Croatia—Why?

We’ve been in Croatia for the last (almost) couple of weeks.  Our original plan had been to take the ferry over from Venice to Rovinj, about 3 Euro-hours or 75 miles across the Adriatic.  But we backed out when I went to the dock and noticed our boat was named “The Minnow” and the Captain kept calling the first mate “Little Buddy.”  Somehow it just seemed too risky, especially since there were a lot of boats with skull & bones flags right outside the Venice harbor.

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Instead we jumped on a bus and took a four-hour ride through Trieste and down the Istrian peninsula, disembarking in the center of Rovinj, a fishing village now catering to visitors.

But let’s go back to why we traveled to Croatia anyway.  There are a few reasons.  I had originally traveled through this area in 1972.  I was in a dilapidated VW bus I’d bought with a couple of friends in Amsterdam and we were driving through the southern end of Europe and were on our way to Athens via Spain, Portugal, France and Italy.  The van itself had a rusted out hole in the floor and if you lifted up the board you could watch the road underneath pass by.  This saved us many pit-stops on our journey.  Anyway I remember riding down the Dalmatian coast and being overwhelmed by how gorgeous it all was.  At the time this was Tito’s Yugoslavia.  There were beautiful red tile villages nestled against small harbors and always rugged mountains dropping right down into the ocean.  It reminded me of  Big Sur only with little villages everywhere serving fresh branzino.  The coast road was one lane and we got pulled over by a uniformed guy who was holding up a sign by the side of the highway that said “Stop.”  He walked over to the van, and told us the only word of English he knew, “Speeding.”  There was no point in arguing so we gave him $5 and a pack of Marlboros and continued down the road..

Anyway, Croatia has remained for me a place that was worth re-visiting.  Of course it has changed.  The one lane road down the coast has been replaced by an amazing highway.  Fast, easy, smooth and missing the gorgeous views.  Yugoslavia is now gone and a terrible war took place here in the 90’s that the country still seems to be psychologically recovering from.  This is the war that gave the world the term “Ethnic Cleansing” which really is just another term for genocide.  The economy is now dependent on tourism and all the young folks have learned English so that they can get a job.  Dubrovnik is in the process of learning to “manage” tourism so it doesn’t become another Venice, but that will take time.  We purposely  booked rooms about 10 miles south of Dubrovnik in another fishing village so we wouldn’t be faced with all those crowds daily.  We’ll head into the city via water shuttle tomorrow, but our hotel operator purposely told us not to go until then because yesterday and today there will four different cruise ships docking, while tomorrow there won’t be any.  Each of those ships dumps about 2000-3500 tourists on the Old Town section for these 8 hour bursts.

That said, this country remains extraordinarily beautiful.  We have avoided any of the bigger cities (Zagreb, Split, and Dubrovnik) instead choosing to hole up in rooms with a view.  Below is the view from our rooms in Rovinj, Hvar (an island about an hours ride off the coast of Split), and Cavtat (outside of Dubrovnik).

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From our room in Rovinj

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From our Mountainside room on the island of Hvar

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From our balcony in Cavtat just south of Dubrovnik

So you get the idea, the beauty here is overwhelming.

Speaking of interesting things in Croatia I’ve included a picture of Katrina Graber-Kitarović.  She has been voted Ms. Croatia.  No I don’t  mean she won a beauty pageant.

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Kolinda Graber-Kitarović,

Ms. Graber-Kitarović is the President of Croatia.  Here’s a few more pics of their president:

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Ms. Kolinda Graber-Kitarović, President of Croatia.  Although she has many virtues unfortunately she’s the leader of a hard right party

Is there really anything else to say (that wouldn’t get me in some deep trouble).

Now contrast that with this pic of our president getting ready to frolic in the sun.  I apologize to all the readers since it may take years to get this image out of your head.

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Additionally, while the Fabulous Miss K and I were walking along the harbor we did spot  the Croatian Minister of the Navy cruising by on one of their new destroyer-class boats. As I mentioned Croatia is not a wealthy country and it appears they have had to cut their budget for military uniforms and quite severely.

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The Croatian Minister of the Navy displaying the new destroyer-class ship.

So how’s the food here in Croatia?

Well, the fish is fabulous and the local wines can be excellent (Mike Grgich of Grgich Hills in Napa also has a winery here in Croatia, where he’s considered a bit of a hero).  That’s it. I recommend visitors really pack it in while they’re in Italy because its kind of downhill after that.

Italy is, as everyone knows, extremely beautiful, but Croatia can definitely hold its own in that regard.  Let me just close by sharing a few shots.

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and finally, the mother of all Sunsets.

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Cheese, Prosciutto and Balsamic. OK, We’re Still In Italy and We’re Getting Bigger

Well, not really.  We’re in Croatia and I’ll have more to say about that in some future posts.  But I realized that I have a few more things to say about Italy and Bologna specifically.

I  wanted to share that the Fabulous Miss K and I did spend a day visiting a cheese making farm in Parma and made a surprising discovery.  The place actually is a big cow farm (somehow ranch seems very inappropriate in Italy unless you’re filming a spaghetti western).  The cow farm is on the site of the cheese making facility and all the cows live indoors so massive amounts of rolls of hay are brought in to feed them.  Most of the cheese making space is actually cow-space and hay space.  But inside the cheesy part of the place (which is actually pretty huge) they make dozens of 55 Kilo (110 lbs.) wheels of parmesan cheese every day. These wheels are big enough that if you stuck an axel to them you could use them to make your Lamborghini roll, if you know what I mean..   Cheese making is actually a pretty simple process (if you know what you’re doing) and their method was surprising close to the mozzarella I make at home, though of course it was on a much bigger scale (for example I have 0 cows and rolls of hay at home on Geary Drive.) Giant brass cauldrons of milk are mixed with salt and rennet and some left over whey from the last batch and they’re cooked until you get the curd.  You separate the curd from the leftover whey and then you form and press it, cover it with wax and let it age.  Eventually it ends up grated on your pasta, salad, or cheeseburger.

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Cooking the milk, salt, rennet, and whey

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This is the Cheese Master.  He stands alone.

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Just bought this souvenir.  I’m not sure how to fit it into my carry-on home.  Maybe with a little olive oil slathered on the sides?

One final note that was totally surprising about making the cheese… and it could change my life… well if soft skin changes your life anyway.  As I was looking in the cooking cauldron of cheese-to-be, the Cheese Master invited me to stir the pot with my hand.  I did as I was told.  Now it was hot, but not unbearable for a few seconds. The cheese makers have their hands in the pots many times during the process because getting a feel, literally, for the proto-cheese helps determine when its ready for the next stop.  So I put my hand in the cauldron and the amazing thing is after rinsing off my hands my skin was very soft.  I mean very, very soft, like a baby’s cheek soft.  My hands were the softest they’d been since I was about 14 months old.  Why?  I learned it’s the whey.  Somehow it acts as an enzyme and you feel like somebody just sprinkled Adolph’s meat tenderizer on you.  And it lasts for days.  For the next three days after this I kept shaking my own hand because it felt so good (also because no one else would.)  Caution: if you are a competitive judo-guy or gal and like to split bricks and chop wood with your hand stay away from this stuff.

So where do we get this milk whey?  Well the Fabulous Miss K and I make our own yogurt about twice a week at home and then we strain it to turn it into Greek yogurt, leaving behind a whole bunch of whey that we never know what to do with.  I’ve tried using it in baking, smoothies, etc. and I still have too much which I usually just toss.  (I’d feed it to our pigs and cattle, but we don’t have any pigs or cattle).  Now I’m going to take the stuff and apply it to my hands and feet regularly.  God only knows what will happen if I put it on my face.  I’d like to figure out how to put it into a hand or face cream and see what happens.  I’m not sure but I think this is how Estée Lauder got started.

Later that day we also made it over to a prosciutto makers.  Touring a prosciutto processor (what do you call a place where prosciutto is made anyway?) is kind of bizarre.  What you have is thousands of the rear legs (or hind to use pig-part talk) slathered in salt and more fat (because pigs aren’t fat enough on their own) and then hung on a rack where they cure for 14 months.  That’s it.  I’m assuming the rest of the pig is sent to someone else for a nefarious reason and that ultimately it will make someone pretty happy. In the curing room there are hundreds of these racks each holding hundreds of pig legs.

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For me a new personal best!  This is the most pig legs I’ve ever been around.  You can see why the pigs leg never replaced the rabbits foot for good luck.

We also went to farm in Modena where they’ve been making real balsamic vinegar for a 150 years.  I say real, because almost all of the balsamic we get isn’t at all authentic.  What we get is usually a mix of a little real balsamic from Modena with red wine vinegar, added coloring and flavoring, preservatives, etc.  Oh, and it usually doesn’t even come from Modena although its labeled that way.  You’ve heard this story before.

The stuff we saw is aged in small barrels for 5, 12, 25, or 50 years, or more.  It’s made only from red wine that is slowly boiled down and then added to the cask.  Over time the cask itself deteriorates and adds more flavor.  This family starts a new casks whenever there’s birth in the family.  The cask is then named for that person.  The oldest one shown in the front of the photo below has actually been  aging for about 85 years.  Whenever they draw anything off of  it (and only in the smallest amounts on special occasions), they replace it with the stuff from the next. generation and so it all keeps aging on and on.   Then they backfill that casket, right on down the line.  You can buy a 6 oz. bottle of the really old stuff but it costs about $300, so its not for everyday use.  We did get to taste some of the 45 year old vinegar and yes, it was much, much better than average.  And no you shouldn’t use it like the white vinegar to get stains and smells out of your gym clothes.

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Where God Eats When She’s Hungry

We left Rome, still exhausted and headed for the next four days to Bologna (with a side trip over to Ravenna).  Why Bologna?  There are two reasons:  First,  my interest in all things related to cooking and the fact that Bologna is known, or at least touts itself as the food center of Italy.  Of course this is a bit fatuous since Italy has great food everywhere, but its kind of like Sonoma calling itself, with a great deal of hype, the food center of the USA.  The culture in both places is very food oriented, but Bologna and the Reggio-Emilia area are where the cities of Parma (think Parmesan cheese and Prosciutto) and Modena (balsamic vinegar) are, along with it being the birthplace of a number of foods we now take for granted as Italian basics.  The second reason we picked Bologna for a bit of a stay is that it was recommended by our dear friend and pilates trainer Jennifer Cataldo who had just returned from Bologna raving about her visit and all the food.  Here’s a tip to everyone.  Find an athletic trainer who recommends you eat delicious food frequently.  Make sure it has plenty of those great phytonutrients, but first it must be mighty tasty.  So that’s why we chose Bologna.

But here’s the problem about writing about this portion of the trip.  First, I’ll refrain from making any stupid jokes about the meat-like substance my mother put between Wonderbread and mayo and put in our lunch pails.  Second, the last thing the world needs at this point is another blog or even a picture of somebody touting what they ate for dinner last night, or even worse what they ate for breakfast.  Nobody should be subjected to that.  It’s the kind of thing that in about 3,000 years our descendants will look at and say “Is this the beginning of the end? Is this why they invented the internet? So we could all look at how marvelous their appetizers were? No wonder they stopped evolving.”  So I’m not going to describe any meals we had, show photos of gelato or menus, pasta with wild boar sauce, or necklaces made of buccatini nor will I show you any photos of restaurants with grandma cooking in the back while grandpa takes your order.  You’ll just have to trust me… we were happily sated.  Go there and eat and learn.

So because I feel obligated to leave you with at least one food pic, here’s something we didn’t eat in Italy.  Actually we wouldn’t eat this anywhere at anytime:

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Haggis

Speaking of eating in Italy let’s talk about Alfa Romeos, those amazing little sports cars that are all over the place here in Italy and are at last again available in the USA.  Here’s one thing that’s cool about Alfa Romeo’s in Italy… they’re used by the police.

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You sort of expect that when you’re  pulled over the policeman will walk over to your car wearing skin-tight Hugo Boss jeans and an ascot, offer you a cigaret and a cup of espresso and start waving his (or her) arms around a lot while you nod.

But let’s get back to how the adoration of food in Italy has gotten out of control.  Look closely at the Alfa Romeo badge on the front of their vehicles.  It’s a classic Italian beauty.

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On the left is a cross similar to the kind that Christians use to symbolize the crucifixion of Jesus (their savior).  I think Alfa Romeo is angling to get the pope’s business and make the next popemobile an Alfa Giulia.  But on the right it shows a green snake EATING A BABY.  And this child is distressed! waving her arms around and I think she is saying “Per favore Mr. Serpente, non mangiami” which translated means “Please Mr. Snake don’t eat me.”  Frankly I don’t know what to make of this.  I can personally say that I haven’t seen any snakes here in Italy and there is an abundance of children, so perhaps this alludes to a previous ancient time (before the birth of Sofia Loren) when someone or something was chowing down on children.  On the other hand its possible I’m reading this totally backwards and serpent is vomiting the child.  If that’s the case, then I have no idea what to make of it.  That’s beyond weird.  I think some self-reflection on the part of the Italian people is called for.  Then again they could just eliminate the child from the badge and things would be OK.  People could resume buying these great little cars.

We went on to Venice which was its usual stunning self.  Venice is the ultimate beautiful city.  The beauty is unparalleled by any other city… But so is the tourism.  Even in this “shoulder season” the crowds are enormous everywhere and you feel like you’re on a Disneyland set and everybody in the world has an E ticket.  The place reminds me of the last scene in “Chinatown” as Jack Nicholson keeps slapping Faye Dunaway first with his palm as she cries “My daughter”, then with his backhand and she says “My sister”, “My daughter/My sister, My daughter/My sister over and over.  Venice is like that in that it screams “I’m so beautiful/I’m a tourist haunt” over and over.  Just to be clear though, beauty wins.

The most outstanding thing that happened was getting tickets (done well before the trip) to La Fenice the great opera house of Venice where we saw the Barber of Seville.  Great show and we had boxes just above the orchestra.

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Borgia on My Mind (the Raggio Charles Version)

We’re off again back to Italy where it all began… (this blog, not the history of the of the world) and then on to Croatia.  A quick eight days in Rome, Bologna, and Venice then two weeks on the Dalmatian Coast (not to be confused with a Dalmatian Coat worn by Cruella deVille).

But first a quick word on what the heck happened to this blog.  The last entry was almost a year ago from England, a month-long trip that took us on to Scotland and then Copenhagen.  But the writing for that trip was cut short and it was hard to pick up the pen (a truly anachronistic phrase) until now.  So what happened?  The Tubbs fire happened.  The Fabulous Miss K and I were in the National Gallery in Edinburgh last October when we got a text, out of the blue from our house sitter that said simply “The fire is approaching but we’re not evacuating yet,  Hilde the wonder dog, is safe and we’re ready to leave, if needed, at a moments notice.”  The Fabulous Miss K and I looked at  each other, scratched our collective head and decided make like ET and phone home to find out what the heck that message meant.  Unfortunately we had to walk a block away from where we were because some damn bagpiper was playing so loud we couldn’t think.  Have you ever noticed how there are no yoga music playlists that include bagpipe music? There is a reason for that.  Anyway we did phone home and got the full story on the horror that was occurring as our city burned.  I won’t tell you all that we went through trying to figure out what to do because ultimately we were safe and so many people had more harrowing and tragic experiences.  All I can say is as the days rolled on it didn’t seem appropriate to continue writing about all the fun we were having at the haggis-fest.

Nearly a year has passed since then and FMK and I boarded a Norwegian Airlines jet for Rome.  We like flying on Norwegian because they’re cheap, comfortable and the 787 jet’s are all new.  Unfortunately to get the cheapest fare we had to sit in what they call the “Lapland section of the plane” where they keep it at a temperature that only reindeer are comfortable with.  FMK wrapped herself and ended up looking like the love child of an Inuit and a Burrito.  But at least she was warm.

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We landed and made our way to our hotel over by the Pantheon where we crashed out totally exhausted.  It’s a very nice section of Rome, great for walking and speaking Italian.  We did manage to walk around the neighborhood one day and found out we were located just a block from what can only be described as the Ecclesiastical Savile Row.  There was shop after shop selling robes, miters, braided gold belts, tunics, and sacred whatnots. Everything was trimmed in gold and the colors (that weren’t ivory) were bright, glittery and exceeded anything you’d see on military dress uniform.  I don’t know what they call all the parts of their holy get-ups, but they had them in every color imaginable.  It totally reminded me of the holy fashion show in Fellini’s Roma which ultimately literally redefines a holy roller. I hadn’t seen this in a few years and its even funnier now than when I first saw it in 1973. It was of course censored at the time. You really should take the time to watch this.  You’ll be a better person if you watch it.

So I wandered into this store, and tried on a few robes but nothing seemed to fit right.

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Unfortunately, I was asked to leave when I asked the holy salesman if he could show me the children’s section.  It turns out they’re pretty touchy about this… but that’s probably the wrong way to say that.

Given that we only had a couple of days in Rome we only did a couple of things (besides walking everywhere).  We had seen the Colosseum, Forum, and all the other major sites on previous trips so we decided to walk out to the Protestant Cemetery, also called the Non-Catholic Cemetery.  An odd choice, but we had been told it was one of the most beautiful and peaceful spots in the city… and its true.   Rome can be overwhelming, its kind of like New York that way, only it has even more pasta.  Besides the graveyard’s beauty it holds the graves of the poets Lord Byron, John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Gregory Corso (the great American Beat poet), Richard Henry Dana, Goethe, and the businessman Bulgari.  It also has the only pyramid in Rome.

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He’s kind of like Greyfriar’s Bobby only he’s a cat and didn’t know Mr. Bulgari (who makes things that I don’t buy)

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Incredibly beautiful monument.  The saddest angel ever.

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Next to Shelley’s gravesite is this anonymous Pothead

It does tell you something about how the Catholics think about Protestants that they put their cemetery even farther from the center of town than the Jewish ghetto.  When will all this nonsense about religious cooties end?  Maybe that’s something to actually pray for?

The next day we rambled through the city and made it up to the Borghese Gallery.  This place is worth about a 1,000 visits and I covered it in the earlier posting linked above at the start of this posting. No need to repeat what I said earlier except it was great once again to see this beautiful Bernini bust of Chef Boy-Ar-Dee.  It was odd to see him in this Italian ultra-gallery considering everyone knows he was both French and American.

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Chef Boy-Ar-Dee just before he became Pope SubUrban IX

And then there was this great find of Marco dal Pino’s Jesus Entering the Disco, one of the lesser known works.

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Marco dal Pino’s “Jesus Entering the Disco”. 

Yesterday we took the train up to Bologna where we’ll be for about 4 days.  We arrived in the afternoon and immediately crashed out in our new hotel overlooking the major plaza.  Our mission while in Bologna is simply to eat everything in sight.

 

 

In London

Our trip is progressing wonderfully. After leaving Bath we went up to the Cotswolds for a few nights and hiked a lot. The countryside is beautiful there and we took footpaths through fields, viewing the horses and sheep as we roamed from town to town. Over here the public footpaths cross private property in a way that would be impossible in the US, and we never got a dirty glance except from a couple of the sheep. But you know how hard it is to read a sheep’s eyes. If the eyes are windows to the soul then I’m afraid all I saw was lamb chops.We had a guide one day who drove us through the countryside and took us to some fabulous lookouts and a couple of villages where they shot the epic Downtown Abbey. I know this show had a lot of fans, including the Fabulous Miss K, but somehow it never quite grabbed me. I tried watching an episode early on in the series but at the start of the show I watched they showed about 7 maids fluffing pillows for 10 minutes. Somehow it didn’t grab me.

We also visited Blenheim Palace, which was out-of-control huge and awesome: Two thousand acres with lakes, streams, gardens and really a lot of china inside. I always like visiting these old castles (much more than churches which I avoid for satanic reasons) because you can get great decorating ideas. Now I’m seriously considering adding some gold leaf in our dining room. I’ve already ordered some giant cannons and a couple of humongous bronze lions for the front porch. They should arrive by the time we get home.

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Enjoying the garden at Blenheim Palace

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From there we cruised through Oxford for a night and a day. I think it’s a pretty magical place. I had wanted to show it to FMK since I visited about 15 years ago. Coming from years in academia it does feel a bit like hallowed ground and the fact that it’s where Tolkien and C.S. Lewis drank together weekly and Alice in Wonderland was written makes it all the more cosmic. These guys really pushed the borders of mystical fiction and storytelling. We also took time to visit the Oxford Comma Museum where they’ve enshrined a lot of memorabilia about the famous punctuation mark.  We were surprised to see a lot of grammar lovers lined up at the ticket office all hepped up and excited to see this famous pause.

From there we trained on into London. Along the way we passed through this town:

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If you’ve ever wondered where all the dorks come from now you know. On the other hand maybe this is where all the Deepdeners go to do some serious dorking. We just buzzed through the town so I didn’t really have a chance to investigate. Maybe it means something totally beyond my pale. But I’ve noticed you run into stuff like that all the time here. They put these letters together like they are real words but we all know they really don’t have any meaning.  Keep in mind these people claim to speak English.

We arrived in London and moved into the AirBnB we had rented for the next six days.  This is an intense city and there are a lot of people here, most of them looking at their cell phones as they walk down the street.  Its actually quite eerie and its a wonder they don’t have more pedestrian accidents because no one is looking at what’s going on around them.

Since we were setting up house we hit the local supermarket to get a few basics.  It’s nice not having to eat out every meal so we usually get in some breakfast stuff and snacks and then only eat out once a day.  First choice was picking out some oatmeal and we had these two choices:

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So my choice was to eat the one that made me look like George Washington in drag or pick the one that would make me look like a young Sean Connery with an olympian physique but would also turn me into a bad speller.  I opted for door number 2.

Over the six days we were there we did three things: Walk a lot because it was really fun, go to museums, and see a lot of plays.  We didn’t actually visit Buckingham Palace though we kept going by it on our walks from our flat to the museums and plays.  That turned out to be pretty handy because I soon came to have admiration for the how the British run their country.  In my mind I had been preparing a list for ways they could improve this country (fix the driving thing, drop a few vowels from some of their words, etc.)  It turns out that on the gate of the Queen’s  they have a suggestion box.  I think they had it made at TapPlastics but they gilded it and you can just drop off your ideas for how to make things better for the country and every day one of those bear-hat guys in red brings the Queen your suggestions and then she fixes it for you.  It’s hard to tell from this picture I took because the box is basically clear plastic with a little gilding but the Royal Suggestion Box is over on the right column next to the gold thingie.

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Gate to Buckingham Palace  Showing the Royal Suggestion Box

We also happened to see three plays while we were there and that was a surprise for us. Our first day there we were walking through the West End where the theaters are and we passed in front of Apologia, which starred Stockard Channing and one of the daughters from Downtown Abbey.  Because it was the day of the show we were able to pick them up for the price of a bowl of haggis.  Then we sat in our seats and we were approached by a woman who asked if we would prefer to sit in the center in the third row.  We thanked the seating fairy, picked up our jackets, moved up front and saw a great play.

The next night we went to see the Book of Mormon.  For this we had bought tickets before we came over.  There has been a mountain of stuff already written about this musical and I won’t go into any details here, but I will say that I don’t think I’ve ever laughed as hard at anything as I did at this.  And I’m a guy who generally has no use at all for musicals.  I avoid them like the plague and if the truth be known when I was young and got taken to see The Sound of Music I think its the only time I ever rooted for the  Nazis…. anything to make that family stop singing, Please.

So on the 3rd day realizing we had been so fortunate the previous two nights, we said lets go see one more.  We were able to get tickets to see the hottest play in London,  The Ferryman.  Suffice it to say its the best play I ever saw.  Absolutely amazing with surprises, laughs and tears.  It really was shockingly good. I don’t know if it will come to the US, but I hope so.

We also visited the British National Gallery at Trafalgar Square.  Hands down this is my favorite art museum and I’ve visited it every time I’ve come here.  In particular they have two Caravaggios that have always knocked me out.  I got tipped off to them the first time I came here when I asked a guard what his favorite painting was and he sent me off to experience them.  They’re incredible. So when we arrived this time I made a beeline for them, and found out they’d been rotated out and were in storage.  Actually it was fine because there is so much good art here.

Have you ever had an experience where you turn a corner in an art museum and suddenly and very unexpectedly you’re looking at a painting you’ve known for many years. Perhaps it has touched you in some way and you’re shocked to finally and at last and out-of-the-blue be face-to-face with it.  The only other time this happened to me was at the Chicago Art Institute when I walked into a room and suddenly I’m looking at Grant Wood’s iconic American Gothic (probably the most parodied piece of art in history except for the Mona Lisa) and then I turn around and in the same room is Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks.  I had a very similar experience here at the British National Gallery.  I was looking at the paintings when all of a sudden I’m looking at this:

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This has been one of my favorite paintings for many years.  It’s a painting by Gainsborough of his two daughters.  The love and sweetness of a father for his daughters is almost overwhelming in this picture.  To me its breathtaking.  And there they are chasing a butterfly, a metaphor for the ephemeral nature of childhood.  Besides its inherent beauty and awesomeness, the painting is “important” for a couple of reasons.  About twenty years ago I was asked to give a guest lecture on the history of childhood at a conference.  This wasn’t actually anything I was prepared to do, so I began to research it and decided right away to use the history of children in art as the basis to develop the idea.  Actually the concept of “childhood” is relatively new, really taking shape in the 1700s with Rousseau and his contemporaries.  What art shows is that children were always portrayed one of two ways prior to that time.  First, they were shown as cherubs, angels dancing in the sky, or even as the Little Baby Jesus (yes that’s my favorite Jesus too).  Alternatively they are shown in formal portraits of the aristocracy, essentially as tiny adults.  It wasn’t until Gainsborough’s time that we really see children as children.  This painting was the forerunner of acknowledging childhood as a specific and special time.  So, you get the picture (literally in this case).  Here’s a picture I know and love and there it was in right in front of me.  Terrific.

I was so excited I decided to take this selfie, my very first one:

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My First Ever Selfie—I’m the One Wearing the Hat

Weirdly enough there was only one other photograph on display in the National Gallery and it’s of The Fabulous Miss K and me on our third date (she says it was the fourth date but I’m pretty sure she’s wrong.)  I have no idea how they got a hold of this.

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The Fabulous Miss K and me on our Third (or Fourth) Date

Enough with the National Gallery.  The other big museum we visited was the British Museum (you’ll never guess how they decided to name it that).  This is the most enormous museum in history and is famous for it’s collection of Ancient Egyptian artifacts as well as their Greek and Roman collection.  They have over five million objects on display but because FMK and I were limited to a single afternoon we were only able to see about two million of them.  I know that a lot of folks find this kind of museum stuff boring so I’ll keep it brief and only show a couple of items that caught my eye.

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A Gold Mesopotamian Head Gear (Helmet)—with Inscription

 

This object probably caught my eye because I like wearing hats and it was beautiful  I like the little metal ears on it.  But what was so fascinating was the inscription which you can’t see from this view. Chiseled in cuneiform (have I mentioned that I minored in cuneiform) on the front of the helmet were words that translate into Make Mesopotamia Great Again.  How sick is that?

The second item is this:

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A Game in Some Pharoah’s Tomb

Yes, this is an Egyptian game  It appears to be kind of like Chinese Checkers only the Ancient Egyptians didn’t know about the Chinese, so I don’t know what they called it.  Maybe Moroccan Checkers? But what’s really weird is where they found this game.  Inside a dead guys tomb so he could play games when he was dead.  Now I’m sure we’ve all given some thought to our mortality and being in heaven but did anyone think they’d spend all eternity playing Ancient Parcheesi?  Maybe its not any weirder than playing a harp forever but I just never figured you’d go to heaven to play games.  So I’ve got to wonder who do you play Ancient Parcheesi with?  I mean you’re not in that pyramid with other people are you?  Does one dead person get to win for all eternity and the other dead person loses forever?  What happens if you cheat?  I mean its too late to get sent to hell.

Here’s another thing in the museum that I think they got wrong:

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A Dead Mummy or Gollum?  You decide

Although they chose to label this as an actual dead Egyptian mummy I’m actually pretty sure this is the body of Gollum, retrieved from the Mountain of Doom in Mordor.

Finally, did you ever wonder what really happened to the Supremes?  Dreamgirls doesn’t really tell the full story.

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What Ever Really Happened to the Supremes

One final word regarding museums (never to be mentioned again in this blog unless I feel like it).  There is one museum I will never  visit, nor can I figure out who would visit it and why anyone felt the need for this museum.  It really exists.  I walked by it today.  It’s located in Keswick in the Lake District where we’re staying now (more to come about that later).  I think it should be erased.

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After six days in London we’ve gone back to the countryside and we’re now in the Lake District near the border with Scotland.

 

 

 

 

 

We Head Off to the UK

After a long flight and then landing in London, the Fabulous Miss K and I immediately jumped on the train and headed out to Bath, arriving at dinnertime the day after we left Oakland. Bath is probably the most beautiful city in England and apparently a huge tourist attraction. I’m so glad we traveled off-season as there weren’t really any crowds to sort through during our time there.  We took a lot of walks in the countryside and met some great sheep.

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Bath is most famous for its famous Roman baths and rightfully has a reputation as being a very hygienic city. The Romans first built this city because the water bubbling up from the ground was hot and they were very dirty. (Hence the phrase, “You dirty f%$&ing Roman guard”). It seemed liked a good idea. So the Romans dug in and built the world’s most impressive bathhouses and went on to invent monogrammed bathrobes and slippers and the centuries passed. Then the Romans left and the English showed up and started serving tea to every one, like it was a big deal. Great.

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We learned a lot about Bath’s history and culture while  we were there. Here are a couple of things so you can amaze your friends at the next Bath trivia night (don’t worry if you haven’t been to one of these yet, just be patient and know Bath Trivia night is the next big thing).

  1. Postage stamps were invented in Bath.
  2. Nicolas Cage had a nice house here until the taxman came after him.
  3. They think our president is nuts.

Okay, that’s it.

Except for one other thing. England is the Jane Austen capital of the universe (like there were a lot of other contenders?) They even put her on their 10£ notes recently right above Winston Churchill who is only worth half as much because he’s on the 5£ notes.  A lot of people don’t know this but he used to date her before he married Clementine.  If England is the center of Austen-worship then Bath is the epicenter.

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Jane grew up there, and I was fortunate enough to be dragged to the Jane Austen Center, by the Fabulous Miss K who has actually read her books. The “Center” is located in Jane’s old house on a street in Bath, but she doesn’t live here anymore because she died a few thousand years ago. I dutifully went in and the place was full of Austen worshipers and their husbands and those poor guys all had that same look on their faces that said, “What the hell am I doing here?” It turns out that there only three guys in the whole world who have actually read Jane Austen and only one of them will admit it. I don’t think it’s a mistake that right across the street from the Jane Austen Center is a medical clinic that specializes in testosterone injections. I know that when we walked out of the Center I had this strong urge to take a bath with a lot of salts, turn the lights down low, light a lot of candles and listen to Joni Mitchell. But I fought it off.

The Fabulous Miss K and I were both disappointed to learn that we had missed the annual Jane Austen festival they hold annually.jane-austen-festival-logo

This week-long festival celebrates all things Janey. There are lectures and teas, and people dress up like there was a big velvet sale down at Britex fabrics. But the Janesters are also known for totally ripping it up at night and the clubs, discos, and pubs are jammed with rowdy, drunk, Jane-worshipers and a few Mr. Darcy impersonators and guys named Percy who drink to excess and get in fights and ruin the woodwork, if you know what I mean.

One of the highlights of the week is the Miss Jane Austen look-alike contest where beautiful contestants compete for the honor of being treated like a literary queen for the whole week.

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Unfortunately this event has a darker side as the third runner-up is forced to dress up as Emily Dickenson for the week and is publicly humiliated wherever she goes. She is made to walk a gauntlet down the main street and is taunted with cries of “Don’t you know any limericks?” and “Rhyme this sweetheart.”

Jane Austen week culminates in the famous Running of the Librarians where tens of thousands of angry librarians who have come just for the festival run through the streets chasing hundreds of thousands of people who have overdue books.   Its not unusual to see gored readers who have taunted and flaunted these librarians by not getting their books back in time or by using their “talking voice” in the library, lying battered and bruised in alcoves and doorways along the route.   The city management thoughtfully has ambulances waiting in the side streets to assist those foolish enough to try to outrun an enraged librarian.

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That said, I was pleased to learn that one of the direct descendants of Jane Austen was Steve Austen the $6 Million Man. Who would’ve guessed that someone associated with a deep understanding of human girl-nature would beget an American action hero as powerful and shallow as Steve? That’s just one of the reasons England is such a great country.

 

Next Up: The Cotswolds, Oxford, and London

 

XL Pipeline—YES! Let it Flow!

Like a lot of you I was heartened to hear that our new President took decisive action and has opened the way once again to the construction of the XL pipeline.  This is the pipeline halted by President Obama that was designed to carry oil from our unwalled northern neighbor (Oh, Canada!) right through our national midsection down to the crescent city where it could be dumped onto boats or the Caribbean, whichever was more convenient. However I know the real reason our president has approved this pipeline… and it has nothing to do with oil.

Once again his decision is rooted in his childhood eating habits (read disorder).  Biographers of Trump have noted that not only did he have a compulsive need to keep his foods separate on his plate (creating a wall between each serving) but with Asperger’s like precision his diet as a child was self-limited only to pumpkin and pancakes.   Now comes the perfect opportunity for him to fulfill that unmet childhood need by approving a pipeline to carry Canada’s most precious natural resource straight to the American heartland.  But what I have sussed out from speaking to those closest to the president (yes, I have contacts in the Secret Service, the FBI, the CIA, the MI-6, and at Legoland) is that he  has no intention to send oil through that pipeline.  As noted above the raison d’être for this pipeline has nothing to do with creating jobs, energy independence or even world finance.  This pipeline will be used to ship Canada’s overabundance of Maple Syrup straight to America, keeping our pancakes fluffy, tasty and moist.  For those who say, WTF?, I can respond only that you should check out the going price for gasoline which is about $2.75 per gallon and compare it to the price for a gallon of Maple Syrup, which is currently about $88 per gallon at Vitacost.com.  Of course this is organic maple syrup or as we pipeline folks like to call it, Sticky Sweet Light Crude (ironically this was Trump’s nickname in high school). supertroopers

You probably think I’m jumping on the fake news bandwagon by giving out this information, but I think I have the proof.  Trump is so dedicated to this that at one point he actually married a woman named after this pancake accompaniment.

Finally, I want to say to those who still are opposed to this pipeline (or omelette eaters as we like to call them) that you need no longer fear the consequences of a pipeline spill.  In the event of break in the new pipeline and a gusher of syrup we need only send in a fleet of cargo airplanes and drop millions of pancakes and waffles over the area.  This should prevent any permanent damage in the area, although it may cause the local wildlife to die from gorging.  Alternatively all the new homeless folks can drop by for a free meal.

That’s why I think we should all get behind this newly approved pipeline.