Swimming in Venice? Bad idea!
Topless in Venice? Not a good idea either!

Partly it's a question of cultural differences...

(Remember the old story about how it's impolite in some countries to show the bottoms of your shoes?)

In part, it's considered a matter of respect. In part, it's a health issue. And last, but certainly not least, in part it's the overreaction of a city which is absolutely shellshocked by tourism:
(In fact, according to the Venetian newspaper Il Gazzettino on July 28th, for one Moldavian, a quick swim in a canal even got him kicked out of the country! Turns out that he was an illegal immigrant discovered precisely when the cops came to pull out the illegal swimmer!!)
I used to think that at every entrance to the city, there should be a warning sign posted...
like my imaginary one at right, created at sparesomechange.com, or my favorite actual Italian road (or end-of-the-road, as the case may be) sign below!
For your own good
(and ours),
DO NOT do the following!

...Swim in canals.
...Wade in canals.
...Drink canals.
...Otherwise get too close to canals.
...Sit down on bridges.
...Sit down on the ground.
...Lay down on the ground.
...Otherwise get too close to the ground.

...Take off your shirt.
...Take off your shoes.
...Wear a bathing suit.

And, never, ever, under any circumstances,
put your feet up on anything!!
These are the big no-nos that will get you an intensely negative reaction from the locals more often than not, especially the hotter or the higher in tourist season it gets, when everybody's tempers also tend to run a bit high! (Believe me, even if Venetians tend to be reserved, your participation will be appreciated!!)
There are all kinds of additional little tricks to blend in more, but--to tell the truth--you'll never quite blend in thoroughly and completely.
Venetians are experts at guessing foreigners at first glance!
(Oh well... it's the thought that counts!!)

From "The Week" Magazine

It was...

"A Good Week For…
Political jujitsu, after Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi commissioned a 250-page book entitled Berlusconi I Hate You, an anthology of insults by his political enemies, to show how mean they’ve been. Among the catalogued insults: 'Lunatic,’' 'Meglomaniac,' 'Vulgar,' and 'Clown.'

A Bad Week For…
Thinking things through, when Stephen Knight, 17, of Texas called police to report that marijuana had been stolen from his apartment. The responding officers took down Knight’s statement, then arrested him for possession of all the drugs that hadn’t been stolen from his apartment, including an Ecstasy tablet and several marijuana plants under heat lamps."

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Maybe enough to change one's mind about ironing?

Ironing Board Covers by Antichita' of Udine, Italy

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New England News: Lobster Has The Blues

Irresistible Headlines - Lobster Has The Blues


A Venetian "Tail" of Cat & Dog:
The "veci paroni" of Via Garibaldi

A kind reader requested more photos of cats from Venice, and I'm more than happy to oblige with the picture of a very particular cat.

We've met him before... he's Arturo, from "
Still Life in Via Garibaldi." Arturo is the steady fixture at "Chips & Colors" (our local combination copyshop, internet point, and vintage clothing store) and the unofficial meeter and greeter for Via Garibaldi. Well, actually... instead, he's really just sort of "met and greeted" by absolutely everyone, since Arturo doesn't believe in expending wasteful energy. Nevertheless, people adore his constant zen-like tranquility and, though he rarely even bats an eye at them, dogs and sparrows fear him and give him a wide berth.

Arturo received his on-the-job training from the late, great Leo. While Leo's gone to his greater reward, his memory still lives on at the "Osteria Garanghelo," just a couple of doors down toward the waterfront on Via Garibaldi, where you can see him even today. There is a painting of the typical local color of the neighborhood here, and (as you can see in the image on the right, for which I deeply thank "Chips & Colors") Leo is immortalized, forever captured in what was his very favorite pose, that of marking his territory... which, though during his lifetime was only just the entire lower half of the via, in perpetual memory in the painting, turns out to be the whole world.

Leo was a difficult dog to try to label. To look at him, he was clearly a terrier. But he was as much a companion animal as a toy, and had all the seriousness and focus of a working dog. And a difficult job he had too! With all the dogs that are allowed to room freely around here, he had to keep every single corner, benchpost, signboard, planter, etc. freshly peed on. This was clearly a mission, requiring tremendous amounts of personal commitment (not to mention water!) Sure, rivals would try to outdo him, but they'd soon hightail it out of there when he'd bark his tenaciously fierce warning (which carried even through stone walls!) and run right over to repair the damage to his ongoing masterpieces.

In addition, you could tell that Leo felt like he had a world of responsibility on his little doggy shoulders. He was always just three steps behind Pietro, his (and the shop's) owner... and he clearly believed that it was his calling to take care that his beloved human never got lost or fell into a canal or anything. Indeed, Leo was a force of nature for most of his seventeen long years, never showing his age until the very last few days of his life, which sadly ended only just last year.

For the last five years of his existence, though, Leo's best friend, next to Pietro, was Arturo. I'm not entirely sure where Arturo came from (I'll have to ask Pietro!), but one day there appeared this siamese-looking cat blithefully resting at the door of the shop that Leo clearly considered his den. Since he was the most territorial dog I'd ever seen, I thought that this was going to end very badly...

Instead, as the days passed, Arturo got closer and closer to Leo, eventually sleeping right on top of him! And they were obviously best buddies. Any dog who wanted to hassle Arturo had to go through Leo first, and no dog wanted to do that (and it's a lesson that most of them still remember well!) Then, every single evening when the shop closed, you used to see the most improbable little procession right up Via Garibaldi and winding through the narrow alleys... first Pietro, followed inevitably by Leo, who was inevitably followed by Arturo. You could count on it, like summer follows spring.

Today, Arturo doesn't travel the long marches through the alleys like he used to with Leo and Pietro. He pretty much just sticks close to the shop all the time now, since surely he knows that Pietro has a tenacious little guardian angel. Still, he seems to feel that has some big footsteps to follow in, as the latest "lord of Via Garibaldi."

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Fun Flick: Italy & Europe

Another oldie but very goodie!

Funny little animation by an Italian on the cultural differences between Italy and Europe...

(May take a little while to load, but it's worth it! And don't forget to turn on your sound!!)

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Today's selection from the "Easily Amused" dept.

Boing Boing: 10,000 superballs rolling down a San Francisco hill-street


Movie Madness Schedule Generator

What do you get when you cross movie buffs with cheapskates?
Um, probably a lot of my friends! :-)

Check out your very own Movie Madness Schedule Generator!

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I am so very, very sorry that I didn't get to see this live & in person... (I cannot believe this was even possibly said seriously, and now I'll never know!)

Part of the problem [of the proliferation of Muslim extremists] is that Islam doesn't have a Pope. So there isn't one guy who can say, `This isn't kosher.'
--Newsweek columnist Fareed Zakaria,
"The Daily Show," July 20

Today's Window on Venice

Ah, yet more evidence that some Venetians are truly at home in their boats...

(Yes, that is a dining room chair!)


"Brooklyn gum's here - from Italy"

Ironically, here's another thing that, in Italian, is "americana": chewing gum!

Brooklyn gum's here... from Italy! (from New York Daily News)

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Humor Style Quiz

From Dappled Things: The 3 Variable Funny Test

Your humor style results: the Wit

(60% dark, 34% spontaneous, 22% vulgar)

your humor style:

You like things edgy, subtle, and smart. I guess that means you're probably an intellectual, but don't take that to mean you're pretentious. You realize 'dumb' can be witty--after all isn't that the Simpsons' philosophy?--but rudeness for its own sake, 'gross-out' humor and most other things found in a fraternity leave you totally flat.

I guess you just have a more cerebral approach than most. You have the perfect mindset for a joke writer or staff writer. Your sense of humor takes the most effort to appreciate, but it's also the best, in my opinion.

PEOPLE LIKE YOU: Jon Stewart - Woody Allen - Ricky Gervais

The 3 Variable Funny Test written by jason_bateman on Ok Cupid

Hmm... I wonder if "60% dark, 34% spontaneous, 22% vulgar" also describes my blog. What about you??

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Blogging... it's not always pretty!

Ah, vanity, thy name is blogger...

A search for "Michelle's Blog" comes up with 26,400 hits and, at first glance, they all seem to have different URLs! Wow... how's that for driving home insignificance?!

Ow! The truth hurts!! From The Presurfer:

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Whatever you do, don't break into song...
you'll break the law!

Believe it or not...

Un-Happy Birthday!

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Just for my sis!



Venetian Cat Box

I pass this house near the Arsenale nearly every day, and nearly every day there is this cat who's commandeered a flower box... I've tried to take several pictures, but--not surprisingly--he usually turns out just looking like a big furry blob!

That is, until today...

I think he must make a point of waking up once a month, whether he needs to or not!
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More Official Heather B-Day News!

Your Birthdate: July 28

Your birth on the 28th day of the month (1 energy) adds a tone of independence and extra energy to your Life Path.

The number 1 energy suggest more executive ability and leadership qualities than you path may have indicated.

A birthday on the 28th of any month gives greater will power and self-confidence, and very often a rather original approach.

Unlike much of the other 1 energy, this birthday is one that endow with the ability to start a job and continue on until it is finished.

You may prefer to use the broad brush, but you can handle details as well.

You are sensitive, but your feeling stay somewhat repressed.

You have a compelling manner that can be dominating in many situations.


A Collection of Italian Word Oddities and Trivia

A Collection of Italian Word Oddities and Trivia!

Not to mention that one of my favorite Italian words, "zuzzurullone" (pronounced "zoot-zoo-rool-lonay") is the very last word in the whole Italian dictionary, and means (and I quote) "A youth or adult who, regardless of his physical age, suggests an infantile or carefree levity in his behavior..."

To paraphrase Pogo, I've met the "zuzzurulloni" and they is us! :-)


The Infamous Exploding Whale

This is an oldie but a goodie! What has it to do with Italy, you might ask? Admittedly, not much... unless you count the time that I kept five complete strangers in a sleeping compartment awake on an overnight train trip to Naples with my punchy, involuntary giggling at this story over a decade ago!

"The Infamous Exploding Whale" by Dave Barry

But that's just the beginning! In this marvelous era of internet, the original 1970s news report has been made available for your viewing pleasure!

What could be funnier?! Try the letters to the exploding whale!

Last, but certainly not least, can't get enough of Dave Barry? Try AutoDave! The automated Dave Barry column generator!


Venice News: Asleep on the Italian Job

According to today's "Leggo" newspaper (translation mine):
The thief who broke into the "San Fantin" restaurant near San Marco the other night must have been really tired, because he fell asleep. The owner found the man, around 40 years of age, sleeping inside the locale when he arrived in the afternoon. Waking up, the man bolted, mumbling something in Venetian dialect, and fled before the owner could figure out what happened. Only later did he realize in fact that 600 euros had disappeared from the till. The police have searched for the sleepy burglar without success.


Teacher auctions confiscated collection

Ah, a real slice of americana!

(from grow-a-brain)

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"Yankee or Dixie?" Quiz

"64% (Dixie). A definitive Southern score!"

(Still, neither fish nor fowl, I'd say!)
What about you??

"Yankee or Dixie" Quiz

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Talk about "Floating Mountains"!

Seems that I posted about the "
Floating Mountains" of Venice too soon!

Take a look at the Carnival Liberty... Built by the local Fincantieri ship builders in nearby Marghera, it's here in the city to celebrate its christening and debut.

This is not a trick photo. The cruise ship is actually that huge! You can see exactly how big when you see it smack-dab next to the buildings of the city!!

(This leviathan weighs in at 110,000 metric tons, is 72 meters tall, 43 meters wide, and boasts nearly 1500 cabins!)

Somehow, though, I don't think this is quite what Petrarch had in mind! And, as a matter of fact, his modern Venetian counterparts are even less thrilled about its visit than he was about ships in his day.

The Liberty blots out the sky for the inhabitants of the waterfront (as you can see in the photo below) not to mention any summer sea breeze and television reception!

Top that off with the fact that we don't live on the waterfront, but we can still hear the ship's generators throughout the entire neighborhood (and even within our house with all the windows closed!) and you'll know why the locals have been driven to distraction!


Who's Making Movies We'll Want To Watch in 50 Years?

MSNBC - Is Anybody Making Movies We'll Actually Watch In 50 Years?

(Good question!)


"Fills a much needed gap..."

And more fantastic "Self-Annihilating Sentences from Saul Gorn's Compendium of Rarely Used Cliches"!

(from grow-a-brain)


Renaissance Virtual Reality

Everybody knows that they discovered artistic perspective, or the art of making flat images look three-dimensional, back during the Renaissance. But what folks may not know is, no sooner had they discovered perspective, that then they started messing with it (and people's heads!)

A fun way to do this was "
anamorphosis." Probably the most famous example of this is in a painting by Hans Holbein called "The Ambassadors." There, what seems like a misshapen grey blob at the bottom suddenly forms a perfectly 3-d image when looked at from the side, that of a human skull!

What's more, according to

anamorphosis is closely related to an artistic technique called trompe l'oeil (French for "deceiving the eye", pronounced "tromp loy"). Both use perspective constructions to create a "trick" image, but the difference lies in the nature of the trick. For an anamorphosis, the viewer is presented with something that does not make sense when viewed conventionally, and so he or she must seek out the unconventional viewpoint from which the trick is resolved. For trompe l'oeil, the viewer, standing in one particular (and usually conventional) place, is tricked into seeing an invented image as if it were reality.

Venice is full of these! Just to name a couple of examples, there are the ceilings of the churches of Sant' Alvise in the sestiere of Cannaregio and San Pantalon in the sestiere of Santa Croce (even if these photos aren't taken from the correct angle for the illusion to work!), not to mention ceiling paintings throughout the Ducal Palace by Veronese, the most splendid of which may be the magnificent "Apotheosis of Venice" in the chamber of the Major Council!

But playing with anamorphosis didn't end with the Renaissance! Julian Beever is a contemporary street artist whose amazing work is what got me thinking about all this in the first place... Don't miss it!!

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Technical Notes re: my RSS feed

I beg your patience for a rare, short, off-topic technical note...

I'm in the process of changing my old
RSS (or "syndication" feed) over to Feedburner. I will eventually turn off the old one, so anybody who's reading this over "My Yahoo" or similar "news aggregator" services, please point your link to http://feeds.feedburner.com/michellesmentalclutter!
(All my RSS links now point there.)

If this doesn't make any sense, but you still use "My Yahoo" or a similar service to keep track of this blog, the easiest thing to do is to delete the old address from your "content" and then re-add it by clicking on the "Add to My Yahoo" link at the bottom of my blog page or else by cutting and pasting the link above into your "add content" page.

If none of this makes any sense whatsoever, and you keep track of this blog by directly loading
then feel free to ignore this post! :-)


Making Over Mona Lisa

Ever think that Mona Lisa looks just a little too smug?

Here's your chance to fix that!

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A book writes home...

Over a year ago in Venice, I released a book into the wild. It was my solution for what to do with my "brain candy" novels after I finished reading 'em...

Poor things! No used bookstore in Venice would take them (What can I say? I have eclectic tastes...) and I had received a formal protest from my spouse about continuing to schlep tons of paper back and forth across the Atlantic. But what could I do? I couldn't just throw them away! *shudder*

BookCrossing turned out to be the perfect solution!!

What is "BookCrossing," you may ask? According to the 2004 edition of the
Concise Oxford English Dictionary, bookcrossing is "the practice of leaving a book in a public place to be picked up and read by others, who then do likewise."

And it's a completely free service! As their FAQs say, "I'm looking at your site here, and I can't believe what I'm reading. Do you actually want me to give away my books?" To which they reply, "Ummm, yes...
Trust us on this one. Registering your books with BookCrossing.com, then giving them to a friend, a charity, or otherwise releasing them "into the wild" and following their progress and travels, is infinitely more fulfilling than the small satisfaction you'll get by looking at your books in your bookcase every day. As Austin Powers would say, "It's karma, baybee!"
How does it work? Once you finish reading a book, you can sign onto the BookCrossing website and "register" it. The site will then give you a code number to write in or on the book, along with instructions for future readers. You then "release" it in a public place* to be discovered and hopefully adopted and read by some well-meaning passerby, who ideally would also log into the site and report where they'd found the book and where they planned to release it next. And so on...

When I "release" books in Venice, I actually print up bilingual labels in
English and Italian with these instructions... But BookCrossing isn't completely alien to Italians. There are over 13,000 "BookCrossers" in Italy, and they even have their own website!

But you don't have to wait until you just find one of these treasures lying about! You can
go hunting for BookCrossing releases! I get email alerts whenever a book has been released in one of my hometowns, and you can also check in periodically to the website to see what's new. Venetian releases, for example, can be tracked here.

How many released books "check in"? According to the website, only about 20-25%. But don't give up hope! Some have actually gone years before "reappearing." Case in point, The Bone Pedlar, an historical mystery I released over a year ago in Venice. It just turned up in a Salvation Army in Connecticut, by a person who's vowed to read it and then "release" it back into the wild herself. Via con Dios, librito!

*Needless to say, in this day and age, we should be prudent about simply leaving things around unattended (even books!)

Please "release" responsibly! :-)

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Red Penguins in Venice?

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UPDATED: Too important to be taken seriously...

Life may be too important to be taken seriously, but here are a couple of folks who must think the same thing about religion... :-) Enjoy!

The Brick Testament: Bible stories lovingly depicted with legos

Cool Tools for Catholics: Bible Translated Into Klingon (!)

UPDATED - July 24:
Bible Candy (from grow-a-brain):
The Good News may be sweet, but at least it doesn't rot your teeth!


"Dining in the Dark"

"A number of restaurants throughout the world now feature dining in complete darkness. Guided only by their senses, and a server who may even be blind or partially sighted him- or herself, diners not only have to figure out what they're eating, but how get it into their mouths..." [continued]



"Floating Mountains" in Venice

The common view from the waterfront of a cruise ship making the laborious turn from the Giudecca Canal out into the Venetian lagoon always gives the residents of Via Garibaldi a moment's pause, not least because it looks like it's going to come right up the street, but also since these enormous, hulking behemoths absolutely dwarf most buildings of the city!

Reminded me of a fun post I saw on Veniceblog, 9 July 2004:

A world-famous author was staying in Venice on the Riva degli Schiavoni one Spring. In the middle of writing a letter, he was annoyed by the departure of a huge ship moored in the Bacino, literally right outside his door. He likened it to a "floating mountain", and hated how it seemed to dwarf the house he was living in.

The writer was Petrarch. The date was April, 1363.

Ah, the more things change, the more things stay the same!


UPDATED: Color Perception - "World's Most Amazing Optical Effect"!

Well, admittedly, either I'm easily amused, easily fooled... or this is honestly really cool!

UPDATE (Aug. 1): More illusions here!

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More Italian Food News (plus yet more Italian commercials that wouldn't fly in the states!)

''Pizza Pact'' for cash-strapped Italians (from zoomata):

"What could possibly ruin the love affair between Italians and pizza? Money. The faltering Italian economy -- more or less stagnant since 2002 -- and relentless price hikes with the arrival of the euro have made many in the Bel Paese forgo eating out."

For those (like us) who can no longer really afford to go out to eat...

Last, but certainly not least, more Italian commercials that wouldn't fly in the States! Oooh, I didn't have to wait long for more, and I spotted two on TV in one night... Enjoy!

(Commercials and advertisements are great for learning about different cultures, since it's the P.R. company's goal to strike a viewer's sensibilities as quickly as possible!)

  • This company makes canned tomatoes. Their latest ad campaign explains why in Italy more and more thirty-somethings are choosing to continue to live at home with their parents... According to the commercials, it's not actually the fault of the high rate of unemployment and/or the high cost of living. Instead, it's because Mamma makes such a good spaghetti sauce, who'd want to leave?!
  • Um, I used to drink this mineral water...
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More quick quizzes from Blogthings

Your Hidden Talent
You have the natural talent of rocking the boat, thwarting the system.
And while this may not seem big, it can be.
It's people like you who serve as the catalysts to major cultural changes.
You're just a bit behind the scenes, so no one really notices.


A.Word.A.Day -- rialto

A.Word.A.Day -- rialto

But we already knew this, did we not? :-)

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Throwing stones at glass bridges...

Venetians are notoriously suspicious of change, and doubly so of anything that's suppose to improve their lives here in the city. Venice is gorgeous, but it's absolutely not an easy city to live in full time, and Venetians have heard such promises before. That doesn't mean that they can't be pleasantly surprised... It just means that they take a lot of convincing, and they tend to find talk really cheap.

Case in point,
the Glass Bridge (from "Viator's odd Chronicles of Venice") over the Grand Canal.

For a good chunk of Venetian history, there wasn't any bridge over the Canal Grande at all. Then, during the Middle Ages, they constructed a wooden one at the commercial center of town (as you can see in Carpaccio's famous painting The Miracle of the True Cross at the Rialto) and when that fell down, they eventually built a stone one (which is the famous Rialto bridge that you can see today, above left).

And that was the only bridge across the Grand Canal from the sixteenth until the nineteenth century, when two more would be built (one at the train station, and another at the Accademia museum).

That is, until today... They are now building a fourth bridge across the Grand Canal, to link the train station on one side with the bus depot on the other. Like you can see
here, most of the Venetians I've talked to seem very skeptical that this bridge will turn out to be anything other than an enormous failure and a tremendous waste of money.

But, like I said, that's nothing new... They're always so optimistic! :-)

Only time will tell who's right... (And Venetians have always typically believed that time will inevitably be on their side eventually!)


Dialects in Italy: A "rosa" by any other name is a "rusa" or a "rodze"...

There are over 6,900 languages & dialects in the world, and in Italy they speak 33 of them! (From the Italian newspaper, La Repubblica)

We're not talking, say, the Southern-style American English which is linguistically pretty much the same language with just some different vocabulary and a twang.

Instead, the Ethnologue project by SIL International recognizes that true dialects operate practically like different languages. (Even still, the U.S. could boast at one time over 230 languages and dialects, but 73 of those are now extinct and nearly 70 are "nearly extinct"!)

Dialects in Italy slowly mutate every few miles or so, so the farther Italians live from one another, the less likely they'll be able to understand each other's dialect. You can see the major dialectical groupings and what I mean here.

Some dialects are more important to people in some regions than in others. For example, Venetians speak dialect a lot, and I hate to say that some have rather the bad habit of switching to dialect and talking about other people right in front of them, since they count on most folks not understanding...

(BTW, FYI: the world record for the most native dialects and/or languages in a single country is apparently held by Papua Nuova Guinea... with 820!!)

For more info in Italian on dialects, see Dialettando.com.

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Love Google Earth? Try Google Moon!

Google Moon - Lunar Landing Sites

"In honor of the first manned Moon landing, which took place on July 20, 1969, we've added some NASA imagery to the Google Maps interface to help you pay your own visit to our celestial neighbor. Happy lunar surfing."

There's no "driving directions" though! :-)

P.S. The high-resolution extreme-close-up view is particularly impressive!

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News Flash: Italians love Italian food
(and so does everybody else!)

"The trouble with eating Italian food
is that five or six days later
you're hungry again."
- George Miller

From Clark Howards' "Travel e-Scapes" - 4/14/05

"A just-released poll among six European nations finds that the proudest of their national food are the Italians. Nearly 90 percent prefer an Italian meal to their own cuisine. Spaniards rave over their pickled octopus and blood sausage, but the visiting Brits and Germans can't stand the stuff. As for English fare, many Londoners greatly dislike their own steak-and-kidney pie. Spain came in second with 85 percent, followed by the French at 76 percent. Those least enthused by their own cuisine are the Dutch. They eat things like 'zuurkool met rookworsp,' a hodgepodge of sauerkraut with potatoes and smoked sausage. Italians seek out pasta and other carbohydrates, even when they travel abroad - and crave mozzarella cheese, tiramisu and cappuccino."

Maybe that's a little unfair... we shouldn't knock zuurkool 'till we've tried it! (Seems that the Dutch don't!)

As usual, some of the best Dutch cuisine is actually "fusion" from their interactions with other cultures... For example, in the case of Dutch-Indonesian, don't miss the rijsttafel! It is honestly fab!!

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"Paint" Masterpiece of Venice

Amazing! This is not a photograph, but rather the product of apparently 500 hours of work in MS Paint! (You know, that little program under Windows' "Accessories" menu?)

Actually, I wonder if he kept his eyes still and it just felt like 500 hours... :-)

(Still, far, far better than a lot of stuff I see for sale out on the waterfront!!)

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Time Stand Still

For those who find that "summer's going fast":

"If you're really enjoying yourself and you don't want time to go too fast, try keeping your eyes as still as possible...."

(from Mind Hacks: Time compression)


Parrot prodigy may grasp the concept of zero

From Mirabilis.ca... impressive!

Especially considering that I personally have the mathematical aptitude of a gnat.

(Hey, at least they can count to six!)


Archaeologists Unveil Pompeii Treasure

Now you know... I'm lucky that I don't break out into a nervous sweat whenever I see the word "Pompeii"!

Archaeologists Unveil Pompeii Treasure - Yahoo! News

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The Best of...: Capri (UPDATED!)

I've been sending news items and commentary over the internet to family and friends for a while now, long before the advent of blogs! Going through my "archives," I found more fun old pieces that I thought might be worth recycling here. I hope you enjoy! :-)

(Image from www.capri.it)


Date: Thu, 7 Apr 1994 11:49:27 +0100 (CET)
The following is a batch mailing, because I'm just too worn out to live through it again more than once. I'll send out individual notes later!

QUOTE OF THE DAY: He didn't really like travel of course. He liked
the idea of travel, and the memory of travel, but not travel itself.
For once I agree with Du Camp, who used to say that Gustave's prefered form of travel
was to lie on a divan and have the scenery carried past him...

- Julian Barnes, Flaubert's Parrot

Whew! I'm back! I've just spent nearly a week in lovely Southern Italy. My folks really liked it, I think, but I had hoped it would be far more relaxing. I guess that was probably too much to hope for in a metropolitan area with a population density that rivals Hong Kong. Yes, my parents really liked Southern Italy, despite the fact that the Italian transportation system conspired against us.

It all started on Easter Monday, the day we decided to go to Pompeii. (The next day, we were going to go to the Archeological Museum of Naples where they had trucked off all the good stuff. You really can't do one without the other, if you want to get the most complete picture of Pompeii.)

Anyway, we get to Pompei, which still is a real city and is hustling and bustling like every other business day. There, we grab lunch in the Pompei McDonald's. (No joke! But not to worry, it's not built in the ruins or anything! There, a state-run snack bar is...) Afterwards, we walked to the gate and discover that it was CLOSED! The most popular museum/historical complex in all of Italy is closed on Easter Monday! By then, it was almost noon and there was no time to go back to Naples to catch the museum before it closed at one.

So, to salvage the day, we decided to take the train to Sorrento... and from there caught a hydrofoil to Capri. Capri was the pleasure-island resort of the Roman Emperor Tiberius. (Some people even suggest that the name of Capri, derived from the word for "goat," was actually a commentary on Tiberius' lasciviousness.) Ok, no problem. We get to Capri and it's lovely, a small island with a town in the valley between two VERY tall volcanic cliffs. But it certainly did seem to be crowded with a lot of people...

Then we tried to leave Capri before the last boat out, and learned that it turns out Easter Weekend is the single highest-volume travel weekend of the year in Italy... and that, more specifically (as we read in the newspaper the next day), 13,000 Neapolitans (all apparently under the age of 25) typically day-trip to Capri on Easter Monday, break a lot of glass bottles, knock over trash cans, and after such a rewarding, relaxing day, attempt to catch the last boats off the island. When we made the descent down from Capri town to the port, we were just in time to see the penultimate boat to Naples leave, looking not entirely unlike news footage of the American withdrawal from Vietnam. It was absolutely packed! And, believe you me, you may think you know what packed means, but it takes on a whole new significance in Naples. Well, I think, at least that means that most of the kids are gone. And then I glance at the ticket window...

Lines as we know them don't really exist in Italy, and even less in the South. "Lines" are much more semi-circles, really... with people wedged up against one another, trying to needle their way through the crowd. It's a system that works, strangely enough, because the people with the highest degree of desperation to get to the front of a given "line" usually summon the strength of a salmon swimming upstream and scrape their way to the front. This method, however, doesn't work when everybody is desperate to get a ticket for the last boat out, which was scheduled to leave in about 40 minutes. (And, needless to say, there were no hotel rooms left on the island should we have been left behind!)

There was nothing else to be done. I parked my folks at a cafe, and--sharpening my elbows--I plunged into the crowd. Of course, there was only one ticket window open, but while the "line" crawled slowly forward, I did make a lot of headway. After twenty minutes, only about 4 people had been sold tickets, but I'd managed to scrape my way to within 4 people of the front... and then, just as I began to breathe a little sigh of relief (I say "little" because I had NO room to expand my lungs... this is the closest I'd ever been to several hundred people at once!) the ticket computer broke down. For the next twenty minutes, no tickets were sold, and I was compressed against the building as more and more desperate people piled in from the back of the line (or all sides of the semi-circle, as the case may be...) Luckily, however, Neapolitans are really used to this, since services break down there all the time, and they have a lot of patience... so I didn't have to worry at all about the crowd getting ugly.

Nobody got really upset, that is, until the last minute when the boat was actually beginning to raise its gangplank, despite the fact that the ticket computer was down. That's when people started to get a little excited, and the guy who'd been smushed at the very front and tapping patiently on the ticket window for the last 20 minutes suddenly got really upset and actually started to climb up the front of the building, shouting something in very agitated Neapolitan.

My father appeared and asked me, a little concerned, how everything was going. Fine, I wheezed, but I asked him to run around to the other boat companies and see if another boat, any boat, was leaving anytime soon. He soon reappeared with 3 tickets back to Sorrento (which is about 2 hours away by train from my friend's house, where we were staying, but was infinitely better than nothing...) He then had to pull me physically out of the crowd, because I was so wedged in that I couldn't move. Sigh-of-relief time!

And then I see that the local police have erected a barricade to keep ticketless Neapolitans from rushing the boats. Sprinting, I turn around and grab my folks and navigate them through a back way, around boats through the port, until we reach another police line for the boat we want. We wedged our way through, with our tickets held aloft for the cops to see, until we get to the boat. Sigh-of-relief time!

But no, we're too late! Though we and about 20 other people were physically standing on the gang plank, the sailors pushed us off, raised it... and sailed off without us! As you can imagine, the Neapolitans were getting a little excited by this time. In these situations, one summons whatever strengths one has at hand... and I squeezed through the crowd, which was now collectively shouting in Neapolitan and gesturing wildly, to the source of their frustrations, the Port Captains. And, going up to the guy who looks the most important, I say in my most plaintive and broken Italian, "Excuse me, signore, I don't understand what is happening. Where do I go? What should I do??..." If this doesn't work, I think, the next thing I'm going to do is break down and cry helplessly right in front of him... But I don't have to. He takes pity on such a helpless foreigner and says, "Okay, follow me."

He grabbed my hand, and I grabbed my Dad's and he grabbed my Mom's and together, in some strange Italian version of Make Way for Ducklings, he leads us through the crowd, through yet another police line, and tells the owner of another company's boat that's leaving for Sorrento that he's going to honor our tickets and take us out on the next boat. After a lot of characteristic shouting and haggling, the guy gives in... and we are escorted onto the boat before the hordes of people who then lunge forward, packing the boat. As we leave, several thousand people are still left on the quay behind us...

In Sorrento, by now, I'm cautious with my optimism. We grabbed a cab to take us on the road up the cliff to the train station to try to beat the teenagers who could only afford to walk the trip. But there we ran into the crowd left over from the last boat, and I dived in to procure the train tickets. I get them in 5 minutes flat, and together we run to the platform... JUST as the train pulls away. So much for timing! Well, I think, at least we can rest a minute. My poor mom had had surgery only about 3 weeks earlier, and while she was fine, her stomach muscles were a little strained and all this running around didn't help. (I'd have hated for her to blow a gasket or anything!) And then I hear the announcement that they'd switched the track, and the train we wanted was coming into the station on another platform. We have to run for it, and this one we manage to catch. Whew! Sigh-of-relief time!

We rode the train for the next hour and a half into Naples, toward Piazza Garibaldi where we had to switch trains to get to my friend's part of town. At a stop in downtown Naples, I ask a guy getting off, "Is this Piazza Garibaldi?" No, he tells me, it's the next one. The doors of the train close behind him, and the train pulls out of the station, just as I see the sign which essentially says, "You are now leaving Piazza Garibaldi."

Damn. I knew this was getting too easy. We caught a train at the next stop which was going in the opposite direction, and beat a path back to the Piazza Garibaldi station. There, I finally had a moment to call my friend from a pay phone. The last she had heard was that morning when we were going to Pompeii, and Pompeii was supposed to close an hour before sunset. It was now about quarter to ten. (We had first tried to leave Capri about 4 hours before!) When I finally reached her, she was just beginning to worry that she was going to have to go identify our lifeless bodies in the city morgue. Then she informed me that the last commuter trains stopped running at 10. We run for another train.

And this is the last leg of our journey. I sink into the train seat, and, for the first time in 4 hours, I relax. I'd held my wits about me in the face of adversity for just a little too long, and I'm exhausted... And then the train pulled to a halt four stops away from the one my friend was to pick us up at, and the lights went out. They were shutting the train down!
They made some announcement over the loudspeaker, but it's in dialect and I can't understand. However, fortune smiles upon us at the last minute yet again: some American boys who were doing Mormon missionary work tell us the announcement said that another outbound train was coming in on track 4. We stand and wait... and then the train pulls in instead on track 2! We had to run down the underpassage to the other platform, leapt onto the train, and the doors literally closed just behind us.

This time, though, I have no optimism. There is no such thing as a sigh of relief. Even if we do ever make it to see my friend, I'm sure that something else will go wrong: her car will break down, the gate around her apartment complex will be stuck shut, Vesuvius will erupt... or some unlikely yet inevitable combination of all three. After having held it together all day, my nerves had now been totally shot.

But we made it! I nearly kissed that icky ground in the station, like the pope getting off an airplane, when that train stopped and I hit the platform running. My much-relieved friend was there waiting for a much-relieved us, and together we made it back uneventfully to the house. And the next day, we even made it back to Pompeii, for good measure!

All of this just served to show me how non-Italian my mentality still was, not to mention my blood pressure. But every other minute was truly lovely. Really! And now that I'm home, I really have to pass out now.

Later, when I come to...
Love, Michelle


UPDATED: July 26

One Capri for 'Only Visiting' and One for 'Don't Even Ask' - New York Times


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Venezia News

"VeneziaNews" is a bilingual Italian/English publication which is the best guide available to the events, museums, music and dining in Venice every month. It seems to have disappeared from the net recently, but Agenda Venezia is a searchable website that appears to be powered by the magazine.

Handily, for reference, some old issues have been archived at the official city website here. (Although keep in mind that info can be outdated even by the time they go to press!)

A similar helpful publication, available for free from the city's official tourist office when you're in town but now also lives on the web, is Un Ospite di Venezia, or in English, A Guest in Venice.


That's "Hedley"...

Hedy Lamarr apparently invented a kind of wireless technology. (?!)


"Empire Falls"

"Empire Falls," filmed in Maine, has been nominated for 10 Emmys!

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Buon Redentore! (UPDATED!)

Today's actually the official holiday of the Redentore in Venice, but you wouldn't have thought so if you'd seen the festivities last night!

Saturday morning was like the Venetian equivalent of Thanksgiving... Everybody out doing last minute shopping before the stores closed that afternoon, and delicious smells foreshadowing dinner were emanating from every window!

In the evening, we had our own feast with my in-laws on the Lido, and then made it back to Venice in time for the fireworks (or "foghi," as they're known in Venetian). By that time, the party was in full swing... the waterfront was one makeshift banquet table after another, and even the restaurant tables were overflowing into the alleyways.

Many Venetians, normally pretty restrained folks, were pretty well lubricated by that time... One place in Via Garibaldi even had karaoke going! A guy in the middle of a verse staggered over to us as we were passing through and wanted my husband to sing into the mike. Problem was, it was actually a bread roll! My husband's truly a sweetly dignified soul, and politely declined. (I told him that, if it'd been me, I would have tapped it and asked, "Is this thing turned on?")

Anyway, I had been inspired that morning by an
article cited by Lifehacker to try to shoot pictures of the fireworks. Now, if there's one thing that just slightly less cruddy than my phone camera, it's my digital! So, the shots are not exactly impressive, especially because I don't have access to photoshop at the moment. Still, I'll share the more particular (but not necessarily better) photos here. (Hey, it's the next best thing to being there!)

For example, this shot below is way overexposed, but I like it because you can make out silhouettes of the boats and of the belltower and church of San Giorgio Maggiore on the left.

Since all of them see a 45 minute fireworks show every single year, by now Venetians are rather fireworks snobs. Color, pacing, sound and patterns are all reviewed at length as soon as the display is over. (The buzz I'm hearing so far seems to indicate that this past one was average...)

But my favorites are the figures!
We've got circles...

And my all-time favorite (even if the photo below is hard to see...) hearts!

And, lastly, a shot from the finale!

More? You can see a slideslow of snapshots of the whole display at Redentore 2005 - a photoset on Flickr...

Buon Redentore!!

P.S. Another interesting perspective on the Festa del Redentore is available from author/inhabitant Nan McElroy at "Living Venice... and Beyond"!