I once read that the average life span of an active blog was about 9 months. So, I seem to be right on schedule.

I've got to figure out another posting schedule... I love sharing interesting things that I find with lots of people, and I even have a backlog of stuff to share. But these days my history and current events posts have been going on my classroom blogs, and I just can't keep posting on my personal blog daily (or even multiple times daily...)

But please don't go away! I will be back after my midlife blog crisis!! (If you'd like to be notified when "Michelle's Mental Clutter" will be back up and running on at least some kind of schedule, please enter your email in the sidebar on the right... I promise your email won't be used for anything else!!)

Thanks as always for your kind attention and patience, and best wishes until we're together again!
Love, Michelle

Birthday Calculator

Enter your birthdate information into the Birthday Calculator and learn lots (maybe even TMI!) about you and your natal day!

  • Just for starters, "Your date of conception was on or about 5 September... which was a Monday." Wow, I guess somebody left work early! :-)
  • I also apparently have a "birth tree." Didn't know that... Mine is - and seems shockingly accurate - (T.I.C. ---- drumroll please) "The Ash Tree, the Ambition: Uncommonly attractive, vivacious, impulsive, demanding, does not care for criticism, ambitious, intelligent, talented, likes to play with its fate, can be egoistic, very reliable and trustworthy, faithful and prudent lover, sometimes brains rule over heart, but takes partnership very serious."
  • Not to mention, and this is the most important thing of all... there are OFFICIALLY today only 100 shopping days left until my birthday!! :-)

    What does your birthday say about you??

(from linkfilter)

Otterly Adorable!

I thank any and all gentle readers for your patience these days while I am in my usual pained throes of conference preparation, but in the meantime there's nothing soothing like a daily adorable moment from Cute Overload.

Ever get the "if you were an animal, what would you be?" question? Oddly enough, I do... Seriously. Don't know why... must be a certain special something about me (and I'm not sure I want to know exactly what!) The answer? Otter. Definitely otter. (Besides, I'm no naturalist... but I've never heard of otters ever having to give conference papers. What a deal!!)

I have a friend who never reads any of my stuff, yet seems to think he's got an equal if not better claim to otterness... Couldn't help but think of him when I saw this picture. So, he'll never know it (which means I should really start thinking about ragging on him here just for the fun of it) but at least today we've got below enough otter-adorability to go around! (Otters of the world, unite!!)

"Johari Windows"!

Sounds fun and enlightening to try!!
"A 'Johari Window' is a metaphorical tool used primarily in self-help groups and corporate settings as a heuristic device to encourage people to open up to another in self-disclosure. The concept is related to interpersonal communications. When drawn, the Johari Window takes the shape of a square divided into four quadrants which are based on the interpersonal relationship criteria of whether information is or is not known by each of the two parties. The concept was invented by Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingram, who combined their first names to create the name. And if you really like a challenge, try the Nohari Window...."

The Sith Sense!

"Burger King's The Sith Sense: Darth Vader returns from 'Star Wars' to scan your mind, in this updated version of '20 Questions.'"

This is a hoot... Just wait until you see the secret of the Dark Side! Enjoy!!

Quote of the Day

"Character consists of what you do on the third and fourth tries."

-James Michener in The Week magazine

Book Review: "In the Company of the Courtesan"

Interesting review from the Washington Post... Hopefully the book's accuracy is all that it's claimed to be!!

"Venice Vice"

Newsflash: "Berlusconi: 'I'm Christ of politics'

Friday, he equated himself with Napoleon. Yesterday, it was Jesus Christ! Um... aren't these classic symptoms of a delusion of grandeur?? :-)

CNN.com - Berlusconi: I'm Christ of politics - Feb 12, 2006

(Thanks for the link, Dale!)

A freezing day in Georgia...

Everybody's wearing their coats and scarves... and I do mean everybody!

"What Kind of Soul Are You?" Quiz

Thanks, Dale!

You Are a Visionary Soul

You are a curious person, always in a state of awareness.

Connected to all things spiritual, you are very connected to your soul.

You are wise and bright: able to reason and be reasonable.

Occasionally, you get quite depressed and have dark feelings.

You have great vision and can be very insightful.

In fact, you are often profound in a way that surprises yourself.

Visionary souls like you can be the best type of friend.

You are intuitive, understanding, sympathetic, and a good healer.

Souls you are most compatible with: Old Soul and Peacemaker Soul

"The Five Variable Love Test"

Just in time for Valentine's Day! The Blogthings' Five Variable Love Test!!

Your Five Variable Love Profile

Propensity for Monogamy:

Your propensity for monogamy is high.
You find it easy to be devoted and loyal to one person. And in return, you expect the same from who you love. Any sign of straying, and you'll end things.

Experience Level:

Your experience level is high. You've loved, lost, and loved again. You have had a wide range of love experiences. And when the real thing comes along, you know it!


Your dominance is low. This doesn't mean you're a doormat, just balanced. You know a relationship is not about getting your way. And you love to give your sweetie a lot of freedom.


Your cynicism is low. You are an eternal optimist when it comes to love and romance. No matter how many times you've been hurt - you're never bitter. You believe in one true love, your perfect soulmate. And if you haven't found true love yet, you know you will soon.


Your independence is low. This doesn't mean you're dependent in relationships.. It does mean that you don't have any problem sharing your life. In your opinion, the best part of being in love is being together.

Quote of the Day

"The Chinese call luck opportunity and they say it knocks every day on your door. Some people hear it; some do not. It's not enough to hear opportunity knock. You must let him in, greet him, make friends and work together."

- Bernard Gittelson

This week in the sidebar...
Boston to Paris with Vertigo!

This week in the "Michelle's Mental Clutter" video sidebar...

"Pilot's eye view of a three day trip: A pilot at American Airlines made this video of his three-day trip from Boston to Paris and back so his young daughter could see where he worked. It's all shot from the pilot's perspective so there's plenty of eye candy for the aviation and gadget geeks... It's all edited with iMovie and set to U2's Vertigo."

(via Metafilter)

More Prose from Venice...
Food, fog & other fun!

Some more from the pre-blog "oldies but goodies" department, from a year and a month ago today... I hope you enjoy!

Thanks as always!
Ciao, ragazzi!

Blech, I've caught a cold. But it was worth it... Went to see the sixteenth-century play in Venetian dialect, "La Venexiana." It was done by a company which specializes in a strange blend of Renaissance and commedia dell'arte plays with experimental theater. Most interesting, eclectic mix I've seen in a long time. In fact, the stage was probably not much bigger than my office, and the theater sat maybe 100 people. Unfortunately, while I can manage to read centuries-old Venetian, I can't follow it too well in conversation. I understood maybe half of all the dialogue.

Still, it wasn't that complex of a plot... I'd never seen or read the play before, but it turns out that it's a total sex romp. Two Venetian noblewomen (who instead were in actuality among the most legally circumscribed in all of Renaissance Italy) fall in love with the same recently-arrived young foreigner, and race to have him first. All in all, probably no worse than Machiavelli's "The Mandrake Root," except somehow I don't think the original production involved frontal nudity, though...

Anyway, these days fog has descended upon Venice, making the whole place look like one giant impressionist painting. It's particularly surreal at night. You know how Maine all looks the same color when it snows... the ground, the sky, the air... all white? Here it all looks like smoke... and at night the waterbuses glide slowly across the lagoon into this strange void, and buildings and boats seem to appear at the last moment like ghostly apparitions. So, what do I do? I stand outside to soak it all in, and catch the dreaded cold. Ah well, I guess it's all part of life's rich pageant...

We're back with my husband's folks, since our renter has returned. Fortunately (or unfortunately), my mother-in-law is still cooking up a storm, even though she no longer has to entice us to stay. Mostly, I think, it was a result of the disastrous "Duck à l'Orange" on the 26th... In an extremely rare move, she tried to cut corners by getting a rotisserie duck, and then adding her own sauce. By the time it was all reheated, though, it had become " Rock à l'Orange." Now, I don't know about you, but I've had my share of culinary disasters... However, this is a major part of her identity! So, to compensate, we first had a wonderful stuffed pheasant with (my favorite!) fresh artichokes on the side the moment we got back, and at the same time she improvised a fantastic quiche with spinach, ricotta, and prosciutto for lunch the next day, since she wasn't going to be home in the morning because of a doctor's appointment. (In the same case, I personally just stop by McDonald's instead... but then again, I'm not a domestic goddess!)

Yesterday, on the other hand, we had an invite for lunch with my husband's uncle and aunt, at which was served a stuffed capon cooked by the mother-in-law's Ukrainian live-in nurse. The only place I've ever seen a capon before was in my previous incarnation as a medievalist, in manorial dues' documents... You know, something like "peasants will deliver unto to the lord two capons each Michelmas," or some such!

And now that the Christmas sweets are slowly fading off the scene, the Carnival pastries are available. Mostly fried, sugared stuff, not unlike New Orleans beignets. Since carnival ends with Lent, traditionally they had to get rid of all the lard by that time, and they were likewise encouraged to get their sugar ya-yas out beforehand. Mmmm!

Each day, fortunately or unfortunately, there's food we can't possibly refuse. I don't know what I'm going to do! Oh well... I guess I'm just going to have to study it closely and try to cook it for you all when I get back... It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it!!! :)

Hope you all are doing well! Check in when you can... :)
A presto!
(January 10, 2005)


From The Presurfer today comes a great link for "monkeying around"!

Send your own animated, talking, customizable "Monkeemail" to family, friends and anybody else you might want to entertain and/or annoy!! :-)

(Unfortunately, it seems that the server can get overloaded and your monkeemail might not be able to play at the moment! Be sure to try back later... It's fun enough to be worth it!!)

I personally think this has unbelievable Valentines' potential! As for myself, I instead went for a cinematic approach here...


More fun with Mona Lisa

Yet more fun with La Gioconda... Seems that folks still can't resist messing with Mona! :-)

Still yet more quizzes of fun but questionable utility...

Your results...

You are Superman


Wonder Woman

Iron Man


The Flash

Green Lantern






You are mild-mannered, good, strong and you love to help others.

Click here to take the Superhero Personality Quiz

Simpson-tastic: Inside the Actor's Studio!

This - with the actors from "The Simpsons" - was one of my favorite episodes of "Inside the Actor's Studio" EVAR!

It takes a while to load and plays small... But it's the audio that's really funny anyway! Enjoy!!

"Good teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths' pure theater."

This week's conspiracy theory...

We already knew that Dale's alter-ego is Ming the Merciless... But I have since determined that a couple of great comedians also have secret identities, passing themselves off as mild-mannered college professors, too. (Think about it! Have you ever seen these pairs together in the same place??)

Exhibit A:
Dr. Steve = Seinfeld (Total giveway delivery: "Um, let's just get off the French for a while, shall we?")

Exhibit B:
Prof. Marky-J = Letterman (Total giveaway delivery: "He's fine... He's fine. He landed on his back.")

This may spread far wider than we originally thought!! Can anybody think of any others who may also be trying to pass incognito among us?? (Either that, or it's the invasion of the funny body snatchers... AIIEEEE!)

Ironic Times Museum of Past Banner Ads!

I've just discovered the weekly "Ironic Times," home of fun satiric news headlines.

But even better may be the IRONIC TIMES MUSEUM OF PAST BANNER ADS. (Last week's was "Eavesdropping: It's a good thing!") Enjoy!!

John Cleese is back, "staying ahead of the curve in the funny business"

TBS Department of Humor Analysis is painstakingly collecting data about what humans find funny, and then subsequently shredding it, so that then they don't have to share their results with anybody...

Believing in hands-on experiential learning (and I can't believe they didn't take advantage of a slogan like that!!), they offer great "educational" activities in the so-called "Humor Lab"! Like...

  • Random humor survey
  • Watch funny shorts
  • Build your own laugh track
  • Make your own funny movie
  • International pun translation
  • Create your own future sitcom
  • Anthropomorphize it!
  • Make your own terribly humorous wallpaper

Have at it!

If you come up with any particularly good ones, be sure to email 'em here! What can I say? I'm always looking for good material!! :-)

(another high quality link via the Presurfer!!)

Today's absolutely adorable moment...

These days, I tend to get my R.D.A. (recommended daily "ahww...") from that fantastic new blog, "Cute Overload."

(For a sample, page down to the bottom to check out my new, official "Cute Overload" slide show in the footer!)

But here's one they missed... Photos of "Cairo, an Italian mastiff puppy, [who] was introduced as a playmate to 10-week-old Koza, a lion cub whose twin died, at the San Diego Wild Animal Park. The idea is that lions are social animals, but there are no other lion cubs at the park for Koza to interact with. Cairo is the next best thing."
(and other breathtaking cuteness from Metafilter)

UPDATE: Previous "Strange but Adorable" moments on "MMC" here & here!

Yet more useless but fun quizzes...

The Muppet Personality Test

You Are Fozzie Bear

"Wocka! Wocka!"

You're the life of the party, and you love making people crack up.

If only your routine didn't always bomb!

You may find more groans than laughs, but always keep the jokes coming.

A Night at the Opera

When I went back to Venice over Christmas, I realized that I'm almost a different person when I'm there... For starters, I have much more of a hankering to write prose. (What can I say? The city is my muse!)

But not so much when I'm stateside. It's a habit that I need to cultivate, though...

So, I thought I'd share some more emailed "oldies but goodies" from my pre-blog period, as a step in that direction. Here's a rather stream-of-consciousness one from today's date a year and a month ago...

I hope you enjoy them!
Thanks as always,

Wow... quite the effect being up after mistakingly drinking prosecco after having previously taken an ambien. Certainly not one of the wisest of my wise ideas! I did manage to get to sleep, but now I'm stumbling around awake and just attempting to type, believe you me, is fun...

Still, it rather works with my evening... We went to see "Le Roi de Vehores" at the newly rebuilt and completely restored Venetian opera house, the Fenice or Phoenix. It had originally burnt down and been rebuilt in the nineteenth century, hence the name, and then most recently burnt to the ground in the famous fire in 1996, I think it was... I had been lucky enough to catch an opera there before, so for me the new building has some basis for comparison... It's absolutely stunning! They wanted to reproduce the building down to the smallest details, and they may have well succeeded.

Written originally by Jules Messenet for the Paris Opera in 1877, "Le Roi de Vehores" was everything that your average opera should make the most of.... the gleaming, grand new theater itself, rich costumes, sets with complex stage mechanisms, and the music... it's easy not to love opera, of course, but there were these moments of crystalline perfection when the voices, even just 2 or 3 or else with the entire company, when these powerhouse voices would enter these almost transcendental harmonies. And the effect was a lot like being inebriated, where your senses are on overload, and you try to grasp onto, savor, hold on to these fleeting moments as they pass before your eyes and finally through your fingers forever.

The plot's sumptuous silliness certainly heightened this effect, rather not unlike in "Moulin Rouge," I think. Opera's plots are typically more silly than sublime, and depending on the extremes of silliness involved, either the opera has to embrace this or else wastes its energies trying to compensate or apologize for it. So, the plot? It went something like this...

Act ONE:
Bad boy meets good girl, only to discover that she is a celibate priestess in the Temple of Indra. When girl refuses his affections, saying that only the king can release her from her vow, the bad boy accuses her of having entertained a lover in the temple, whom--she explains--comes to hear when she sings the evening prayers, but he's never even dared to touch her hand... No matter, the bad guy insists, I want this guy punished. So, when she begins to sing her prayers, he appears, and--low and behold!--it's been the king himself all along! They sing songs of living happily ever after once Mahmoun's invading army is defeated.

Act TWO:
In the camp of the king's army, the girl watches some soldiers play chess, waiting for the King to return from battle, and she believes that the checkmate of the white king is a bad omen. She retires, and the defeated remnants of the army return, telling the camp that the king is dying; the bad guy takes the opportunity to seize power for himself. Alim [the king] arrives, weak and pale, and tries to rally his soldiers, but they reject him at the bad guy's bidding, and he dies in the girl's arms.

OK, now... you might think, "Well, that was a quick opera..." BUT WAIT! There's more (a good two hours more!)...

Heaven. Heaven's having an Edwardian-style garden party at the moment, with an extensive indian-flavored ballet sequence (including male dancers in rhinestone g-strings... you gotta love high art!) After quite a lot of this unabashed flousing around, the king arrives in Paradise and begs the god Indra to be allowed to return to life for the sake of his girl. The god accepts: he will be reincarnated, but as a commoner, not as a king. In addition, his life will be linked to the girl's, so that if she dies, he will too.

(This last act was the most unabashed, most sumptuous silliness I have ever seen, but it has to be done perfectly with the exact proportion of verve and the slightest sense of self-irony to be able to truly pull off gods at a cocktail party without being cheesy... It may have well be the very best of all five--yes, FIVE!--acts).

In the palace, the girl mourns the death of the king and swears that she will not marry the bad guy; on the palace steps, the ex-king is overjoyed that he has returned to life. He stops the bad guy, about to enter the palace to see the girl; the people are confused to see a man with the features and voice of the dead king. He demands the love of girl; the bad guy orders him killed, but the High Priest, recognizing the will of Indra, intervenes and takes him into the temple.

In Indra's temple, the girl, who has fled from the palace's wedding chamber, draws a dagger to plunge it into her own breast, but she pauses to listen to the evening prayer. As he always did before during the evening prayers, the king arrives through the secret door and the lovers try to flee together. But the bad guy arrives with soldiers! The girl, trapped by the bad guy's men, stabs herself to escape him; Alim, feeling the same blow, dies with her. A vision of paradise appears as the lovers die, and the bad guy begins to suspect that he will regret his evil deeds at the hands of the gods.


So, there you have it... guy finds girl, guy almost loses girl because she's a priestess, girl finds out guy is king, guy loses girl when he's killed, girl refinds guy when he gets reincarnated, but boy loses girl when she stabs herself in the chest, inadvertetently taking his own life from him in the same moment. (And THAT, my dears, had a running time of 3 hours and 50 minutes with two 20 minute intermissions...) So, like I said, it was the sheer fun of taking such opulent silliness seriously just for the pure joy of it! If that makes any sense... well, if that doesn't make any sense, the opera itself certainly wouldn't have made a whole lot!

So, the Barber of Seville is coming to town in January 2005. This is a classic comic opera (whereas, technically, the other one I just saw was a tragedy, despite the rhinestone g-strings), much inspired by Bugs Bunny cartoons (or should I say that the other way around?!), written in the early glory days of opera by Rossini... If you're never gotten into opera before, as a premise, it's not unlike "Shakespeare: The Musical!" :-)

It's not as long, and they'll be projecting the words in English above the stage. So, what do you all say... Do we do a night at the opera, dressed to the nines, drinking champagne? After all, if the Marx Brothers could do it... we certainly could (even if many of us aren't even related!)

(January 4, 2005)

Mozart's Venetian librettist

"Amadeus," nothing! :-)

"With all the furore going on at present over Mozart's 250th anniversary, it is perhaps a suitable time to remember a man who played a considerable part in three of his greatest achievements. Lorenzo da Ponte wrote the texts for his three greatest operas, Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni and Cosi Fan Tutte...

Da Ponte's life could itself have formed the subject of an opera..."

Newsflash: "Don't Bring Home the Bacon, Print It"

Mmmm... ink... jet... ba-con!!

LiveScience.com - Don't Bring Home the Bacon, Print It

Newsflash? Italian adult children 'bribed' to stay at home

ANSA.it - Italian kids 'bribed' to stay home

"Sleeping Grass"

This article by The Presurfer about schlafgras (or "sleeping grass") uses what may be the most beautiful phrase I think I've ever heard in the English language: "nap landscape"! Mmmm... me want!! :-)

Newsflash: "Red Wine May Help Flu From Mutating"

Forget Tamiflu! The new flu remedy has a nicer bouquet!! :-)

Rome - January 20 - (UPI) - Italian researchers have found that they could reduce the seasonal flu mortality rate in mice by 60 percent with resveratrol, found in red wine.

Italy's Higher Health Institute, Rome University and the National Research Council found that a molecule found in red wine - resveratrol contained in the skin of the red grapes which give the wine its color - can block the flu virus from mutating, reported ANSA Friday.

Red wine has been found to be good for combating cardiovascular conditions and diseases like Alzheimer's disease.

"This discovery is a very important because it increases the possibility of combating the virus and has proved effective against all different types of flu," researchers said.

The findings have been published by the Journal of Infectious Diseases.

"One barrel of wine can work more miracles than a church full of saints." Italian proverb


"Mighty proud I am that I am able to have a spare bed for my friends."
-Samuel Pepys (1633 - 1703)

Newsflash: Venice now Italy's most expensive public transport!

Venice is now officially the most expensive city in Italy for public transport!

Cool Quiz from "Dappled Things"!

"This test is based on 'grid-group Cultural Theory,' a theory developed by anthropologist Mary Douglas to explain differences in people's worldviews. In a nutshell, Cultural Theory claims that everyone holds one of four basic worldviews..."

My results:

The Communitarian
You scored 44% individualism, 20% fatalism, 52% hierarchy, and 76% egalitarianism! You adhere to the cultures of Hierarchy and Egalitarianism. These two cultures share a commitment to placing the needs of the group over those of the individual. You think people should do their part for the greater good.
My test tracked 4 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:
  • You scored higher than 21% on individualism
  • You scored higher than 37% on fatalism
  • You scored higher than 75% on hierarchy
  • You scored higher than 56% on egalitarianism
Link: The Scientific Cultural Theory Test written by Stentor on Ok Cupid, home of the 32-Type Dating Test (via "Dappled Things")

The fog of Venice...

And I do know what he means! Indeed, I thought of Venice the very first time I read yet another great quote from Linda Greenlaw's The Lobster Chronicles: Life on a Very Small Island, which described the fog on the Isle au Haut as "a condensed mist as thick as melted pearls. 'Pea soup,' that's what old-timers would call this wet, raw oyster world of fog..."

I couldn't have thought of a more appropriate metaphor about nebbia veneziana myself! But the word in Venice's dialect might at least give you just the right sensation: "ca'igo"! Brrrr!!