Monthly Archives: August 2011

Florence……a definition of Art….

Art is absolutely everywhere in Florence. From street signs, the plethora of outdoor sculpture, the architecture, artists with their colored chalk decorating flat and vertical surfaces, obscure doorways, clothing both worn and displayed, food stalls, even poetry found on an archway. You just have to be willing to look for it and it doesn’t cost a penny – just your consideration. Florentines are very proud of their little city and they should be – they’ve earned the right.

There are numerous guidebooks out there that describe in detail the pleasures of this city. I leave that to them and choose not to regurgitate the obvious. What I want to do is give little vignettes of some experiences and observations that struck me in my wanderings. No particular order or level of significance…

I have a thing for graveyards and visit them wherever I travel – if available. I am fascinated with how various cultures honor their dead. I was unable to gain access to the main graveyard much to my chagrin. Ladies – shove a scarf in your bag and don’t take it out! Churches in Italy insist on a level of modesty even in this day and age and while they don’t insist that we cover our heads with a lace mantilla (a doily would do in a pinch) bare shoulders are a no no in No Uncertain Terms. There are enterprising young ladies selling scarves outside most big churches but I brought 3 with me (conveniently located in a drawer in my apartment) and was not going to buy another. After having hiked up an amazing number of hills and steps to get to this cemetery in the brutal heat – I was kicking myself all the way down. I did get to see a sample though in the main courtyard and there was a lovely smattering of beautiful crypts and carved sarcophagi – you can bet these were the monied folk. Not a lot markers indicating a below ground grave. Perhaps they take “the worms go in, the worms go out….” seriously here. All kidding aside – my thoughts were even hushed – it was so beautiful and dignified.

I witnessed a wedding held in Dante’s House. I just had to adopt the Voyeur and watched for a bit. There was a woman singing an Aria that took my breath away. The bride was exquisite in a layer cake of tulle – fanning herself – but not languidly. I wondered at the choice in venue. Dante? The Divine Comedy. The Inferno. Purgatory. The thought came that perhaps the metronome beat of her fan had something to do with the energy of those magnificent albeit questionable titles in which to forge a lifetime together. Bear with me and see the humor. I wished them both godspeed and every blessing and continued on. The circa 1940s Rolls parked out in front bode well to perhaps disperse arcane superstition…..

Paying for the privilege of using the bathroom. Well, when you gotta go, you gotta go. Considering that my apartment was about a half hour away – I opted to plunk down the .60 euros. That may seem a outrage for something so fundamental, so basic. But consider the alternative and the poor soul who’s duty it is to take your money and your attitude, keep the place spotless and give you your change. This is a perfect opportunity to tip generously. It could be you in another lifetime.

Art in the 14th through 17th century is just simply violent. From the sculptures like The Rape of the Sabine Women, Mercury Slays Medusus and others too numerous to mention all the way to the intricate painting on porcelain – it’s violent. This is not a judgement – simply an observation. I wonder why though. Were the times appreciably more violent back then? Or, were they just more honest?

Trying to speak the local language will open so many more doors. Because I took the time to learn some very basic Italian and was open to being corrected when I stumbled and graciously tried again – I was treated to smiles, good natured joking, special little treats and samples from food vendors, inventory from the back of the store and other delightful gestures that connected me to these strangers in a way that bridged cultural gaps. I have heard my fair share of loud ugly Americans and well, we’ve earned that distinction sad to say. While I promised not to regurgitate the obvious – how would you feel if someone came up to you and started speaking gibberish at you – loudly – while gesticulating wildly? And then proceeded to get angry when you shrugged your shoulders in utter confusion? Ok, climbing off the soapbox now with an encouragement to learn how to apologize for not knowing enough of the language to know enough. You’d be amazed at the resulting detente.

I like to collect strange things. At home, instead of Dresden china – I have rocks and feathers from all over the world. During a trip to New England a long time ago – I collected photos of porches because they were just everywhere and so grand compared to the cheesy stoops and decks at home. While in Florence – while wandering – I am on the lookout and collecting photos of the Medici family crests on buildings. Apparently they adorned their vast holdings with these distinctive crests and many remain. Some are garish and ornate – some very simple. They all have either 5 or 6 balls in a circle with one being different than the others. And they are in the strangest places now that the city has modernized in the last few centuries. If you are here and just can’t take in one more painting or sculpture – look up and try and find them. It’s a great little gift of a different perspective.

Florence is a city that encourages her patrons to keep moving. “Lots to see so no loitering” seems to be echoed in the very small number of benches available. Unlike San Remo that encouraged tourists to sit and take it all in at your leisure with benches just everywhere – unless you can find a curb or a church step to lighten your load – you will be eating your gelato standing up. Florence is just downright stingy with benches. Curbs are great until you have to leap up quickly to avoid the taxi, the bike or the horse-drawn carriage (most streets are pretty much narrow alleys). Church steps provide a great alternative until the “Follow the Flower” tour group comes swooping in, engulfing you in bad clothing, sensible shoes, fanny packs screaming ‘tourist’ and a general dazed unconsciousness. The other day I happened to spy an empty stone bench on one of my long meanderings and! it was partially in the shade! And! Nobody on it! WOW! I couldn’t believe my luck! I dashed right over to claim my prize before anyone else co-opted it and sank down with huge gratitude and appreciation. And, stood right back up just as fast with buns burning. The stone was way too hot to even sit for a minute. After I gasped at the injustice of it all – I threw back my head and laughed out load – Florence truly does encourage her patrons to keep moving.

On that note – I am going to move towards the streets less traveled and look for more art….


journey at Sea….

Who said the road to hell was paved with good intentions? The romantic notion of recapping the days events on the gently bobbing bow of a sailboat at sunset with a light breeze and a beer was very quickly replaced with the reality of life on a 23 meter sailboat with 15 other people – some of whom had their eye on the bow as well – or any other place to get a bit of privacy and collect their thoughts. So this recounting is done in retrospect despite all my good intentions…

One of the lovely things about traveling solo is that if there is an odd space that isn’t suited to companions traveling together – the single person gets assigned. I typically get the seat next to the pilot in small planes much to the chagrin of the other passengers but, I digress… I had what I affectionately called the coffin for my sleeping berth. Being pretty short it worked out well and I only had to share the head (bathroom) with the captain. The rest had to sort out who got the top bunk (try climbing gracefully out of one of those at 2am in a pitching sea when you are on night watch!) – 4 to a cabin – and a shared head. I was the lucky 11th wheel and extremely grateful. We all got situated pretty quickly that first night and the rest of the week took on its own agenda and pace. Suffice to say – it was magic. Not without discomforts but definitely magic. Group dynamics can be a dicey thing at best but cramped quarters on a sailboat can strain even the closest relationship. I was doubly lucky to have 15 of the nicest people from Germany, England, and Italy – me being the token American. Well, someone has to do it…

To try and give a daily account would be a long post so I will hit the highlights. We spent 6 days at sea with the goal to sight and record – both visually and audibly – as many species of whales and dolphins as possible. And we had a banner week. We sailed to Corsica and in that time saw Fin whales – huge – about 25 meters. Were treated to two sightings of them fully breaching out of the water. Sperm whales who have a very distinctive dive pattern which ends with a presentation of their fluke. They also presented their lower jaws which apparently is very rare. As is a night grouping of 4 juvenile males. Don’t all college age males group at night, I ask you??

Three separate Pilot whale pods who grouped around the boat as curious about us as we were about them. “Look, there are Humans!! We haven’t seen them in ages! Wow! Look how funny they look, they’re so RED (the temps were in the 30s and not a cloud in the sky), listen to their funny language…”

We were treated to the whale’s own varieties of clicks, chirps, whistles and other assorted sounds both live from the water and also by virtue of the sounding cable in the water. This cable allowed the researchers to locate the animals well in advance of our sightings. Nino, the principle investigator, was a magician at locating the whales based on sound.

Striped dolphins were plentiful. If the group did not have babies in tow – they were very playful with us. Also several sea turtles which are smaller than their Pacific ocean counterparts. They looked small and strange just swimming along the surface of open sea by themselves – I imagined they rather belonged in a lake. Manta rays – or devil fish – they were incredible to watch glide just under the surface. Roberto – our captain – called them butterflies.

Every day was filled with sightings and the attendant scramble to gather cameras, lens and other recording equipment, grab a decent viewing spot, keep your legs under you on a mobile deck while attempting to take a decent photo (no mean feat) and just simply be in awe. If you were lucky enough to be assigned to the flybridge deck (read up top) you had the kings view of the goings on. The other choice spot was the bowsprit where you could sit and dangle your legs with an unobstructed close view. I had the good fortune to be there several times during the week and got treated to dolphins playing right under my feet and pilot whales ‘blowing’ all over my legs and rolling over to look at me. They have really pretty eyes – made me think of a Holstein for some reason…

Bottle-nosed dolphins were the real entertainers. Lots of group leaping out of the water – 4 or more at a time all lined up in a row and the best – a newborn only about 2 feet long and as adorable as any baby can be. The males would jump high out of the water away from the mother and calf – I’m sure as a distraction and protective strategy.

I could go on forever about this experience but a post by definition is not a novel. So I will leave you with two of my personal best moments – other than the myriad sightings.

On the bowsprit – again – on a open calm sea – watching the sun go down huge and red on the horizon.

Night watch – again on open water – 2:30am – billions of stars in an inky black sky and the sound of whales blowing and talking in the dark around me…..

It truly doesn’t get any better than that….

In San Remo, Italy……Finally!

This is just a short note to family and friends that I made it to San Remo….finally. The last 48 hours in transit have been a comedy of errors and re discovery of the lovely nature of humans to help. After dealing with delays, no connectivity to speak of, a monastic cell in Milan, no sleep, minus the P key on my keyboard and a host of other – now- hilarious misadventures – I can say with all certainty that the journey is well on its way. More later – I am absolutely exhausted right now and am going to sink into my HUGE double bed and enjoy A/C!! But, before I sign off:

I want to tell the world that my Beloved – Will – has been a rock, an anchor and the best support team that any traveler and adventurer can have. I bless him, cherish him, and hope that everyone has the experience – at least one time in their lives – of having someone who is willing to back you up 300% from 6000 miles away. He deserves a round of applause for getting me through what could have been deal breaking situations and turning them into the humorous stories you’ll hear about in the near future.

signing off now with a reminder to all those who decide to travel with a convertible carryon – your are now a person of generous proportions – remember that in confined areas. I managed to knock over an entire display of books in an airport kiosk and then, adding insult to injury, just about toppled over when I leaned forward instinctively to pick them up – read top heavy turtle. No turning around quickly either – you may sweep untold persons in your wake……. try and see the humor in the visual.

San Remo is absolutely beautiful and it’s no wonder people love Italy if this is what it can offer.

The Inner Circle Advice…

My Bon Voyage gathering had the following advice for my journey – enjoy!!

Ron Says: “don’t drink the water” and “stay organized so you don’t have to stay focused”

Mariah says: “clean underpants in your purse” Ron adds – “aka – purse panties” he’s Mariah’s husband – he’s allowed…

Russ says: “find yourself a good realtor over there -after that – take your return ticket and rip it up – esp. in Italy” – group concensus here… “P. S. by everyone- have at least one guest room…”

Kim says: “Carry the your valuables close to your person” and “meet the locals and go with the flow”

Rob says: “always know where your your towel is” and “ask for glass of water…”

Mary Ann says: “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” – when you keep things organized its very easy to move forward in an integrated fashion.” (bravo for me – Mary Ann loves my packing cubes!!)

Will says: “share yourself with the world but meet me in Paris” He’s my Beloved… he’s allowed….

And We’re Off….

….Like a Herd of Thirsty Turtles…
Henry Golden’s favorite saying as he packed up his seven children, wife and myriad camping accoutremonts and headed to the desert wilds of Eastern Washington. Me being lodged in the very back of a fully loaded early edition white behemoth International Something-Or-Other ( read Old) precursor to the SUV was only too happy to be off to new topography and well out of the way of the swatting distance of my mother’s hand.

My current swatting distance is comprised of my own myriad of little last minute details so I can “be gone” for three months. What I find more interesting by far is the swatting distance I haven’t seemed to avoid as to the “Why are you doing this? Really? Europe?…Now?…for 3 months?….Do you have ANY idea what you’re 401K is doing….for the last 3 hours… hello…are you New???”

Here’s the thing (and many have said something very similar):

Stop trying to create a breakthrough from within a structure that’s set up to support failure.” Cheryl Richardson – week 26

Ok – So- at the 11th hour I finally own that this trip – journey – sojourn -whatever you want to label it – and albeit on a grander scale represents my Light Gap – is really about creating a breakthrough for myself that I have been unsuccessful in accomplishing by staying put in my current environment, current structure. A valient effort but – at the end of the day – or, in my case – a couple of decades – a failure. Perhaps not dismal but ultimately not satisfying or fulfilling – to say the very least.

Let’s just see what a completely new environment, time zone, cuisine, culture, and language can do to shake up my status quo – and what this venture down Alice’s rabbit hole has to offer.

At 7:05AM this Friday 8/12 – I take off down that rabbit hole to the next chapter of my particular universe. Sage advice – “Keep your hands inside the ride at all times!!” (author unkown but a great movie as I recall)

Signing off with the idea or suggestion that perhaps we all have an enviroment/structure we might want to tweak in our favor and the favor of those we care about. So – just a thought – how thirsty are your turtles?