had to do with respect to pictures was run POSSLQ across the courtyard to make sure we got a picture of her next to the only foot in Italy larger than hers. When we ate at the Chinese restaurant the other day there was a funny moment. Apparently all female customers get free sandals (I have no idea why) and the nice woman was gobsmacked when she asked POSSLQ what size shoes she had on. "Size 40!?! Size 40!?!" we got our 2nd and 3rd words of English out of her.

As we walked on down the Via Corso I was also gobsmacked (obviously today's Reader's Digest Word of the Day) to see a display in an athletic store window which featured a Golden State Warriors jersey. Obviously only a nation of losers like the Italians can identify with us.

Anyway, as a Warriors fan I was happy to see anything having to do with the Warriors and I shed one brief tear for the season we could have had.

10 years ago.

Also along the way we passed a street musician who just looked too much like an old blues-dude to pass up.

So, to avoid paying him anything for his photo -- the street people here are pretty relentless, I just strapped on the old long lens and moved far, far away.

And screwed an old man out of a lousy buck.

I suck!

The universe, of course, hopped in and punished me and the POSSLQ as, for no reason we could really discern, every bus heading towards our flat was filled and over-filled. And we were way down by the Plaza Venezia where the busses should have been empty. We were puzzled.

We finally caught a bus that sort of went to our flat and managed to cram our way on it. It took forever and once we got up to the bottom of the road that leads to St. Peters we decided to hoof it the rest of the way.

As we walked towards the left side of St. Peters it got more and more crowded. Enormous tours of people headed towards the Vatican and there were large groups of what obviously weren't commercial tours, but were clearly groups of some sort, charismatics, Papists, the odd dog. By the time we got to Bernini's columns (which included some heavy slogging), we were halted by Carabinieri who told us that we would have to go back to where we had got off the bus, and walk from there (through a big old sweaty car-tunnel) to our flat. So we retraced our steps, now fighting against the tide of uncontracepted latins, and finally made it to the flat.

It seems the Pope had decided to shit in the woods.. or whatever else Popes do to attract attention.. and 89 million Catholics were mobbing the Vatican.

As we snuck back our on our roundabout I stuck my camera in the air and snapped this picture of Catholics attacking.

It was enough, as anything is, to drive me into the arms of the Steve McQueen bar, and the POSSLQ and I spent the remainder of the evening reading various books and sipping on beers (me) and cokes (her).Just another day...

Oh yeah.. the picture of the Catholics...

Sunday, June 04, 2006

"Ave!" (Hail)

It began as an ordinary day, POSSLQ and I wandered down to the Vatican just to see what was going on. She had plans to visit a bookstore and I grabbed a beer and wandered around looking at various hokey, "Made in China" geegaws that I might consider taking home to give to friends (No, not you!). It wasn't too crowded, but there were the usual groups of tours. I've put one photo there on the left just because the colored hats are a typical way of identifying who your group is and where it might have gone, should you lose track of it.

Also please note that everyone is in T-shirts and jeans and the sun is shining brightly in the back ground. About 15 minutes after this I was sitting with the POSSLQ under a tarp and wondering where the sun had gone and why it was sprinkling rain?

But that question didn't last long, as the next one came along -- and that one was a doozy. "Why is it absolutely pelting down enormous pieces of hail, in Italy, in June?" People scampered for cover (thank God Bernini added that columnar area), the vendors quickly covered their wares, and the horse-drawn carriages, which have enough trouble on the cobblestones when everything is dry all pulled over to the curb. It was actually a kind of festive event, since it was so rare.

You can see in that picture to the right exactly how furiously the hail was falling. This lasted about 15 minutes, at which point the hail reverted to rain and the hail on the ground melted. But while it came down it was pretty impressive, the lightning and thunder had something to do with that, and when it concluded the POSSLQ and I scooted off to have lunch. Before we did that we snapped a picture of one of the hailstones laying on the enormous, spatulate-fingered ham-fists the POSSLQ has by way of hands. This gives some idea of how big the things were (the hailstones, not the POSSLQ's impossibly large hamhocks with fingers attached).

We had lunch in a Chinese restaurant we had noticed the day before. One of the ubiquitous tour-busses was parked on the sidewalk in front of this place and the entire Red-Chinese Army decanted and entered. Thus it came as a bit of a surprise to us when we got inside the place and it had, perhaps, ten tables total. I have no idea how they fit everyone the day before. Possibly there is a floor downstairs that I missed - several other tourist restaurants here have that kind of layout. The food was good and plentiful and we brought home several dishes for the refrigerator. But I'm still confused as to where they stacked all of those chinamen ("Dude, Chinamen is not the preferred nomenclature.")

The woman who ran the place was trilingual, if you count answering "OK" to any question, statment, or comment we made as good English. I did notice that there were no chopsticks in evidence, which was fine with me. The only other notable thing about the place is that it had, like all small restaurants in Italy that I've been in, a full bar stacked in a corner, and a toilette the size of a postage stamp. I was conveniently able to capture both of these features in one ultra-thrilling photograph which I took while the POSSLQ was face down in her sweet and sour kitten.

For the remainder of the day we sat around and planned out what was left of our trip and in the afternoon I made my way down to the Steve McQueen Pub and Bar (much more of a bar than a pub) where the POSSLQ and I sucked down drinks and talked to the impossibly charming bartender who spoke quite good English and apparently had far more friends in the United States than I could ever hope to have.

I drank too much, and then staggered home to sleep it off before our next big day at the Italian National Museum (or something much like it)

Cobblestoned in Rome

Italy had to develop the best sandals in the world.

Cause walking all day on cobblestones sucks..

Another average day in Rome. Mom ate three times her body-weight in veal, centurions smoked, and I took pictures of the forum, colliseum and anything else I could see around the POSSLQ's cavorting in front of my lens. The main thing was the trip on the mighty 46 bus down to the forum and colliseum.

It was here I began to become aware of my own 'aesthetic' on photography. Not surprisingly, it is like my aesthetic on most everything else - I freaking hate people. They swarm around like flies, talk useless shit, and get in the way of the camera. And the fucking noise? Who can talk all that time?

As we wandered around in the Forum and Colliseum people hopped up on anything available to have their pictures taken. It seems odd to me that you would wander around in some place as ruined and eternal as Rome and then want to insert your own smiling mug in each picture. Anyway, I spent a lot of time sitting in front of potential photographs cursing people who stood in front of them smoking cigarettes or talking on their cell phones. I'd look around trying to judge when the next tour or group of people was going to come, silently urging them to walk slowly. It didn't always work, but on the rare occassions it did, I was quite happy and snapped away.

That picture above is one of those shots from the Forum. Very impressive and very freaking wrecked. As we walked away I took three pictures from the rise and stitched them together. Over on the right is the small version and if you have a lot of time you can look at the big picture here. I didn't have time to Photoshop out the brute on the left who somehow snuck into the photo.

Then it was on to the Coliseum which was, for me, sort of a one-trick pony. It is big, and there is a lot of stone, but once you've wandered in and taken one look you've more or less seen it all. The rest of my party disagrees with my opinion on this, but I think they are probably all morons. It awaits a medical doctor to make that determination.

Then there is what we here in Europa refer to as the "young calf" problem. See, when my mother is at home she is variously bounded and circumscribed by certain political expectations. In my family we call these political expectations, "Jennifer." That's my sister and she is a bit of a structuralist when it comes to what should and what should not be done. And one thing that certainly shouldn't be done, in this complex calculus of care, is the torture of animals. This is a thought I agree with, though I am in no way as "down the line" as my sister is.

Now, here in Italia, my mother seems to have suddenly realized that Jen isn't around and that she, mom, for one brilliant moment, can eat anything she wants. And that is veal. Mom now orders veal at every meal. She has bits of ground veal on her morning Mueslix. Chunks of veal float in her evening wine and last night as an aperitif she asked for a "Scotch 'n Veal" milkshake with a float of pate fois gras.

I'm a bit concerned, but the wine makes it better.

So, anyway, we wandered on to the Colliseum and I took some pictures.

As I always do. And they contain as few human beings as I can possible (non)stuff into a frame.

Like that lovely picture over there to the right. Thank God some defender of decency and all that is proper managed to fence off some of the inside of the thing so that I could have a picture.

Anyway, I was already through the Coliseum (and, yeah, I know I'm probably spelling that differently each time I come upon it) and sitting on a patch of dirt outside it when the POSSLQ caught up with me. We had been together, and with my parents, in the Forum, but had somehow missed connecting at the arches outside it. OK with me, of course, as I had silence to walk through the Colliseum and as a bonus a lovely beer and Panini lunch on the dirt.

The Italian Airforce was apparently in full retreat from something or the other, as they flew over the Colliseum with smoke (symbolic of the the shoot-down that battle would certainly bring them?) pouring from their hindquarters.

POSSLQ wanted to run quickly through the the Coliseum so I sat outside and scouted about for a Porta-Potty ("Mission Accomplished" as our Nero-like leader might say) and had a delicious beer.

While I was hanging about I noticed a rather old and bilious "centurion" hanging about and trying to get tourists to pay 2 Euros for pictures. This is pretty standard, but this guy was, well.. not what you'd expect from a centurion.

What he was doing, was what all centurions do on their time off (when not on the cell phone) - he was burning a Marlboro.

Then there's this picture of the floor of the Coliseum that I just feel I need to throw in for no discernable reason at all.

Just the odd demands of my web-mind...

Friday, June 02, 2006

Vatican Museum

Today the Vatican, tomorrow the world. We went to the Vatican Mueum. It's a very nice place but quite dead.. like much of Rome it is obsessed with looking back. And I'm not sure that the restoration of artwork did the place any favors. You look at those pieces of art and you marvel at how.. well.. how pastel-to-cartoony they are. And that may have worked in the day when workers (hell, nobles) came in on limping pack-horses to look at the marvels that God had wrought in architecture and art, but these days the game of the church is a bit different and those austere and serious colors of the pre-restoration Vatican might be the missed ticket. There is a certain lack of gravitas in the light colors.

I mean, what do we like? Naves, wood, statues, and stained glass.. all dark and restrained. Warner Brothers can do the cartoons.. they have the artists.. It maybe shouldn't be so freaking bright. With that said, there is one room in which the thing really works. The Vatican Map Room has, on the walls, a series of well, maps... but on the ceiling? Holy crap. A pastiche of great paintings from any brilliant Italian who could find a paintbrush, a sponsor, and otherworldy talent. It is over there to the right and photographs really don't do it justice because the room is dark and the scale is vast. This was definitely worth the price of admission by itself.

Oh yeah , that picture up above is of the plaza in the midst of the museum and it is pretty cool. You will note that the church has placed yet another "eye of Sauron" in the middle of the thing. Just so you know he's looking. That's why. The dome peeking through in the background is St. Peters.

The Sistine Chapel is beyond photography. Those crazy closeups you see of God giving man (Adam?) the hand-job heard round the universe cannot do credit to the crazy-quilt almost comic-book sensibility of the place. And that makes sense, take a rube out of the fields and what can you expect him to understand? Nice little segmented stories in boxes... like comic books or the Sistine Chapel.

Oh well, there were cool things... below is one of the modern art piece.. Jesus flips us off? Anyway, the "modern" are didn't include the kind of avant-garde crap that one would find in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. More like Van Gogh and Salvador Dali which, I think, gives you some idea of what the Catholic Church thinks is "modern."

As we wandered from window to window we notice a tennis court on the corner right above where the line for museum entry bends to turn back to St. Pietro Plaza. I wonder if anyone plays in the Vatican? Certainly many who work there are old, but many are also fit. And though new blood may be scarcer in these secular times, there will always be a steady stream of repressed gays, obsessives and the truly religious to refresh the Vatican. It's the big time baby. Just as there may not be good actors in local rep and there are great ones on Broadway? Same with the Vatican. On the pines, big audiences, the biggest white-light ever. I asked a guard who, in fractrued English, told me that the new Pope (the "Rat" to Vatican insiders) does play and is quite fierce on the court. He doesn't like to lose and isn't above the tricks that come with age.

The guard says the Rat has a mean dropshot, and woe (and perhaps eternal damnation) to the young collar who tries to play the game straight. The Vatican hasn't played the game straight since... well, they've never played the game straight...

Apparently a succesful opponent plays just well enough to lose and thus doesn't jepoardize their chances at advancement. A well-timed hamstring injury has been key, more than once, to the career well being of a young member of the staff and if there are any service aces on this court, they are served by the Pope.

Why the guard chose to share all this with me is unclear, but it did deepen my experience in the Museum. On the way out we passed through what had been the Vatican Library. It had been gutted to host various reliquaries and once again the POSSLQ's tiny hands balled into impotent fists of rage.

On the way out we had a servicable and cheap meal in the Vatican cafeteria. If I forgot to say grace, I'm sorry.

Eh... here's two more things from the vaticanization and I'm out..

This first pic is the picture of Laocoon attempting to save his kiddies from the evil sea-serpent. Interesting stories float around this piece, but rather than tell those I will give a brief history.

In 1506 this was added to the Vatican collection after it was discovered on the Esquiline Hill before the eyes of Giuliano da Sangallo and Michelangelo Buonarotti (Note: now there is a theory that Michelangelo himself might have sculpted the thing and "planted" it). The statue, which was probably originally commissioned for the home of a wealthy Roman, was unearthed in 1506 near the site of the Golden House of the Emperor Nero (who reigned from 54 to 68 AD), and it is possible that the statue belonged to Nero himself. It was acquired by Pope Julius II, an enthusiastic classicist, soon after its discovery and was placed in the Belvedere Garden at the Vatican, now part of the Vatican Museum.

The discovery of the Laocoon statue made a great impression on Italian sculptors and significantly influenced the course of the Italian Renaissance. The sculptor Michelangelo is known to have been particularly impressed by the massive scale of the work and its sensuous Hellenistic aesthetic of the statue, particularly its depiction of the male figures. Which is all another way of saying that Michelangelo was a big old gay dude.

As we cruised out of the museum we heard a guide who spoke English telling his charges that this painting on the left was a representation of how Michaelangelo wanted the St. Peters to look.

But the dome was really all he got accomplished in his life. Bernini put in the columns, but where did the obelisk come from?

Saint Peter's took two centuries to complete which was not related to actual construction time. Instead it was sort of like how planning goes (or doesn't) at community colleges. New Popes would come in with only few years left of their life to do anything. Each new pope picked a new architect, and that architect made unnecessary changes to Bramante’s original plan to make it his own, and by the time all of this was done, construction would start and the pope or the architect’s would die.

Repeat this "planning" cycle as (un)necessary.

Thursday, June 01, 2006


Today began with much screwing around, to use a technical travel term. The POSSLQ and I had planned to visit the Vatican Museum, but we didn't really get going til about 11 and then learned that the museum closed at 2:45. Since we hadn't even begun walking over to the place, the plan was killed. Turned out this was probably a good thing, because when we did get to the museum the next day (at opening time) we left at about 12:30 and the line to the museum snaked all the way around the Vatican and nearly back to St. Pietro Plaza.

So, couple-day destroyed, we went with the parents and quickly despatched three sites you "must see" in Rome, just in case someone back home asks you about them. These are the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, and the Pantheon.

I'd say the Pantheon was the coolest of these spots; the POSSLQ would disagree - she was angered that it had been catholocized. No amount of arguing that if it hadn't been catholocized it would have been knocked down as a quarry could un-knot her tiny little fists of balled impotent rage. The Pantheon was originally built (in 27 BC-25 BC) as a temple to the seven deities of the seven planets in the state religion of Ancient Rome. The original was destroyed in a fire in AD 80, and the current building dates from about 125, during the reign of the Emperor Hadrian,but it has been a Christian church since the 7th century. It is the best-preserved of all Roman buildings and the oldest important building in the world with its original roof intact. Although the identity of the Pantheon's architect is uncertain, it is traditionally assigned to Apollodorus of Damascus.

The Pantheon is not well-served by the fact that Rome has built right up to it on three sides. If you approach it from the rear, as we did, it looks like a tatty heap of bricks infested with a tattier collection of pigeons. Not to mention the tatty Italians, who swarm about the place like they live here. The front, on the other hand, is pretty cool, and the inside is cool in a physical sense, so it is a nice break from the Italian sun.

As you turn around and look the other way there is a traditional apartment building with stores below, and a lovely swath of bouganvillia (sp?) flowers cascading down it. There is also the unavoidable obelisk, right in the middle of things.

We moved on to the Trevi Fountain, 85 feet high and 65 feet wide. Very pretty, but swarming with people. And I just hate people, so that didn't work at all for me.

I was impressed by the gladiator dude over there to the left. Who knew that Gladiators smoked delicious Marlboro cigarettes.

We watched idiots cavort in front of the water and then walked down this exceedingly lovely alley -- lovely because it leads away from the Trevi Fountains. We wandered about for a bit, both because we have limited map reading skills and because Bax was trying to figure out why he could no longer use his Wells Fargo card. Apparently Wells Fargo has decided that it has been stolen and has cancelled its use. He gets a message saying that he must contact his local branch, which is certainly not in Rome. This is a slightly worrisome thing for me, since my card is also a Wells Fargo one and if the swine were to hold me up I'd have to have the parents..... pay...... wait a second... have the parents pay....... for everything!

Come ON Wells Fargo!

Anyway, we wandered around looking at various things and as we got closer and closer to the Spanish steps the shops got tonier and tonier and also more expensive. Nothing I would buy in any circumstance, but just like around the Vatican it is funny to watch tourist money inflate prices.

The Spanish Steps (Scalinata di Piazza di Spagna) is 138 stairs ramping a steep slope between the Piazza di Spagna at the base and Piazza Trinità dei Monti. The Spanish Steps were designed by Francesco De Sanctis after generations of argument over how the steep slope to the church on a shoulder of the Pincio should be urbanized.

Unfortunately, when we were there the church at the top was under some kind of reconstruction and its facade was covered in scaffolding and canvas. This made the steps rather unnatractive, except for the young couple which was canoodling at the edges of the thing.

The steps are supposedly more colorful at other times of the year and they also have some sort of historical provenance among hippies, but today they just looked like steps.

POSSLQ and I ran up the steps, looked down them, ran down them, and then it was off to a rather fine lunch.

After lunch we decided to walk back to our flat, a thing that took just about 3 hours to do and included a fortuitious and completely accidental trip up a hill to the Borghese gardens (once a vineyard, now the second largest garden in Rome). These are on top of a hill and we had a lovely view of Rome looking towards the Vatican. The gardens are studded with busts of famous and not so famous Romans and are nicely shaded in addition. A nice place to have a picnic, really.

After a walking tour we descended to the city floor and soldiered back to Aurelia.

POSSLQ and I ended up having a lovely pizza dinner by the flat and wandering out to take pictures of St. Peters at night, one of which you see below you can click here for a big version)