Weighty Issues Revealed—Plus Venice

I was disheartened to learn today that one of our main reasons for the trip, as I mentioned when we started, was to go to France and Italy to lose weight by eating those tiny “continental breakfasts.” Now, as it turns out the whole continental breakfast thing is a hoax. It turns out that it was invented by Americans to make their brethren feel more international. This certainly puts a crimp in my plans. Additionally I learned you can’t lose all the weight you want by eating three or four croissants followed by a gelato chaser. Oh well. I don’t mind typing with my mouth full.

We were only in Venice for 2+ days. That was intentional on our part since we feared it would be too much like going to Disneyland (the irony here is that we found a Disney store in this city). While the city certainly is devoted to the tourist, it actually is still breathtaking and could stand up to a much longer visit, or several shorter ones. I kind of vowed not to make this blog a series of pictures about “here we are at xxxx”, but I may have to throw in a couple of those just because the place is so beautiful, like this view from our hotel room terrace.
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That said, here are a couple of highlights:
* I’m not a shoe/foot fetishist (in spite of any rumors you may have heard) but if I stayed long enough in Venice I would probably become one. The shoes are here are outrageously good, but so far. here is my favorite:

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I mean how cool is a patent leather, painted spiked heal with three colors of fur? You cannot get these guys at Thom McCan or Buster Brown.

* Most outrageous person? Easily the gal wearing tights and leopard-skin spiked high heels wobbling down the cobble street while walking her 200-lb. Afghan hound. If that dog sees a squirreletto and takes off, she’s got two instant broken ankles. She should hire an aquambulance to follow her around. As our guide says, “stupid married stupid.”

* Best meal of the trip (so far)? Lunch after visiting the Doges Palace: Crab served in its shell, Bronzino (Mediterranean Sea bass) roasted with cherry tomatoes, olives, and potatoes, mixed vegetable saute, artichokes in olive oil, truffle rissotto, espresso, and limoncello. For some reason we skipped dessert. Apparently my anorexia is cured.

* House most likely modeled after Liberace’s desert abode? Easily the Doge’s Palace. Gilt, marble, paintings, statues of naked men, and its own dungeon.

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* World’s Biggest Rosary Beads?— I’m pretty sure if you use these your prayers go straight to the Big Guy, not to any little baby jesus.

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I’m hardly mentioning all the beautiful art we saw here. I’m almost ashamed to mention that we did go to three art museums in a day and half and we got a bit overloaded. But it did lead me to wonder who has more baby jesus pictures, Spain or Italy? That would be a great project for some grad student to figure out. I will say this however, the Jesus paintings in Spain are a lot bloodier and more tormented than the ones in Italy. Italy’s Jesus seems better adjusted.

After all of this we jumped back on the train (the same one that now has been upgraded to plasma conversion thrusters like the ones used by the Enterprise) and headed downstream to Florence where we are ensconced for a week. It will be nice to slow down the pace of our trip. I can also say (having safely arrived in Florence) that there are few things better than settling into your seat, looking out the window watching the Italian country-side speed by at 175 miles per hour while you’re listening to Jimmy Smith play the Hammond B-3.

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Eurofast to Rome and on to Venezia

Right now I’m on the Eurofast train leaving Rome and heading north to Venice. Apparently there’s no one stoking the boiler over here, everything runs on nuclear powered electricity (so far our badges have detected no rogue electrons). We’re currently cruising along the freeway, or whatever they call it here, and leaving all the Alfas, Maseratis, Lamborghinis, Ferraris and Fiats in the Eurodust.

But before I get into what we’re doing now I wanted to share our final au revoir moment with you as we headed to the French airport. It happened that in our drive we passed by the Air France world headquarters building (or Centre d’Universe as the French call it.) We were surprised to see the building being picketed by the union representing all the Air France employees. It turns out they are all striking for more leg room at their desks and better food in the snack machines. We almost stopped our taxi to join in the march.

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Our first run through Rome was only meant to be a day but I now know why they call it the Eternal City. It wasn’t all so pretty and it wouldn’t end. We greeted Molly in our hotel located a block from the Pantheon (Ancient Romans weren’t monotheistic but they did learn it was a lot more convenient to pray to all the gods in one place (monodeolocalism) so they built the Pantheon). The first thing we learned was that Molly had been ripped off by the taxi driver who charged her almost three times the going rate from the airport to the hotel. Nice. She’s a sharp kid, savvy traveler with a ton of moxie, and she knows how to get around this globe, but they got her on this one. After commiserating we all headed out to wonderful meal and headed back to the hotel to meet with
the sandman.

We got up early the next morning and headed off to the Vatican where I had written them for a meeting with the new pope. It turns out there was some communication problem and he wasn’t available. They offered to let us meet the other retired pope, but I’m not the kind of guy who settles for stuff like that. I guess they thought we retired folks would have a lot in n We’ll have to catch him on the way home. We met our pre-arranged guide, who may be the smartest woman in Italy. She knew the vatican backwards and forwards and all 276 popes. She told us that the new one was incredibly wildly popular and the masses in the plaza come to about 150,000 on some Sundays. The old pope only got abut 46 to show up, so that’s a big shift. I won’t recount all the beauty, art, and riches we saw, but I do want to mention that I got some great ideas for redecorating when we get home. This place is even nicer than Graceland and Neverland put together. I have decided I will not include a bunch of photos that are readily available on the internet, but here are a couple of highlights.
Next to the main entrance of St. Peter’s basilica is a second bronze door. That door is special. It’s only opened every 25 years for some reason I didn’t get but I know it was holy. This concerned me because I think the chances of losing this key are very great if the vatican is anything like our house. When we entered I looked to see if maybe there was a hook by the door where they hang the key, but it wasn’t there. They probably keep it locked up in a safe-deposit box next door at the Vatican Bank.
Second, we visited the Sistine Chapel. Yes, it is everything it’s cracked up to be and then some. I learned that Sistine actually means Sixteenth in latin or italian. So the question is, Where are the first 15 chapels and why wouldn’t they let us see them? The rumor is that one of them was painted by Jackson Pollock (#12) (this is especially sacred and the painting itself involved a miracle as he had to get the paint to dribble upwards while he laid on his back painting the ceiling; and there is another chapel painted by Charles Schulz (#7).
Finally, as our last sight at the Vatican we saw the famous Swiss Guards who are responsible for the pope’s safety, and as you can see there’s nothing neutral about them. They go for the bright colors. Our guide told us these young men all come from the German-speaking area of Switzerland and are selected for their piety and the fact that they’re pure virgins. Personally I think giving a 25 year old virgin man a big sword and having him dress in pantaloons is a very risky thing to do. You will notice in these photos of the swiss guard that you cannot see their special extra-holy Swiss Army Knives. These are awarded to them after they complete their training and contain some unique blades that are personally blessed by the pope and cannot be purchased (even on Ebay). One is a special magnifying glass that when used to read the scriptures reveals the hidden meaning. Another blade is only to be used on heretics.

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One other note about the Vatican, and in fact all of Rome. It’s the most crowded place I’ve ever been and all the people in it are moving. Walking around here is difficult even for Molly and Karen. For me, with no tunnel vision its a bit of hell, rather like living in a pinball machine.

We finally left the Holy See and had some lunch and then walked down through the rain to see the Colisseum, even though nobody was playing there. We were accompanied by everyone else who lived in Rome along with a half million tourists. So much for traveling off season. When we returned back to our hotel room to rest before dinner, Karen discovered she’d lost her wallet that contained only all our credit cards, our ATM card and some cash. We tore the room apart and couldn’t find them. Despondent we went out to eat anyway and when we returned about 11:00 that night we searched again. Finally we called all the credit card companies to discuss cutting them off, although I’m not sure how we would get by for the rest of the trip with no credit and no cash (by the way when they advertise they will replace the card and get it to you immediately that’s a lie unless you’re staying in the hotel next door to VISA headquarters). We decided not to do anything until the morning but then as we climbed into bed, feeling a bit like Primo Carnero in the fifth round, the wallet appeared lost in all the sheets. I am fairly convinced that its recovery was a miracle associated with our trip to the Vatican, and will hence forward be referred to by theologians as the Miracle of the Wallet.

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Paris to Rome

The last two or three days were spent finishing up in Paris and then arriving late yesterday in Rome. Paris was cold but clear. We went over to Luxembourg Gardens and I fell asleep in the sun. Families, old people, and children all enjoyed the beauty of the day, each in their own way. I became entranced watching the children with their boats in the pond. They would push them away from the edge and then watch them sail, change direction, and then head for another part of the pond. The children would be waiting when the boat arrived and again they’d push it with their sticks out into the flow. What a change of pace from kids watching TV, doing the superhero, and then killing a bunch of folks on their video games.
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In one of our long walks we came upon an outdoor photo display set up along the banks of the Seine by one of the 4,315 museums in the city. Karen and I were struck by seeing this photo which made us realize what Molly would have looked like if she joined the IDF.

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That said, we had time for only one more museum, so of course, since there seems to be a museum for every kind of every thing in Paris, we selected the little known Musee de Buttes. One quick walk-through and we were out of there.

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Our final morning we spent as usual with my running downstairs to bakery, scoring some croissants and other treats, then returning for a small breakfast. Then we packed up, said au revoir and headed off to Rome.

We arrived late in the afternoon and met up with Molly. Tomorrow we have an audience with Mr. Pope. Can’t write…. must eat…. more later…..