Wednesday, November 13, 2013


After a month in Italy, my impressions written here at the airport departure concourse. The Italian people, although depressed by the economy and the lack of jobs for young people, are as friendly to foreigners as most Europeans - except for those Italians who regularly connect with foreigners through their work: they go out of their way to be sure I know they wish I was not here. From the extreme of the Venice "police" scam to the less offensive but ubiquitous sort of event this morning: we bought a foldable luggage carrier for our two duffle bags. I carried it on in Atlanta, Chicago, London and Zurich without a problem. In Florence, the Italian airline ticket agent had me carry it to security to confirm it was OK.  The security officer said that it was fine but she wanted to confirm with her supervisor (that makes 3 Italians and 2 Americans wasting time on an absurd issue). Then the 20-something supervisor said it was fine IF I was using it to bring a bag onboard but - if not - I would have to remove the tied down strap (a bungee cord).  After 10 minutes this issue was cleared up.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Dante got it right

As we have strolled around in our Florence neighborhood, we often pass through the plaza in front of Holy Cross cathedral (the huge Franciscan church "Santa Croce") where stands a statute of Dante Allegheri (buried in the cathedral). Much of Christianity's concepts of heaven and hell come not from the Bible but from Dante's condemnation of the rich, the powerful, and the church. Here today, in the Vatican in Rome, the 32 year old sculptor Michaelangelo was ordered to spend 7 years painting the immense ceiling of the Sistine chapel: he did not want to do it so the pope - this supposed emissary of Christ - said 'if you don't, I'll send my army and destroy your town (Florence) and kill everyone there. And, I'll excommunicate you.  Then Michaelangelo was stiffed on his bill by that pope who ordered the work be done. Nothing in the papacy or the Vatican has anything to do with the life or lessons of Jesus.

The Vatican is packed to the gills with - literally - trillions of dollars worth of art and gold. All in the name of Jesus who said "sell all you have, give it to the poor, and come and follow me".  Well, we Christians have done as poor a job of following Christ as could be imagined. It seems our cathedrals are into power and money and control in the name of our Savior who preached freedom from power, money and control.

And, inside this "holy" place we find all sorts of vendors selling things - like this store selling DVDs. Didn't Jesus expressly condemn commerce in the temple?

I rented an audio guide but turned it off when it said that the Popes who sponsored this orgy of opulence say that it was necessary since otherwise the common people could not understand the teachings of Jesus.

Real complicated:
Love God
Love man
Go tell

I can write it on a corn flake.

Trillions of dollars in wealth while people are hungry.

It's now  time to go home. We leave in the morning. In April, when we left 2 months in Paris running our "B&B", it was bittersweet: we were tired but sad to leave.  This time it's been a long time without the kids; and Italy - with the spectacular exceptions of the Selvas and the Dolamites - has been a great disappointment.

PS. Here's a photo of St Longino in the Vatican today (Nov 12, 2013).  The saint is the Longino in the back.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Yet again

One of my wonderful wife's amazing talents - she has a full quiver of them - is to roll with punches. I tend to punch back.
We arrived on time (9a) to get our rental car only to find out that the rental agency won't rent the car without a copy of the voucher. We have it on our phone. No notice we have to have any copy - particularly not a paper copy (National Rent a Car has the reservation and it reflects prepaid - at €100/day for a sub-compact!). No WiFi anywhere in or around the Verona train station!!  Even though we have already paid for the car, we have to pay again to get it

Lunch is €8 or €11 depending on which combo you order. Donna and I ordered the €8. Bill came at €23:  11x2 +1 for "service". I pointed out the error. Bill #2:  11 + 8 +1 = €20. No. "Sorry. Mistake". 8+8+2. Not going to argue over €1.

We spent the afternoon driving from Trento to Cortina through the spectacular Dolamite mountains. I was driving so check out Donna's photos.  I remembered this route from 50 years ago.  We were unable to get any useful info on a hotel or B&B from the local tourist info office so we parked the car and walked around downtown. Maybe 10 hotels. 8 closed for the season. 1 full. The other? €180 ($225!). Hotel AmbraCortina. Ouch!  No choice, they got us - again. But, hey, it includes breakfast!  But it doesn't. See photo. And, to add insult to injury, the morning coffee was... instant.

The Italians connecyed in any way with tourists stick you every chance they get. The Italians who are not connected in any way with tpurism are delightful people. But we are tourists so we encounter lots of Italians who are so connectrd. Arrivaderci Italy. 5 days to go. I won't be back. I sure hope none of our kids get married or live here!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

I picked the wrong cities

Florence, Venice, Rome. Famous, glamorous, full of art and history. Antipathy toward tourism - their life-blood
Sienna, Perugia, Verona.  Smaller, friendlier, welcoming. Full of great art, architecture, food.  Here's a photo of Verona as we arrived last night. This is not the ruins of a 2,000 year old Roman amphitheater. This is a 2,000 year old Roman amphitheater continually in use for 2,000 years

We are passing through Verona today (Wednesday November 6, 2013) on the way to the Dolamites but we will be back Friday morning to explore this city.

Last night I had the most unusual and one of the best meals of the trip.  Our hotel recommended the place. I had shredded horsemeat with parmesan followed by spaghetti with donkey meat sauce and some of Donna's cheesecake for dessert.

Scams, flim-flams, and gellaterias

Italy is art!
Italy is food!
Italy is scams! Flim-flam artists abound.

Today we found the vaporetta scamola.

Vaporettas are the Venice version of city busses. But more expensive. Whiile most busses cost €1.2 per trip, vaporettas cost €7 per trip.  But what a trip!! Nearly 3 miles winding down the Grand Canal on a picture-perfect day: our first in Italy when we were not hot out walking in T-shirts and jeans.

Near the end, 4 people got on purporting to be the police. 3 men and 1 woman ostensibly checking tickets. They were checking tourists, at the approach to Piazza San Marco - the tourist center of Venice. There are no signs at the ticket purchase spot - see photo - saying to validate tickets. On the other side of the ticket booth on the left side of our booth there is a machine - officially closed. [Photo] The ticket booth expressly says they are good for one hour. So why validate? 

Anyhow, the "E" dock where we were to get Vaporetto 1 was blocked off - electronic sign says - in English - that Line 1 is suspended because of high tides.  So I returned to get a refund. Two Korean ladies were doing the same thing so the ticket lady closed her booth and walked with the 4 of us to the entry that was not blocked (it was, in fact, the exit). We waited inside about 15 minutes for Vaporetto 1 and had our photo taken.

Then we hopped on the boat and headed for the scam.

We had arrived at the train station at 10:35 a.m., dropped off our luggage a couple of minutes later [photo], stood in line to buy a boat ticket, returned to the ticket counter for a refund, instead walked back to Dock E, entered at the exit led by the ticket agent (I wonder if she set this up???), just barely missed the boat, got on the next one at 11:20, and ran into the scam 25 minutes later.

There is a small sign on the boat [photo] which - if you come to Venice to read signs and disclaimers you would probably still miss, saying there is a €52 fine if you don't have a ticket. But we have tickets!  [At the end of our shortened visit to Venice we went back to Dock E to look for a sign. It's there!  Not where we first came in - photo.  Nor where we waited - photo. There it is, in tiny letters in the bottom right-hand corner of that huge sign.  What?  You don't see it? Neither did we!  There is a man to the left of center entering data on his smartphone. His left thumb points toward an orange line on the big sign.  Just under the orange notice is the notice to validate your ticket. Failure to do so leads to an unspecified fine. S C A M!!!!

I refused to pay the fine and demanded that we be taken to the police station.  That caused all 4 to descend upon me shouting all at once.  I said I could not hear all 4 at once.  So one asked me why I was demanding to go to the police station. I said "because I don't believe you". We made no progress so Donna asked me what I was going to do.  My response "I'm a 60s hippie still. I'm going to just sit down blocking the tourist exit...". That got the "police" [see photo] busy writing me a ticket. [See photo]. The Korean pair and a retired Scottish evangelist on our boat also got caught - they paid.

On to Venice. It's sinking. Between it sinking and rising sea levels the sea is 10" higher on the buildings than in 1900. So the center of town still has its plaza, but the sidewalk cafes are easy to find with a table because you need wading boots! 

We grabbed a quick bite of lunch - photo - then caught the 3:05pm train to Verona. Not going to spend money in Venice with the scams.

PS. The scammers returned to me our tickets - unvalidated - and returned a pair to Donna as well. Now we have 4 unvalidated tickets for sale - cheap!!

Monday, November 4, 2013

A really "crappy" day

Yesterday the toilet broke, flooding everything. The landlord required that someone be in the apartment when the plumber came to pay him if we had flushed anything down the commode that caused the problem. I wrote her (our phone does not work) that the lift pump had failed: impeller or motor or both but she would not bring a plumber until we were here (even though the flat charge is €150 and she holds a €150 security deposit)!  So, I asked Donna to follow our schedule and go see the Vatican in Rome and I would wait. At 3:15p they showed up. Problem was the impeller broke and jammed the motor. A 3+ year old pump that the landlord wrote was "new".  Anyhow, it's fixed.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Conclusion: never again

Donna is standing in a really, really long line today, to buy tickets for Saturday for Trevor, Eleanor, her and me to go to the Uffizi. This is yet another example of the incredibly frustrating life of a tourist in Italy in 2013.  We started this morning trying to get tickets online.  A Google search on p1 and 2 does not list the ticket agency because - as Rick Steve's points out - there are lots of tour agencies that want to sell us 4 tickets for €120 when 4 are priced at €25. And - says Steves - they want to sell Florence tourists tickets to the identically-named museum in Venice (and vice-versa) - did France have 2 Louvres?  The €95, plus being very irritated at the Italians' complete disinterest whether or not tourists are here, set us out on a long walk. We found the website (says all tickets, all weeks are sold out - Steve's says this is normal and you can call for ticket reservations - as we did at Academia) so I tried calling. Only after I realized that I could not reach any phone number do I suspect my phone is out of time.  No notice, of course, so as Donna stands in a long line to buy tickets I walk halfway across town to stand in a long line to get more time on my phone. They don't open until 10a!  Vodaphone.

So I waited. When I came in, I had to get a ticket for a reservation to speak to an agent. Instructions for the 3 choices were only in Italian so I said "I have no idea which" and the Vodaphone rep said: "No problem, they are all the same". [Then why make us choose?]

When called, the lady spoke English!  No, we (Vodaphone Italy) can't add time to your Vodaphone phone because it was bought in England. [Never heard of the EU?]. "So what can I do to get a working phone now?" "You can buy an Italian Vodaphone chip for €20 valid for 30 days.". "OK" "Let me see your passport". "I have a color copy of my passport here on my US smartphone". "Can you email it to me?". "Of course, if you have WiFi.". "Sorry, it's locked". "OK, put my phone in your copy machine and make a larger photo." "The copy machine won't do that".  I turned and walked out, back across town. Donna had stood in that long line, "reservations" line, only to find out that was the line to pick up tickets if you had a reservation and that you could not make a future reservation there and get the ticket!

On to Pisa.  The express train is on track "1A".  The signs are for tracks 1-20. No "1A" so we stand in line to ask where is 1A?  We get on the train. No a/c.

But we meet a nice couple from Florida who show me the Eurorail app which has all of the train schedules on it and does not need WiFi.  Gonna get that!   But we are considering changing our reservation to return home on the 3rd rather than the 13th. Go to the airport with Trevor & Eleanor.  Maybe. But this will be my 3rd and last trip to Italy. No Germany. No Italy. I'm narrowing down the places I will go by eliminating places to which I won't return.

Pisa was delightful - but typically Italian.  When we left the train station, it was 2 miles to the Duomo and Leaning Tower.  For what else is Pisa famous?  Yet in the first mile of walking there were zero signs pointing toward either, and in the second mile there were only two, both the size of US rural green street intersection signs. When we exited, we wanted a taxi back.  There were 2 at the taxi stand but both were reserved so we walked 1/4 mile, found four police, asked in Italian "Excuse me, good afternoon. Where is a taxi?". They pointed me to a sign: "Taxi" with no taxi.  We quickly walked the 2 miles back to catch the 3:11p express.  We were 5 minutes late, but it was 10 minutes late, so we caught it and zipped off nonstop to Florence.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The son is rising

in the morning in Poland, flying with the daughter-in-law to Paris, then here to Firenze to visit for the weekend!!!  Trev & Elle!  We are excited!!!  And the weather has finally changed to be cool enough to be comfortable in a T-shirt!   And I woke up this morning and found that my wife is Donna!!!  Hooray!  Life Is Good. 

Monday, October 28, 2013


So my bride agreed that today we would have no plan.

Yeah, right.

Actually, I was busily making plans for the day and she set out to - successfully - slow us down. So we got a late start preceded by a trip to the grocery store for vanilla, followed by a big breakfast of French toast, real maple syrup ($9 for a tiny bottle!), coffee, oj and tea.  Then a long stroll, a stop for a late lunch, then a nap each on a park bench followed by another stroll home, and I went off to my cooking class.  Good day!  Glad we had no plan. 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Trifling with truffles

After an exhaustingly hot day in Rome yesterday, today it's mid-70s in Florence. Sunday church services in English are nearby at 6:30p. So early afternoon we made a quick trip to The Barbarian (the name of the local grocery store is "Conan"), came back to have truffles on baked crackers with Chianti from nearby Fiesole while we wait for mid-afternoon lunch to be ready. We are having chicken-longino which (today) means meat from three large thighs cooked with tomatoes, onions, zuchinis, oregano, salt and pepper plus pasta with homemade cheese sauce and, of course, Chianti (the giant bottle was €4.80 and the small bottle was €4:40, so guess which we bought!).  Appetiser is truffles and olives on baked crackers with a bit of the fruit of the vine!

Saturday, October 26, 2013


Italy is a lot of wonderful things: food and art stand out. But it does not have the "tourist-friendly"  part figured out. An example has been the past 24 hours. Yesterday (Oct 25) we considered that today (26) that we could go to Pisa, then to Corsica, spend one or two nights, and return. Knowing for a certainty that DOES NOT WORK (and I don't care what the printed tour books say to the contrary - IT DOES NOT WORK NOW: no matter where you want to go from Florence, it says there are no trains; none to Rome, none to Venice, none to Pisa, none today, none tomorrow, none the day after tomorrow) so, I checked on the Pisa-Corsica ferry: only 1, at 8am.  On our way back from Perugia, I stopped at the ticket machine at the Florence train station (there are no employees selling tickets: 100% automated) and confirmed a train 6:31am -7:25am Florence to Pisa.

Last night we were considering our plans for next week and I wanted to look at going to Venice Tuesday or Thursday. While does not work, its chat feature does. So I asked about prices and times. "It is best to get that information at the train station" was the response. No kidding! So I told them 3x that I was not going to walk a half hour to the train station to "talk" to a machine. Finally she said the times. She was wrong!  Then I found another URL which accesses a different entry point for trenitalia and this one let me select an outbound trip but no matter how many times I tried, it ignored my return date and time and put in 7:55 am on January 1st. So I connected to chat. I was told "Just buy your outbound ticket, then go back in (re-enter all of the same information) and buy your return ticket"!!  No kidding.

So, we got up at 5a, had breakfast, and left the apartment at 5:55a, walked to the train station. No 6:31am train to Pisa. It was not cancelled. It does not run on Saturday but at 3p on Friday the computer showed a 6:31am train for the next day.  What to do?  We are packed for 2 days.  Donna suggested we go to Rome. We bought a ticket and tried to find WiFi. There is a food court. McDonalds there has no wifi. The only WiFi requires a pass code from a "Chef Express" receipt however - in true Italian form - there is no restaurant "Chef Express" in the food court. As we walked out, there was a sign on the door (maybe 3" high) that said "Chef Express".  We went back in but still no luck finding it among the many restaurants so I walked over to ask someone and in tiny letters (less than 1") on her name tag: "Chef Express". So Donna tried to buy something. No, have to pay across the food court and bring back the ticket. So Donna stood in line and ordered orange juice. But the ticket booth had no change!  No kidding.

We boarded the Eurostar (€88 for 2) at 6:50am to Rome.  Immediately 2 very large, very loud women sat down by us (reserved seats). They BOTH simultaneously talked loudly in Italian, elbowed me a half dozen times and once clapped loudly as I - and the other travelers around us - tried to sleep. Despite announcements over the PA in English and Italian to please be quiet, they bellowed on the entire 1:45 to Rome.  I'm not sure either one ever inhaled.

At Rome we needed information. There was a sign for "Information" with an arrow!!  It pointed to a blank wall. We asked directions and found another sign for "Information" and another arrow! It turned out that it pointed the wrong way.  Finally we located the information center at the central Rome train station. ONE person working there.  Long line. We waited.  Has no maps.  Sign says they have no information on trains!  In the TRAIN STATION. No kidding.

Found the ticket office for the ferry to Sardinia.  It's an overnight ferry - 4 hours - leaving at 10p.  Set out looking for WiFi. None. Not even at McD.  So now we've decided to haul our bag to the Metro, find a map, and go to the Coliseum.  Maybe we can find WiFi (to find a hotel) at lunch.

We did not plan on 3 things: how a 30 pound pack would hurt my foot; and how 90 degree sunny windless  weather in clothing for 70 degrees would exhaust me, and how incredibly HUGE the crowds were approaching the Vatican.  But I get ahead of myself. 

We went to the Metro, bought 2 all day metro passes (€6 ea) and a Metro map and rode 2 stops to the Coliseum.  Line for an €8 ticket was half way around the 60,000 seat facility so we paid €25 each to skip the line and have a guide. It was a nice tour and we got some good pictures. By the time we finished the tour of the Coliseum and the Forum and the Roman Senate (not where Julius Caesar was killed - this building was under construction at the time), it was almost 1p so we grabbed a sandwich and a water at a roadside stand, walked around the Coliseum in the blazing heat, and hopped the train to the Vatican which closes at 4p.  We walked about six blocks when we encountered a huge solid, impenetrable mass of people. Half of them were in various protests about something and the other half were standing 10 deep in a long line snaking along the way and out of sight. They were waiting in the blazing heat (the Rome Chamber of Commerce says it was 80 today; maybe in a villa, in the shade; but on the asphalt in line with 50,000 people in the bright sun it was 90!) to get in to the Vatican.  We never got close enough in the crowd to see how far away the entrance was. A mile?  Two?  We have no idea. We never saw any part of the Vatican grounds . 

So, we grabbed a cab to the train terminal, there was a bullet train leaving in 5 minutes going back to Florence; we bought our €44 each tickets and hopped on. The air conditioning hit me in the face and instantly the pack was lighter. No, that was because Donna had carried it for awhile. In the ac I was instantly asleep, waking an hour and a half later as we were approaching Florence. At 4p we were back at our apartment.  As we approached our apartment we were speaking with an Italian couple who explained that there was very little tourism to Corsica and Sardinia in October. I smiled and nodded. Ya' think - just maybe - it's because the ONLY Corsica ferry leaves at 8a and the first train to bring the tourists arrives 30 minutes away any the same time: 8a. Or maybe because the ONLY ferry to Sardinia leaves for a 4 hour trip - at 10p?  When you arrive in Sardinia at 2am, how do you find a B&B? Or a cab?  And how do you make up your lost sleep?  If they wanted tourists - and they clearly don't care in Italy if tourists come or not - both ferries would leave at 9:30 am . 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Pea soup and hot chocolate

Perugia. Oct 25, 2013 A delightful surprise!  The tour books all say there are trains on from Florence to Perugia. However, trenitalia does not know that. It says "no solution" on any day to go from Florence to Perugia. But one guidebook says the first train is at 8:10a so we got up at 6:30 (my pancake attempt worked better today than the disaster yesterday) and left at 7:30. There was a train at 8:02 on trenitalia and returns at 1:39p and 3:39p. So off we went on a 2:30 train ride, not knowing what to expect. We arrived on schedule in a thick fog, bought our bus tickets - it's a long way (and all uphill) to the ancient center of Perugia.  As we worked our way up the hill on the bus, we emerged from the fog into a clear day, a beautiful old town, and more chocolate than we could eat (and we ate a lot!) for €5 each.

Thursday, October 24, 2013


October 23, 2013. My cooking class is an interesting mix of young and old that has taught me and reminded me more about group-think and the collective effect of disinformation. The young are certain of their truths - or so they say. The old are equally corrupted by disinformation.

One girl, from Venezuela (Isabella), was aghast that I had spoken admiration for the populist Chavez: she said it was his fault that Venezuela had limited choices of food (for her upper class family, was left unsaid). I asked which was worse: limited choices but all eat or 45,000,000 living in poverty in America trying to find anything to eat. She was unsure!

When our teacher had an emergency and had to leave, the topic turned to Cuba. Again I expressed admiration. Isabella had not been there but she knew of women who had jumped into shark infested waters with their babies in their arms to try to swim to freedom! I said that the people in Cuba were happy - she was aghast at the idea.  So I posted to my video notes (which the class has the URL for) an international chart of "the happiness index": Cuba is #11, USA #105)

But as we often note: facts don't matter to the conservatives. We went on to medical care and a 62 year old NYer said how wait times in socialized medicine countries are so bad. I disagreed and just posted a comparison chart showing US the worst.

Maria said that her town, St Something of something in Mexico was the #1 tourist destination in the world. I said it was Paris. She wanted to bet.  Fine with me, write it down. Oh, no. Her opinion was based on some writer in some magazine. So I posted the actual tourist visits. France was #1 at 88 million. #2 was 33 million. Mexico wasn't on the list of the top 10.

Etc etc   Half-baked ideas espoused as carved in stone truths from collective-think by "students" who meander through life not thinking.  It's the same everywhere!

Were we like that?  No, we challenged the societal "truths": if it was "generally known" I think we considered it suspect.

No can squeezee, into the Uffizi

October 24, 2013. Headed out, on a cloudy day, to see if we could get in to the Uffizi without reservations (it's not easy...).  No.  There are - as an Italian later told us - just so many people. No. The Uffizi gets 1 million visitors a year and is almost impossible to get in. The Louvre, on the other hand, takes the hassle out of getting in (for less cost) for the 8.5 million who come. The Italian ministry of tourism (by whatever name it exists) is clearly ambivalent about tourists coming: they (we) are going to come anyway, so why work to make it easy.  France has Paris. Italy has Florence and Rome and Venice and a much warmer climate, similarly great food and wine and art (France is better in each, but not by much), yet France gets 3x the tourists of Italy - because they work at it!  An ad for the French train system, to bring customers off planes, asks " What does France look like from 30,000 feet?". On the next page, the answer: "Italy".  

So we crossed the river as the clouds broke up, went up to the 19th century Piazza Michelangelo and took some great photos.  We have developed a base line for Italuan restaurants that we will try:  can't be smoky (LOTS of people smoke here even though it's against the law in restaurants), can't be hot (for some reason Italians think 80 and still deserves a coat and a scarf), and can't be loud ( the city is loud enough without piped in crooners in Italian preventing any conversation). Sometimes we have to stretch to find such a thing!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Lucky Lucca

Lucca - a town 80% of the way from Florence to Pisa has the most astounding (and complete) city walls I have seen. The top is wide and paved and invites a 4k bike ride around the top. [photo].

But the "tourist experience" in Lucca leaves a lot to be desired.  The vendors seem to be busy in conversation and -belatedly - imposed upon to sell you something.  It's the 500 year anniversary of the walls - this month - yet the middle of the town is under construction (in preparation for the great 501 celebration?).  And, in all my travels, I have never seen a timer on the (dirty, pay) toilets that limit you to 3 minutes then a loud alarm goes off (Donna heard it upstairs) AND YOUR LOCKED STALL DOOR COMES OPEN!

We got off at the train station and wandered across town. There were no signs for tourist info and the huge info center had only a tiny sign (large other signs) so it's very hard to find (and it's internet does not work).

Welcome to Lucca!

All it took was a Frenchman to get us back on track. A store said it was selling truffle oil and had free tastings.  The man inside was friendly, helpful, a GREAT salesman: we ended up spending €50 on oils, drinks, and sauces.  He offered to hold the bags for us so we didn't have to carry them 4 hours and volunteered that he did not close for lunch.  Only then as we were checking out did we find out that he was French!  Ah, France!   Je revien!

Then we had an awesome experience, followed by a second: first, there is a tower in Lucca that is 600+ years old and has trees on top. We climbed it and took some amazing photos into the city.  Second, we walked over to the old Roman amphitheater which has been converted into a beautiful plaza.  I had eggplant parmigiana and a cold First (beer) while Donna had a chicken salad and we shared a cheesecake for dessert.

We returned on the bus. In reading the transportation options I read that the only good way to go was the train; another said thesame about the bus.  Faster? Some said "Train" while others "Bus". An unusual degree of disagreement. So I decided we should find out for ourselves. And report here.  A couple of external factors: train €7 bus €5.  Italy in general and Lucca in particular seems to assume that everyone reads Italian and that most signs are unnecessary since no one is a tourist.  So, finding the train is easy: they need train tracks. Finding the bus is hard. The bus to Firenze says "Lucca" on the front. The stop has a tiny sign saying bus stop but it describes a route to Pisa (the other direction). There are no officials to ask and the bus pauses just long enough for the people to get on.  We were lucky to find it: we arrived 10 minutes early but only found the spot and identified the bus with 30 seconds left.  The bus IS quicker: about 65 vs 75 minutes. The seats are not as comfortable, the leg room is much less, and we were jostled left and right quite a bit.  Unless I was on a really tight budget where €2 made a difference, I'd take the train. 

. Faster

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

But a strange place, nonetheless...

Italy is a strange place for an American who loves all things French. The Italian cheese and wine compare favorably. The Italian baguette is only ever so slightly behind the French. All three are far, far better than anything available in America. The cities certainly match in beauty the wonderful cities of France.  Except for the Selva family - and that is a huge exception - the Italian people are not as friendly to us as the French. But there certainly are shortcomings. Consider bread. I loved getting up in the morning and going out to buy - for €.90 - the French baguettes, still warm from the oven. 7am, 6am, the bakeries were open for business.  Here, they open at 8a. for the €1.1 loaf (all Italian grocery food is more expensive than in France).Too late for us, so we buy them the day before, but they are a bit stale at breakfast. Banks. French banks are there to help customers, tourists or not.  Italian banks are open a couple of hours in the morning for retail business for deposit-holders only. I sought to get coins for the laundry from "our" BNL bank a block away (BNL is a partner bank with our BoA). "No".  No explanation, no suggestions, no appeal from the English-speaking teller. Trains and busses.  The French train and bus system - like the Italian - is efficient, clean, comfortable, and prompt. But schedules are only in Italian and the websites share authorship with  For example, the ONLY way for us to get train and bus tickets for tomorrow is to walk to the main bus and train stations and buy them there.  In France, user-friendly GUIs make it simple.

Imagine with me

Suppose you LOVED good food and you had just stumbled into a small ristorante and experienced the absolutely finest meal you had ever eaten: the food, the presentation, the ambiance, the company were all exemplary and thus combined for a truly unique experience. Or whatever your passion in art.... just imagine the 4 dimensions of that moment and how life changing for you such an experience could be.  Now imagine how to convey that in a photo.

Impossible.  Right?

So, too, photos of David.

As one looks at THE sculpture by THE master, it is not hard to imagine David alive: it is hard to imagine him not breathing hard from running up the hill toward Goliath. There is a slight glisten on his chest. The veins in his hands, arms, and neck hint at mild exertion.  He is turned with his side toward Goliath, not unlike a baseball pitcher seeing his target while ignoring all else around him.

I have now been here 3 times yet the shock at seeing living marble is even greater now than before. The next emotion is joy. Joy at the confidence of a very young man (14?) who has been prepared by the Creator of the Universe for this one transcendent moment: the most famous battle in western culture. David has slain a grown bear and a grown lion to protect his sheep. Now he prepares to slay this giant with an almost casual air: he knows he was born for this. There is no fear.  He has run down one hill, across the valley and charged up the hill. Goliath has made a fatal mistake, stepping out alone to face David; for at 10' away, David knows he is no match for Goliath. But Goliath is, perhaps, 25 feet away. Perfect range for one highly skilled in use of the sling. David, 1st Kings 17 says, chose 5 stones. Imagine this confidence: Goliath has four brothers and one is for each of the 5 of them.  David is so confident, he is looking further ahead - to future battles not yet imagined. 

Perhaps Goliath knows the danger of a sling, so David has the sling hidden behind him - away from Goliath. In 5 seconds, Goliath will fall.

Michaelangelo was the greatest human sculptor of all time. He did not fail to understand that.  He worked with other great artists who did preliminary work. But not on David.  David was conceived, acquired, and carved solely by the hands of the exemplary one.  If he had never otherwise carved or painted, David - alone - would make him the greatest artist of all time.

How to capture that in a photo. It can't be done. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Siena? Siedonna.

OK, my wife points out that I kinda shorted this blog, so here are some pictures I took.  The photo which looks a bit like a giant pepper grinder, is in fact a dual purpose public lighting system from the middle ages. The device held torches at night and at other times the sharp points on top held the severed heads of defeated opponents. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The BIG DAY ends in love and starts... on Track 6

October 19, 2013. Well, sort of. We arrived at the train station in Firenze, no problemo. Spent 20 of our 30 minutes looking for a toilet. Signs all over the station, but none have arrows. Just letting me know there was one, but not where. Finally found it. Costs €1. Had given my coins to the beggars. Oh well, it's a 30 minute bullet train to Bologna and we will have time there.  But our ticket has no train # and Rimini is not the end of the line so we ask. First, at the info desk for a different train company and they didn't know but they pointed to another info booth and he said, in English: "Track 6". Sounds easy. But there are two different tracks, in different places, both numbered "6". ["6 Central" and "6 Ovest"]. Like they can't count above 15 and they had 20 tracks.  So we guess on one, there is a train waiting, but no officials to ask.  So, we go back to the terminal and ask again. "Track 6 Central" in Italian. We were at the correct one and found "our" train - which gave us a name and # - on a paper on the wall  But as we stood waiting on the next train, an announcement was made and everyone left. Donna heard "Rimini" in the Italian-only announcement so we headed toward the terminal and found a display board saying our train # was now on "4".  Like "6" there are two #s "4" so we guessed again, climbed the stairs, found a train waiting with the right name and number, and got on. Wrong car - 1st class. And had not cancelled our ticket as were supposed to do, but we were on the train.  Called Danieli Celli to say we were going to be in Rimini at 10a, and off we went.  Another adventure survived.

A puzzling observation.  It is still really warm here. Daytime highs are not far from 80 and nighttime lows are in the 60s. No wind, low humidity.  I wish I had brought shorts.  But many, many of the Italians dress in sweaters under coats with scarves and winter hats. I would melt but they seem unbothered.


Have you heard about the love in an Italian family?  Forget about the sitcoms. Ask yourself if your grandparents spoke of "going back" to a remote mountain community and everyone came out, talked, walked, then ate in a communal love-in.   If so, double it, then triple it, then just imagine.....

70 years ago this coming June 5th, my Dad's first cousin - James H. "Jimmy" Longino (who lived within 1 block of where I grew up) - had to bail out of his flying fortress over the tiny community of Mieolo, Italy.  He landed about 5 miles out, found a change of clothes, and began walking south when he encountered a 16 year old Valeria Selva (see photo) and her Mom. They took him back to their home where 11 of them lived. And the love and bravery that family had is beyond my imagination. Had they been caught, all 11 would have been executed - as had just happened to an Italian family 8 mikes away - but they took him in, hid him in a hole that they dug in a field 100 yards from their remote mountain farm home, and kept him safe for more than 3 months, because they were a loving family and that is just what they did.  Because love motivated that family - and clearly so does - they did what Jesus commanded we all do: welcome the alien, give to all who ask, do for the least of us.  Tired, hungry, alone behind enemy lines, Jimmy found his greatest moment of need, and found a family willing to meet it.

How do I know that love motivated them?  Because of what they did 70 years ago - and what they did today: October 19, 2013.

We arrived at the Rimini train station to two carloads of Italian greeters. We then rode to the home of Valeria Selva, 88, her husband, son, daughter and various others. After an hour or so talking with her we left to go see the 1944 home, now used as a sort of barn.  When we arrived we found ourselves surrounded by smiling faces welcoming us (see photo).

By the way, I was far too busy meeting people so I asked Donna to take the pictures. You might want to see the photos on her blog

We looked at where Jimmy had hid, etc and then we were in a procession of 11 cars going to "manga".  40 of us ate for more than two hours (see photo), capped by a song sung for us (video ).  But I kept being drawn back - as did Donna - to the beyond imagination choice Valeria's parents made to protect a stranger at the very imminent risk to everything they held dear. I am confident that when their eyes last closed then saw their Risen Savior, the first thing they heard was "Well done, good and faithful servant!"

[What a juxtaposition of this wonderful, loving, happy family Silva and the Jimmy Longino children who - for reasons I can't imagine - want nothing to do with this. Just as love gets passed along, generation to generation, even when the generators of the love are long dead and buried, so, too, anger.  Great Uncle Henry, his son Jimmie, his wife Barbara... who knows?  It does not matter.  Too bad for them, but great for us. We were "adopted" into the Silva family and invited back as soon as possible!  We WILL be back and - if you are reading this family Selva - you will always have a home away from home in a small village in the hills north of Atlanta where the love generated by my father and Donna's mother await your arrival with equally wide open arms and hearts!]