Random notes, and a few pictures.

It’s our last full day here. We spent most of it on Murano, home of the famous Venetian glass factories. I was kinda-sorta in search of the closest thing I could find to the ashtray that Tom Ripley beats Freddie Miles to death with in the latest adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s “The Talented Mister Ripley.” (That would be “Ripley,” now playing on Netflix.) A little Googling revealed the prop was real Murano glass (or more likely a dupe fashioned after it), owned by Steven Zaillan, who helmed the Netflix series. But if you’ve ever seen Murano glass, you know that piece is a rarity — heavy, colorless, clear and plain. Murano glass…how to put this delicately? It is one part of the stereotype that Italians have a taste for flashy and gaudy home decor. Most of it is vividly colorful, sparkly and silly, a little too-too much for my taste.

But we were almost back to the vaporetto stop when I saw a piece in a shop window that wasn’t an ashtray, but it was clear and simple. I knew it would be out of my price range, but once in the shop I spotted another piece, this one an ashtray, smaller, clear and with a simple design in a subdued shade of maroon. The owner said it was vintage from the ’80s, or maybe the ’50s. Her father’s design. And more reasonably priced. Small enough that I doubt you could kill anyone with it.

Reader, I whipped out my Amex. I’d show you a photo, but it’s entombed in bubble wrap at the moment. Maybe in a few days.

I like Venice more than I thought I would. The tourists are mostly contained in neighborhoods where we aren’t, and the one we’re in still feels pretty Italian. The kids play in the piazza, kicking soccer balls around. There’s a hardware store there. You hear more Italian than English spoken on the streets near us.

And of course, at night it’s magical:

The water has come up a couple nights we’ve been here, and I can hear passers-by splashing through the flooded sidewalk a few doors down. It’s great.

My feet hurt less than I thought they would, too. I invested in expensive sneakers before we left, but we haven’t had a sub-10K-step day the whole trip. There was recently a story in some newspaper, about Americans who go to Europe, eat like pigs and are shocked to find they didn’t gain any weight, and may have even lost a little. Could it be something different about European food?

Duh. It’s the walking, dummies. But then I remember this Google review, of a pizzeria we found in Florence, and think, you can’t fix this kind of delusion:

Tiny pizza place but excellent pizza. Back home we normally avoid cheese/dairy, wheat, and my husband always avoids nightshades/tomatoes but we’re being more flexible here trying things out as we understand they don’t use roundup or do to food what is done to our food back in the states so that it seems not to cause the digestive issues we’d experience if we ate like this back home. It is also a bit away from the super crazy crowds.

Speaking of Florence, when we were there we passed, several times, incredibly long lines to eat at a particular sandwich place. They had two locations nearly next door to one another, and both had hour-long waits, standing in line, to get a takeaway-only sandwich. It was so successful that other nearby places were copying their menu, and they had long lines, too. I considered trying it out, but life is too short to wait an hour in line for a sandwich. Then, on our last day, I was taking a photo of some 1930s typography on the wall of the train station, and whaddaya know?

THAT’S THE PLACE. All’Antico Vinato! With only four people in line! We figured now was our chance. And we split one — they’re huge:

It was an excellent sandwich, but the secret is obviously the bread, a type of focaccia split laterally, crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. Worth an hour in line? Nah. But for five minutes in line? Absolutely. I note the chain is expanding to the U.S. If you live in New York, Las Vegas or Los Angeles, you’re in luck.

Now we’re headed to our last dinner here. I’ve half a mind to try the black spaghetti they serve around here, colored with squid ink from the cuttlefish. It weirds me out, but I want to be adventurous, even as pomodoro and basilico is my favorite.

We’ll see. Safe travels to us, and back later this week.

EDIT: I ordered it, I ate it, and I liked it. Mission accomplished.

Posted at 2:11 pm in Holiday photos | 51 Comments


There’s a point that comes, on a vacation like this, where you say to yourself, yes, this is a masterpiece, but basta on the madonnas, per favore.

And that’s when you decamp for…

Yep, it’s the Venice Biennale, and a more bracing cure for religious-art overload doesn’t exist. It wasn’t a perfect day — we got shut out of the space because we ducked into a shelter to get out of the rain, not realizing we couldn’t get back in — but we saw plenty in the national pavilions we visited. Including Japan:

Electrodes inserted in the decaying fruit sense moisture changes, and translate that into electrical signals that trigger lights and drone sounds. So weird. Also, France:

Video with fabric sculptures, on a theme of drowning, and environmental degradation.

Korea was about smell. This figure snorted vapor out of its nostrils every few seconds. Unfortunately, the wind was howling through the open windows of the pavilion, and it was hard to get a sense of it.

Great Britain had a lot of video, along with light sculpture:

We saw a few more countries before we foolishly stepped outside the line, but those were the highlights. Tomorrow we’re looking for some of the free sites. Nigeria is supposed to be a good one. Yesterday we wandered through Ukraine’s freebie, which included a world map painted on a single dried chickpea (seriously) and this pile of dirt:

There were plants in it. I suppose the art will be whether the plants thrive over the six-month course of the show; we’ll see.

Ultimately, the most moving sight of the day was this man, who sat opposite us in the restaurant where we had dinner. He brought his dog with him. He ordered a steak, and when it was delivered, cut it up piece by piece and fed each one to the dog, who ate each morsel politely. It was such a sweet thing. It’s nice to see a dog and a person communicating on a deep level.

When I was here 40 years ago I recall cats everywhere, but haven’t seen one yet. The dogs are winning. Go, dogs.

OK, then. Back when events command it.

Posted at 4:09 pm in Holiday photos | 12 Comments

Giorno della laurea.

We were headed for St. Mark’s Square in Venice earlier today — knock that one off the must-see list, might as well — when the foot traffic seemed ridiculously thick. The back of a stage loomed ahead. Everyone was young, well-dressed, and many of the women were carrying nice bouquets of flowers or wearing laurel wreaths.

Then we stepped around the edge of the stage and saw what was happening: Graduation day. Giorno della laurea.

The Università Ca’ Foscari was sending its latest crop of graduates into the world. It looked like all graduation ceremonies: Fun and happy. We walked to the end of the square, to the waterfront of St. Mark’s, and marveled at what it must have been like to pull up to this particular quay when the Republic of Venice swung serious weight in the world, to see those twin pillars, the lion and St. Mark, the breathtaking cathedral, the ducal palace, all of it.

Then the graduates — ‘scusi, the laureates — broke up and dispersed to the hundreds of cafes and restaurants in the city to celebrate. Individual pods would periodically break into a filthy song; it went like this:

Dottore, dottore
Dottore del buco del cul
Vaffancul! Vaffancul!

As far as I can tell, it translates to:

Doctor, doctor
Doctor asshole
Fuck you! Fuck you!

But everyone laughed about it, and Alan postulated the real meaning is: Don’t get too full of yourself, now that you’re a fancy-pants college graduate. That sounds about right. The celebrations were fun to watch. We ate a late lunch/early dinner at the table next to Emily’s. Here’s Emily:

Isn’t she adorable in her laurel wreath? Note the bottle of rose taped to her hand. “They want me to drink,” she told me in perfect English, appropriate for a linguistics scholar. Obviously. The poster behind her is another tradition: It’s basically a memory collage of her college years; not sure if the crossword is standard or not. Her whole family was there, everybody sang the Doctor Asshole ditty, several times. The weather was perfect. A good omen for Emily.

And that’s where we are for our final week, in a quieter neighborhood. Right on a canal, not a heavily traveled one. On our morning wander, I took pictures of work boats.

The news this week is the new daily tourist tax being charged to visitors — 5 Euro per head per day. There was a big protest on day one, and I agree with the protesters that it won’t do much good, but lordy, this is a city about 1,500 years old, built on logs, and 20 million annual visitors takes a toll. Every one of them needs to be fed, housed, amused. Each one drinks, eats, poops and pees. (Yes, I’m including myself in that group.) So it was interesting to watch the morning deliveries along the canals — the food, the drinks, the inevitable Amazon boxes.

Honestly, I don’t see how they do it. But they do, somehow. I’m impressed.

Posted at 1:17 pm in Holiday photos | 25 Comments

Off the beaten path a bit.

Compared to, say, Barcelona, there’s not a lot to do in Florence, at least not available — or advertised, anyway — to us tourists. In Barcelona, we went to the movies in our neighborhood three times, all to newly released American films with Spanish subtitles. Does that sound boring to you? It wasn’t. It was interesting, us laughing at “Nope” while the Catalans in the audience must have figured, maybe this part doesn’t translate.

But here, the only place like that didn’t screen until 9 p.m. Sculpture, art, medieval architecture — we had that in spades. But in those venues, you heard more English than Italian spoken. It was the Ghetto of the Center, as they call the old part of the cities in these parts.

So yesterday, Alan spelunked way down on the internet, and found a place we could check out. It was the Manifattura Tabacchi, an old cigar factory being, um, revitalized. We took two buses to get there and found a place that’s still getting going. There was lovely signage, a place to have a drink — there’s always a place to have a drink — but not a lot else. This sight is familiar to anyone from Detroit:

Yeah, that loft living will be a while getting here, sorry about that. But at least we were out of the Center. Wandering back to the bus stop, we heard thumping techno music, and what appeared to be a crowd of people gathering a block or two away. So we checked it out, and came upon a parade of trucks carrying gas-powered generators, powering ear-splitting speaker arrays, each blasting the sort of generic techno you can hear every year at the Movement festival in Detroit: WHUMP thumpa WHUMP thumpa WHUMP thumpa, etc., each truck followed by a dancing crowd of young people dressed in goth black, tatted up, technicolor hair, the usual.

In between the trucks, people pushing wheelbarrows advertising BIRRA for two Euro — I told you, you can always get a drink — and then the next one would roll by. It was, we would later learn, the Wish Parade. Run this page through your English translator and you get an idea:

The Wish Parade will wind through the streets of the city, an event organized by the Florentine collectives two years after the entry into force of the ‘anti-rave decree’. The street parade, which will begin on April 27 at 4 p.m., aims to bring a note of color and music to Florence. It will start from Via Forlanini to end at the Ernesto de Pascale Amphitheatre passing through Piazza Giacomo Puccini, Ponte alle Mosse Puccini, Porta al Prato, Ferris wheel, Lincoln avenue, Quercione avenue and Aeronautica street.

“In a city that is increasingly hostile to its inhabitants – we read in the widespread note – we feel the need to give a signal of presence, claiming our practices as an active part of the social and cultural fabric of the city. Florence is not only mass tourism but also a forge of ideas, initiatives, connections and networks that work every day to stay united and give an alternative to the commification of the city. We want to dance and sound the city to make our voice heard.”

Of course it had its detractors:

Of a different opinion Sheila Papucci, candidate for the city council for Fratelli d’Italia.

“The so-called artistic event – attacks Papucci – will be nothing but a traveling rave party, a discomfort announced for the Florentines between deafening music, paralyzed traffic. They will take to the streets complaining that they do not have the right to be able to meet and express themselves when in reality it will be totally the opposite”.

Papucci adds that it is an event “marked by excesses: we have already seen them in previous editions, when the procession passing through the center scared tourists and families” underlining that “Florentine citizens will have to endure situations of disorder and an increase in urban degradation with which our city is already saturated, together with a widespread disturbance of public quiet throughout the afternoon and Saturday evening”.

Oh, relax, Sheila. It was just some kids having fun. And two tourists, at the very least, weren’t scared. We followed it for a while, until we figured it was time to peel off and head home, only Sheila was right about one thing: The traffic was paralyzed. It took forever to get back to the apartment. We ended up on a packed tram, but made it in one piece.

You’ve probably heard someone, at some point in your life say, “I don’t want to be a tourist. I want to be a traveler.” I’ve come to think of the difference as similar to the one that distinguishes pornography from erotica, i.e. if it turns you on, it’s porn, if it turns me on, it’s erotica. If I’m doing it, it’s traveling. You? You’re just a tourist.

Well, most of this week has been tourism. But the Wish Parade felt more like travel.

Today we climbed the hill to the Piazzale Michelangelo, definitely tourism. But the view from the top was worth it:

Clarice Starling: Did you do all these drawings, Doctor?
Hannibal Lecter: Ah. That is the Duomo seen from the Belvedere. Do you know Florence?
CS: All that detail just from memory, sir?
HL: Memory, Agent Starling, is what I have instead of a view.

A similar view. The Belvedere was off to the left.

Last night in Firenze, this. The final leg of the journey starts tomorrow, and I fear it will be the worst, tourist-wise, but at least the art will be different. Stay tuned.

Posted at 12:29 pm in Holiday photos | 14 Comments

Standing somewhat corrected.

OK, I have to take at least some of my criticisms of museums back. Admission to the Accademia was free Thursday (Liberation Day), and while a steady stream of art lovers (ha!) streamed through, they couldn’t take anything away from David. He’s so monumental, there are no bad seats, so to speak, and he stands under a dome, bathed in natural light. Unlike virtually every other work of art we’ve seen on his trip, he is more impressive in person. He’s beautiful.

You can read reams of scholarship on his various anatomical quirks — his overlarge right hand, his somewhat cockeyed gaze — but I wouldn’t dive too deeply into that. Just appreciate him.

And marvel at Michelangelo’s attention to detail. His musculature, the veins in his arm, his confident gaze, the tendons and hollows in his neck, even the grooves in his scrotal sac. They’re all amazing, crafted by a 26-year-old, 500-plus years ago.

I read, this morning, about the Supremes’ apparent desire to do the bidding of the worst person in the country, and possibly the world. Yesterday I spoke to a long-lost high-school friend, who today lives in London, permanently she said. She’s been back and forth across the Atlantic for a while, looking after her elderly parents, but other than visits, she plans to spend the rest of her life on this side of the ocean. It was January 6 that did it; she was living in California at the time, and simply didn’t know how to answer her European friends’ questions about how this could possibly happen. So she has noped out of the American experiment. Can’t say’s I really blame her.

Have a good weekend, all.

Posted at 5:57 am in Holiday photos | 35 Comments

Make museums quiet again.

You guys:

I think I’m burned out on museums, this trip. This was the Uffizi yesterday, in the off-season, before the “crowds” arrive. Granted, this is the most famous painting in the building, but still. The entire room was full of amazing Botticellis, most of which looked like they’d been painted two hours ago (including “The Birth of Venus”) and they were largely ignored, for mob scenes like this. Many of these people would sidle to the front, take one photo of the painting and another of the title card, and scurry on to the next must-see canvas on the list.

It’s Pokemon Go for tourists.

Today we see David, at the Accademia, and after that I think I’m done with this particular pursuit. As I said of the Sistine Chapel: Get a good-quality art book from the library, go home and explore it at your leisure.

The Galileo Museum did not disappoint, however. From the medical section:

Two whole cases of terra cotta models of childbirth – routine, emergency and so on. Seen here, breech birth and forceps-assisted. Kate was born that way. She had bruises on her temples for the first 24 hours or so. I remember nothing about it.

On to David’s marble corpus. Fingers crossed.

Posted at 3:52 am in Holiday photos | 17 Comments


We’re starting a little slow this week. Monday was a travel day, yesterday our usual get-the-lay-of-the-land day, so treasures await today — two museums planned, the Galileo and Uffizi.

Yes, we’re in Florence. Which is lovely. The Airbnb is nicer, which is to say the toilet flushes well and the shower doesn’t appear to have been designed for elves. It’s quieter. And not far away:

The Arno River. Over which stretches the ancient Ponte Vecchio:

It used to be leather workers and tannery operations on the bridge, convenient because you just threw the waste into the river. Now it’s all jewelers.

The weather is sharply cooler, and yesterday it rained. The news today said the Palazzo Vecchio, aka city hall, had authorized six additional days of heating for the building, to accommodate the elderly and those in a fragile state. (I’m sure they pronounced it fra-gee-lay.) One more day of cool, then gradual warming through the weekend.

Pizza continues to be outstanding.

A little shopping for the people who are helping out at home, but we won’t get too into that. However, IYKYK:

King Neptune outside the Palazzo Vecchio, not far from where Savonarola burned.

Soon I will be immersed in Botticelli. More later.

Posted at 5:29 am in Holiday photos | 13 Comments

Weekend slide show.

It’s been a long day and I haven’t had dinner yet. So maybe a photo dump is in order.

Itsy-bitsy cars are nothing new in Europe, but with climate reforms, impossible parking and the price of gas all putting pressure on, the race seems to be to the bottom, so to speak. EVs and hybrids are commonplace, but this is the smallest we’ve yet seen:

It’s called a Twizy. Alan looked it up. Best for single people (there’s only one seat), all-electric, with a limited range of maybe 40 km. But you can park it anywhere.

Roman drinking fountain:

Roman bird bath:

(You just turn a corner and see stuff like this. Every walk is an exploration.)

You know me, I’m a sucker for a beautiful vegetable, in this case, melanzana. A much prettier word than “eggplant.”

A rare piece of sculpture in which the subject is caught taking his shirt off over his head. Actually, I have no idea what this guy is doing, but I liked the pose:

Finally, the Roma birthday party didn’t disappoint. It was my favorite variety of tourism, i.e., the-same-but-different. If you’ve been to any historic re-enactment, it’s the same. The different parts? All of it. The legions trooped before a viewing stand and did some maneuvers, especially the shield thing where a group of nine or 10 guys turn themselves into a turtle. I paid close attention to the shoes, which looked pretty period — shoes are the Achilles heel of any historic costume.

Also, I don’t think Roman-empire tattooing was quite as advanced as this guy’s back piece:

I call that commitment to the bit. Another different thing? Not one, not one single, not even a whiff of…a food truck. No elephant ears, no Eye-talian sausage, no tacos, no nothing. I did see one tented booth advertising water, but that’s all, and they weren’t even selling it, but giving it away. And now you know how Italians can eat pasta every day and stay slender. (Note the phone in his right hand. Seeing people in historic dress talking on a cell phone is never not amusing to me.)

OK, then. Tomorrow we saw arrivederci to Roma, and travel to…you’ll have to come back and see.

Posted at 1:32 pm in Holiday photos | 17 Comments

A small whine.

I used to think I would feel rich if, just once in my life, I could fly first-class to Europe. Those overnight flights are simply impossible to tolerate in a sitting position, and being able to stretch out in Delta One would be fantastic. But now? Now I think I’d feel even richer if we could do one of these trips without having to use Airbnb.

Which is to say: Alan’s trying to unclog the shower drain for the second time this week. And I’d like some coffee, but it would require me getting up to use the moka pot in this place, which makes one (1) cup at a time. Such an amazingly complicated process: Heat water in the electric kettle, disassemble the moka pot, tap a little coffee into the thingie, pour heated water into the bottom of the pot, plop in the coffee thingie, then get a towel or something to hold the bottom (because it’s hot now) while you screw on the top, place on stove. When it gurgles, it’s done. Repeat for a second cup.

Also: There’s no frying pan in the kitchen, just two pots. Also: It takes three flushes to dispose of one turd.

I’ll stop my complaining. I’m in Rome! And we finally found some good places to eat. Some Karen gave this excellent place one star because “they served my pasta in a beat-up old pot.” It was spectacular:

“My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions and loyal servant to the TRUE emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.”

Rick Steves says the opening acts for gladiators were animal fights, “perhaps dogs attacking porcupines.” As you stand on the higher levels of the Colosseum, you can see its underground, because the arena floor is long-since rotted away. (A partial restoration allows tourists to walk out and give the Russell Crowe speech.) Alan, looking down on the hive of underground cells and passageways: “That’s where they kept the porcupines.”

We also saw the Vatican museums, culminating with the Sistine Chapel. No photos, because it isn’t allowed, but as an art-appreciation experience, I’d put it up there with the Mona Lisa: Too many people, guards barking NO PHOTO because some people either can’t or won’t read, and not a great deal of light, probably to save the artworks. Few places to sit, too. Honestly? Look at some well-photographed art books to appreciate Michelangelo’s genius, and enjoy them in a cafe.

Final complaint: And on the fourth day, I caught a cold. But the weekend lies ahead, what sounds like a delightfully cheesy birthday-of-Roma celebration, with games in the Circus Maximus. Go, Charlie Heston!

Posted at 5:57 am in Holiday photos | 31 Comments

Old stones, old bones.

Today we were walking across the Ponte Sisto, a pedestrian bridge over the Tiber. Approaching us, hand-in-hand with her chic mother, was a girl of about 7. She was walking as coolly as a model, wearing a tot-sized black leather motorcycle jacket.

I wish I’d gotten a photo of this startling fashion statement, but whoosh they were past us, and oh well.

Not so many photos today, because yesterday we went to a no-photos-allowed zone, it being a Monday and most of the good museums were closed. We went to the Capuchin crypt, and you can look up many photos online if you’re so inclined to see a visual marriage of the Khmer Rouge and, I dunno, maybe some scrapbookers. A long introduction tells you about the Capuchin order — there’s one in Detroit, and they feed the poor — until you get to what you came for, a series of niches decorated with, no kidding, thousands of human bones and a few mummies.

Allegedly 3,700 monks’ bones were used to create the various displays in the crypt, which were so, so strange. Catholics have a lot of premodern opinions about human remains, but it is downright weird to see floral motifs made with vertebrae and shoulder blades, to name but one of the displays on offer. You Catholics know the underlying message here — this’ll be you, one of these days, so don’t get too attached to your corporeal form — but as one who recalls the monsignor telling us that sure, we could cremate our parents, as long as it wasn’t done to deny the resurrection, it’s hard to believe this was hunky-dory with the One True. But who am I to argue.

Today we tried to go the Borghese Gallery, but didn’t plan ahead, and no tickets are available for days and days. So we rented bikes and explored the park.

That zoo entrance could be one or 100 years old — it does resemble the figures outside Comerica Park, where the Detroit Tigers play — but it hardly matters. You quickly learn, visiting here, that Italians are, as the kids say, extra:

Those are the trees so evocatively lit from above, by moonlight, in “Ripley,” now playing on Netflix. A few more days and clear weather and the moon will be up to it:

Tomorrow, the Vatican!

Posted at 3:45 pm in Holiday photos | 49 Comments