Monday, June 27, 2005


I forgot to mention about Florence -- excuse me, Firenze -- that there is apparently a major restoration project going on all over town, which means that virtually all the important sites are covered in scaffolding. This is great news for future visitors, for the structures involved and for the town itself, but it plays hell with photographers and visitors like me who are here now. (Yes, I know, poor me. It's reality checks like this one, and like getting rear-ended -- thankfully with no damage -- 40 minutes out of town when we first left SF that Saturday in May long ago that are keeping us from just blissing out entirely and turning into shafts of pure light ascending into the heavens for all eternity.) If I were planning a trip to Italy, I would skip Firenze for at least the next year or so, until most or all of the major reconstruction work has been finished. That's your travel tip for the day.

I also wanted to say that I don't know why we call this town Florence if we're from the US or the UK when the residents here call it Firenze. Firenze is such a much more beautiful name, don't you think? We don't Anglicize San Francisco or Los Angeles to Saint Francis or The Angels, do we? So why the language difference? Firenze sounds so much better -- as do Roma and Venezia and Napoli. Hmm.

That's all I've got for now. Tomorrow we are on to Venezia, and the adventure continues.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Keep Those Cards and Letters

Got an email from one of my right-wing friends (why do I enjoy tweaking these people so?) who thanked me for the postcard I sent him (from Paris, written in bad French), said he hoped I was having a good time, and added "...fuck the french!!!"

Well, sure, I sent him the card in the first place because I thought it might get a rise out of him, but really, what's the deal with the Freeper crowd still hating the French? They were right about not wanting to go to war with Iraq, and even the Republican Congressman who instituted the Capitol menu change from "French fries" to "freedom fries" now says the war was a mistake and regrets the French-bashing. The Limbaugh and Savage and Coulter crowd, however, have no such compunctions. It's this hypocrisy, this lack of examination or retraction or introspection (or even thinking through an issue in the first place) that I find so very frustrating. The wingers will seize on a quote or an incident -- such as Ward Churchill's bizarre pronouncements about 9/11 -- simplify it, take it out of context, and then hold it up as an example of why all of us on the left are traitors and/or dupes. Even when facts directly refuting these positions come to light, the memes, once established, live on. Either that or they are simply ignored as if they never happened (see the reaction to the Downing Street memo and a thousand other examples), while the dittoheads glom on to another dumbed-down strawman ("Kofi Annan is a scumbag!") that they can worry and thrash like a small terrier shaking a rag doll. It's just ridiculous, stupid and disingenuous, and shows a slavish propensity to be led by the nose by anyone with a pulpit and a misinformed opinion (hello, Bill O'Reilly).

My friend, in response to my inquiry about his comment, inexplicably said that he doesn't believe "the French have ever forgiven us for liberating them in WWII," and then goes on to say that we on the left "just don't get it."

How in the world do you ever deal with idiocy and irrationality like that and remain sane? It boggles the mind.

Starring Firenze Henderson as Mrs. Brady

Here we are now in Florence, an impossibly beautiful Renaissance town filled with fabulous art and architecture, tourists and partying college students. When I go on vacation, I take pictures of buildings. I may need a few more 1-gig flash cards just for this city alone. The Ponte Vecchio and the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore alone are worth about 1000 pictures each.

It's hot here, just as it was hot in Rome and hot in Paris. We're taking at least two showers every day, and are starting to believe in the value of the midday siesta -- or at least I am. Mrs. Generik eschews the daytime dreamtime, as she says it makes her groggy for the rest of the day. I find it refreshing, especially around 11 or so that evening when we are trying to walk off yet another delicious meal by strolling around the piazza with six thousand of our closest friends.

Speaking of piazzas (not pizzas, and not Mike), they have become a central element in our trip thus far. Piazzas and squares; castles and cathedrals and chapels; museums and cafes seem to make up the daily routine. Yesterday we toured the Uffizi, perhaps the premier museum here in Florence. After that, the Louvre, the Vatican Museum and the British Museum (where we saw the Rosetta Stone and the Elgin Marbles and lots more), we're wondering, though, if we aren't reaching our saturation point for Roman statuary and Jesus paintings. In China we got to a point where we felt like we didn't need to see one more palace or temple for a few days. We might be getting close to that point here. It's an embarrassment of riches.

Last Thursday we started out at the Vatican, and got lucky with the line into St. Peter's Basilica. The sheer enormity of it, the scale so gargantuan, was at once awe-inspiring and rather obscene. Seeing boxes stationed all around the basilica asking for donations (and one sign saying that a chapel with a dead Pope in a crypt was "sponsored by the National Lotto") really enforced the feeling of obscenity for me, and reminded me of why I think religion -- all religion, not just Christianity or Catholicism -- is so much hooey. Take from the poor and add it to the coffers, thank you very much, now please confess your sins in the box on the right, you guilty sinner you.

But I still went, and admit to being impressed by all that artwork and grandeur. After we got out of the basilica, we noticed a huge crowd had gathered in the square, and there were helicopters and police and barricades and the Swiss Guard was out in marching formation (they look like clowns with conquistador helmets), and we realized that could only mean one thing: Pope Cliff was coming home! Sure enough, Pope Cliff came driving by in his Pope Cliffmobile, waving to the Catholic masses who squealed and swooned and pinched themselves at their luck for being there to see him. Wheeeee!

In the cafes and restaurants, we have had great luck in meeting people while dining and enjoying good conversations with them. A trio of young college girls who are living in Paris for the summer and had just arrived in Rome that morning sat next to us at a cafe near the Vatican and thought we were "so cute" (we sure fooled 'em) and wondered how we had made our marriage work for 20 years (we lied, and gave them some standard Hallmark treacle). In Rome we met a very nice British couple from Kent (she was quite chatty, especially after a few glasses of wine), which was even more enjoyable thanks to the ugliest of Americans sitting at the table on the other side of us. ("Close this window, how can you advertise air conditioning with a window open?" "Can I smoke a cigar in here? No? Why not?" "Give us the bill and stick around, 'cause we're in a rush.") Here in Florence, Allison from Hollywood and Rebecca from Oxford regaled us with tales of their days at a nearby spa, Rebecca admitting that she looked to Patsy and Edina from Absolutely Fabulous as role models for the two of them, and flirted madly with the wait staff (who themselves were flirting madly with pretty much every woman who walked by). "We want our pictures taken with Ricky Martin there, and the chef, and all the other waiters here!" They were Livin' La Dolce Vita.

The last four cities we've been in -- London, Paris, Rome and Florence -- have all been situated on major rivers. The Thames, the Seine, the Tiber and the Arno. I suppose that only makes sense for cities that are thousands of years old; rivers were the highways of the ancient world. Next is Venice, built on the Grand Canal, and of course Prague, which also sits astride a major waterway whose name escapes me at the moment. We miss the bay and the ocean of San Francisco, but at least we have some kind of water nearby wherever we go.

Yesterday, after the Uffizi, we took a bus up into the hills surrounding the city and visited the small town of Fiesole. I don't know why I bring it up, except that it was gorgeous and the view was outstanding. It seems like almost everywhere we go, we're struck by how pretty it is and how much we're enjoying our good fortune at being able to make a trip like this. Serendipity rules this trip; some of our best days have been when we just picked a general direction and headed off to find whatever we could find.

My time is coming to a close, and I have another subject to write about, so I'm going to end this post and purchase more time for a second post. It's 7:30 Monday morning here, and Mrs. Generik is still sleeping back in the room, so I've got time to kill. Ciao for the moment.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

La Dolce Vita

I'd like to be
in Giverny
in a spot in Monet's garden
in the shade...

Which I was, just last Sunday. And it was fabulous. The house, the deliberately wild garden, the water lily pond, all of it was simply beautiful. Even the stifling heat and the bus that didn't come and made us miss our scheduled train back to Paris didn't ruin the experience. In fact, missing the first train allowed us time to have a sandwich and some wine at the cafe across the street from the train station, where we met some fellow Americans who were not of the ugly persuasion, and gave the owner the opportunity to pour refreshing cold water on Mrs. Generik's feet, which made her immensely happy. When Mrs. G is immensely happy, I'm happy. So even sweating like a pair of razorbacks on the way to the abbatoir and returning to Paris later than we had expected didn't put us off our unbearable lightness of being after experiencing the beauty of the garden in Giverny. If we could bottle what we were feeling and sell it, the entire illicit drug market, worldwide, would go tits-up in a week.

Our Parisian adventure came to a close on a rather strange note, though. Monday we packed up and left the wonderful apartment that we had come to love (note: I have contact information if any of you out there are interested in renting a beautiful apartment in a good neighborhood in Paris for much les than you would pay for a luxury hotel), and took our luggage to the train station to store it while we took one last five-hour stroll around the City of Lights. We walked the length of the old Roman viaduct, up and down a few streets we hadn't explored before and spent hours in a cafe enjoying fruit salad with champagne in it and some chocolate mousse. Then we retrieved our luggage and prepared to board the night train to Rome. We were pretty wilted from the intense, muggy heat when we finally got on board, and were thankful to have roomy first class accommodations that included air conditioning. Then lightning struck. The conductor came back to us with our tickets, and showed us that I had somehow made a mistake in booking them -- the tickets were for the night of June 21st, not June 20th. Our tickets were for the following night, and someone else was to occupy our compartment. We got shunted off to a lesser space in an older car, had to purchase new tickets (we will be reimbursed, eventually), and discovered that our new cabin had no working AC. Yikes!!

Seventeen hours, a mediocre dinner, two beers, four small bottles of wine and three airplane-sized bottles of Irish whiskey later -- not to mention a broken toe that Mrs. G somehow suffered in the night getting into or out of our cabin -- we arrived in Rome. The train had no smoking car, so poor Mrs. G was in the throes of nicotine deprivation, not to mention suffering from advanced claustrophobia and hallucinating from lack of sleep. But we recovered all right once we got into our hotel room, which is in a very nice place just off the Via Veneto. Some food, aspirin, a shower and a smoke got the wife feeling nearly human again, and we explored the city late into the night. We walked to the Fountain of Trevi, where we were joined by six thousand of our closest tourist friends, a few dozen locals selling roses and one fat guy in a gladiator costume chain-smoking cigarettes. We threw coins over our left shoulder into the fountain, ensuring that we will return to Rome someday (if you believe in that sort of thing), then went to dinner at a local outdoor cafe. Tomato and mozzarella and basil, lamb with rosemary, ravioli, prosciutto with melon... it was wonderful.

Today we took the city bus tour and saw most of the major sights, driving past Castel Sant Angelo and through the Vatican and stopping at the Forum and the Colosseum for some major picture-taking opportunities. We then walked to the Spanish Steps, and just now had some gelato that I swear came straight from heaven. Tomorrow we are scheduled to see the Borghese Museum, and will probably try to see much more of the Vatican as well.

As I've mentioned previously, all this Catholicism surrounding me the past week or so -- Saint-Chappelle and Sacre-Coeur and Notre Dame in Paris, the Vatican and all the churches and basilica and religious trappings here in Rome -- is almost enough to give me religion. Then I remember how much money the church has, and where it came from, and all the other negatives that I associate with not just the Catholic church but with religion in general, and I recover my senses. Still, it is rather awe-inspiring to walk into the upstairs room at Saint-Chappelle for the first time and be completely overcome by, as my good friend Scott put it, "just how fucking gorgeous it is."

As for the city itself -- Rome is amazing for all the history present, and the people here are very friendly (as were almost all the Parisiens we met, stereotypes to the contrary), but I still think Paris is the more beautiful of the two. Not that I'm not enjoying where I am, by any means, but there was something special about Paris that will never leave me.

In any event, though, I must end this for now and get back to the hotel room to rest and make a phone call to my mother and get ready for yet another late-night dining experience with lots of wine involved. This SO does not suck.


Friday, June 17, 2005

How You Gonna Keep Me Down on the Farm?

...Now that I've seen Paree?

With all due respect to San Francisco, this is perhaps the most beautiful city in the world. We have a week here, and already it's obvious that a week is not nearly enough time to see even a fraction of what this city has to offer. Which begs the question -- why, then, am I spending my time in an Internet cafe posting this when I could be out exploring the streets and museums and cathedrals and bistros? Well... because. I like to share, and this place is so worth sharing.

We spent half the day yesterday at the wonderful Musee D'Orsay, and have plans to visit the Louvre tomorrow. We have seen Notre Dame, which is about three blocks from our apartment, the awe-inspiring medieval chapel Saint-Chappelle, the enormous Sacre Coeur... jeez, it's almost enough to give even an old dyed-in-the-wool atheist like me religion. Almost.

We have been to the Eiffel Tower, snapping pictures of it until our fingers bled. At night, for ten minutes every hour, it shows off by covering itself from top to bottom with millions of sparkling lights, like a giant firework fountain. We are tourist moths attracted to the brightest lights.

After two weeks in the UK, we were extremely ready for French cuisine, and have not been disappointed. Every meal has been at least delicious, if not transcendent. Even walk-away pastries or ice creams have been revelatory. Because we're so much farther north than SF, it doesn't get dark until 10:30 or so. We have been dining later and later; last night we had dinner at midnight. That can't be good, except that it is.

A couple of quick notes on the UK experience, with its postage-stamp-sized B&Bs and fried and boiled and mashed everything: the people there were hospitable and friendly, but man, the food! How can they be so close to France and cook such bloody awful fare? We had one good meal there, in a nice spot in Edinburgh along the Royal Mile. Otherwise it was mediocre to bad. But the sights and the history helped make up for the lack of deliciousness, I guess.

One thing I noticed, especially in Dublin and in London, was the number of foreign languages I heard everywhere. I think of San Francisco as being a cosmopolitan, international city, but it has nothing on those two places. I heard quite a bit of Russian and other Slavic languages in Dublin, and so much Italian in London that I thought I might be in Rome during a cold front (I was brought quickly back to reality whenever I ate, though).

Naturally there are lots of Americans everywhere, waddling around wide-eyed in shorts and T-shirts, loud and oblivious. In the exhibit of the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London there was a guy with his two young daughters right behind us, and when we got to a point where they had an exhibit of the royal maces, he exclaimed, "Look, kids, that was made in 1689. That was before Columbus discovered America! People thought the world was flat back then!" It was all I could do to keep from turning around and telling him -- and his kids -- that 1689 was approximately 200 years after Columbus (" Bozo!!"), but I held my tongue. I just hope those kids aren't being home-schooled. Maybe the guy was from Kansas, I don't know.

Anyway, I've enjoyed being away from the news and the workaday world, though I understand that the Giants seriously went into the tank right after I left. I saw that they won at least the last two games they played against the Twins, so maybe there's hope, but it's possible that the season will be all but over by the time I get back. Whatever. I haven't bought an International Herald-Tribune or a USA Today in over a week, and only get very brief bits of information about Iraq, Iran and Preznit Bloody Hands and His Flying Torture Circus here and there. That's okay, I think. I've been practicing my rudimentary French when possible, but it's rather a relief to discover that nearly everyone here speaks English at least as well as I speak French.

Monday it's on to Rome. Au revoir for now.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Email if Necessary

I forgot to mention, that due to a certain person who shall remain nameless (but who may be identified by the initials Mrs. Generik) forgetting to pack my SecurID device (which I even turned around to get after leaving the apartment ten days ago!), I have NO access to my regular (work) email for the duration of this trip. Gaaaahhhh!!!

So instead I have only my backup, home account. If anyone out there is still reading this blog and needs (or wants) to contact me, use this address:

Thanks, and all the best to all of you.

And what's this about KRON on June 11?

Report from the UK

As Edward R. Murrow used to say, "This... is London."

Just arrived here this afternoon from Edinburgh, and am still getting my bearings. So far, we've had a great time in Ireland and the UK. Stayed in Dublin, with day trips to Waterford, where we toured the crystal-making factory, and Cork, where we toured the Jameson distillery in nearby Midleton. Did the Guinness tour in Dublin the day we left. Took the ferry to Holyhead, Wales, and the train to a seaside resort there called Llandudno. It looks like a Victorian postcard, with a pier that's about 140 years old and oceanfront hotels lining the long promenade. From there we went to Carlise, England, where we saw Carlisle Castle and Hadrian's Wall, then on to Edinburgh, Scotland. We've had beautiful weather the last few days, especially warm in Scotland. Toured Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood, walked the Royal Mile about three times and stayed out until it got dark. That happens about 11:30-12:00 that far north, then it starts getting light again about two hours later.

It's 5:50 PM right now here, no matter what the time stamp on this post says, and it took me only a day or two to adjust. Been lifting lots of pints and conversing with the locals in their native language, which I've almost grown to understand. The countryside we've seen from the trains and buses is impossibly green and undeniably beautiful. We've taken in lots of colorful history, most of it red (as in bloody). After the weekend here, we go on to Paris, where I expect I'll probably make my next report. Right now, though, Mrs. Generik is having a nap in the World's Tiniest Hotel Room (smaller even than the one we were in in Hong Kong), and I should get back to her so we can go out and have dinner and lift a few more pints and such. *sigh* It's tough trying to keep up.
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