First Bit of Bad Luck

I unfortunately did not get to see the Last Supper fresco up close as they are closed on Mondays.


However, this was far from a wasted day.  Not only did I stay in a small apartment for less than what the hotel cost in Venice and take some fantastic photos of more modern buildings and interiors, I also had a chance to do some much needed laundry.  The only problem is that the drier didn’t work very well, so even after an hour and a half, my clothes were still damp.  However, this allowed me to meet this nice couple.

Meet Tim and Carissa, who had just come in from France on part of their whirlwind tour of Europe, and needed to do laundry as well.

I hadn’t noticed I was missing having long conversations on multiple subjects with people until I tried to entertain these folks while they were waiting for me to finish using the washer.  Being from Australia they spoke English and I was able to socialize with them, something I won’t be able to do in Italian until long after this trip is over.

We talked about their trip, about my trip, what each of us recommends to see — since they were going to visit Venice for only a day next week — , life, what we do for work, how they met, and the meaning of life, the universe and everything (which of course is 42).

It was fun to chat with them for what ended up being a couple of hours while our clothes were STILL drying, and was a welcome reprieve from being a foreigner.

When Carissa told me about her research into the effects on brain development in prematurely born babies  and I asked if they took the myelinization of neurons into account, she was floored that I understood anything about the brain at all.

Because of this I was able to share with them about the Wizard Academy, Leonardo Da Vinci, TRIZ, divergent thinking and many other things.  They both seemed intrigued about the Wizard Academy, and may someday become alumni.  That would add to an already incredible story.


On Being A Wanderer

Not all those who wander are lost.

-J.R.R. Tolkein

I’m off to Milan today to see if I can get in to see the Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci, not to mention it will be good to get into a more modern city for a day.

There’s a certain charm to being a vagabond.  The excitement of not knowing what will happen next, a change of scenery whenever you like, and little care in the world for such menial things that someone who demands roots be put down would be fretting over every minute of every day if they were with me.  Having very little to care for except to see what lies beyond the next hill, wondering how it will change you forever is an incredible way to live.

What drives a person to such an existence?

Staying in one place too long, perhaps?  Being tired of the daily toil, the never ending weekly clock that slowly ticks to laying in one’s grave would certainly drive a man to escape the clock even for a little while.  Perchance it is the safety of a home waiting at the end of a journey?  The little hobbit hole with a warm fire and hearty meal that happily welcomes a wanderer back from his travels.  Maybe that dark and shamed desire to see what is over the next hill?  To not be satisfied with what you have seen, what you have at hand that you are meant to be content with that drives a man to wander.

For me, it was meeting many a man who had wandered, and had brought back the sun.  Yarns spun of the darkest nights and the brightest of days, of missed planes and unexpected adventures, of dangerous encounters and newfound friends.  Tales that enthralled the spirit within me begging for its own wandering.

And so I finally had the chance to wander on my own, and I seized it with both hands and will not let go of the dragon I so foolishly chose to ride until we have soared to the stars and bring back a sun of my own.


The City of Dogs, the Island of Cats

Venice is a great city, and not just because of the architecture, the food, the romance, and the feel of it.  There’s also dogs EVERYWHERE.

Some are on leashes, some not, most are tiny (and for good reason, see my post on roads) though some are plain huge and all have collars, so even the ones not seemingly attached to a human are so.

Being generally a dog person, having grown up in a house of dog people, I find it fantastic to be in a city where they are all around — sleeping, chasing birds, following their masters through the streets and generally enjoying a permanent vacation.  Adds to the air of my own vacation.  Though the dogs are all much more mild mannered than my own dog, Emma.  She, being a Springer Spaniel and bred for hunting, has far too much energy for this place.

I had to actually go to Murano yesterday before encountering a single cat, and even then I encountered three at once.  I do not know if it is a cultural thing or not, but my mind frolicks with the idea of a story behind the situation.


Of All That I Have Seen

Marco Polo, I learned, despite being a well know explorer was also a rather famous merchant of Venice.  Upon his return to Venice, the story goes that no one either recognized him or believed him.  Upon his deathbed he was quoted as saying:

I have not told half of what I saw.

I know what the man must have felt like, and I’ve only been in Italy two weeks!  There are so many stories I wish to share with all of you — the five that are reading this 🙂 — but if I did share every story I would never leave the hotel!

Looking to it now, I will probably be sharing stories for the  next few months of what I can remember having seen here on the blog and for the rest of my life through dinners with friends and through my art.

Even if I were to leave now, my life would never be the same.


Learning To Use My Right Hand

I did a little research before I came to Italy (shock of shocks, I know) to make sure I tried to fit into the local customs and there was one that was the most troubling when I first learned it.  Throughout most of the world, dealing with the right hand is considered correct while dealing with the left is considered at best unclean and at worst, an insult.

Being from the United States, where using your left hand doesn’t have that social stigma, I found this very confusing and frustrating.  I was born left handed, and there were many famous and powerful people celebrated in the United States who were left handed.  From presidents to businessmen to artists, left handedness was to be celebrated along with everyone else’s differences.  Though when everyone is special, no one is.

Anyway, I found out this long ago and that the reason is that from antiquity (read: before toilet paper and disinfectants) the right hand was used to feed oneself and the left was used to clean oneself, including after going to the bathroom.  Fast forward to today and whenever you use you left hand is basically an insult somehow.  Greeting with your left hand is saying you didn’t care about the person.  Also, eating with your left hand was to say that you thought the food sucked.

So I’ve been using my right hand for pretty much everything public.  It was definitely challenging at first, but I’ve quickly become more proficient.  Keep that in mind, all my left handed friends when you travel.

Oh, also don’t finish meals.  It’s not as prevalent as the right/left hand rule, but cleaning your plate of food entirely is roughly saying they should have given you more to eat because you’re still hungry.  Leaving a little bit of food (doesn’t have to be much, but it does have to be more than crumbs) signals that they served you enough food.

We Americans are so backwards sometimes. 🙂

That, or vice versa.


Well Crud

Despite having nothing else in common with the man, I found out Giacomo Casanova was born on April 2, same as me.

I know I’m going to catch a lot of grief over that from my friends when I get home.

Giacomo was born and lived in Venice and for those of you who know nothing of him, was reportedly an infamous womanizer and ladie’s man.  There are many different tales to be told, most of them growing the legend to mythic proportions by authors who were never there, but Casanova actually wrote an autobiography called “The Story of My Life”.  Apparently often abridged, it has been published unabridged and fully translated since the 1970’s.

There’s a play about Venice (including Casanova) that I think I’ll attend tonight.


The People You Meet On The Road

Made it to my train just fine this morning with no problem, though got in the wrong car and then had to fight my way back out to get into the right car (which was better).  I had a set of four seats all to myself, so I got plenty of opportunity to get some great pictures on the ride out of Rome.

Across the aisle from me was a young asian couple who were studying a couple of travel books.  I recognized both Hirigana and Katakana (both Japanese alphabets) on the covers, so I took a shot in the dark and asked them in Japanese if they were Japanese.

There faces lit up like Christmas decorations the day after Thanksgiving.  I was flooded with questions in Japanese until I explained I had a friend who went to Japan and I learned a little from him.  Neither of them knew a lick of Italian but the woman knew some English, so we were able to communicate.

They had bust been married and were honeymooning in Florence.  They commented on my Olympus camera, noting that it was Japanese and asked if I liked it.  We shared some pictures back and forth and I wished them joy on their honeymoon.

The Japanese couple got off in Florence and an American couple got on named John and Celeste, who shared my four seats with me.

It was like meeting friends of my parents.  Married for 38 years – impressive these days – their kid was all grown and out of the house so they were now spending the money John had saved up, much to John’s chagrin.  He’ll admit that he has fun on the trips Celeste drags him on, but he won’t admit that to her. 😉

In our discussion, I found out John was a chemical engineer who helped build industrial furnaces and Celeste helped states get Americorp compliant and that they had just come from Florence and were heading to Venice.  They were happy to point me to some ice cream shops (since I head to Florence next week) and warn me about how I should order my steaks, since their medium here is our rare back home.

Oh the people you will meet, oh the places you will go.


Attending A Local Church Service

Had the chance to attend Catholic Mass this morning being given at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.  Completely different experience from anything I have gone to before.  They kept switching languages from Italian to English to Spanish with the classic Latin thrown in for good measure.  Thankfully there was a handy booklet being handed out that allowed you to follow along.

The service was held outside in the plaza as opposed to inside the church.  They probably could have fit us all in there if they had chosen to, but we might have packed the place (there were a LOT of us out there.

It was also the first church service I attended with a security force to search bags and whatnot.  Thankfully I don’t know enough Italian yet to crack a joke with them, but I’m learning quickly and will be in jail in no time!

Now granted, I’d be classified as a Protestant Christian (considering I attend three churches all half an hour from my house in different directions — more on that later), but there is something that the Catholics have kept alive in their services and that is a reverence for the majesty of God.  No disrespect to my faith, but it can sometimes get too relaxed and forget the wonder and power of God to make Him more approachable to have Him as a personal savior.

The trick is getting both thoughts into your head at the same time.  You see, they’re both right.  That’s what’s called a duality.  Having two things that appear to be right and mutually exclusive (meaning that anything else is wrong).  How can a God that has authority over all of creation and cares for the stars and all life here on Earth possibly have the time to care about a single human’s life?  And on top of that, wants to be intimately involved in their life?  Yet it is true.

Anyway, the priest afterwards got carted around in a car afterwards to wave to all the people in the audience with 8 bodyguards surrounding him.  It was funny to see everyone in the back with me running to and fro trying to get a picture of the fellow.  Thankfully for those of us in the cheap seats, there were television screens showing the whole thing.  Here’s a picture of the man…

With the way people were acting you think we had just been preached to by the Pope or something.

(one internet search later)

… Oh.  Well now I’m not going to heaven am I? 🙂



Death Is Only Ever Two Steps Away

Always remember that.  It will make you more cautious look both ways before crossing the street and with any luck, cherish what little time you have on this Earth.

I’m reminded of this every time I’m a pedestrian in a city, but especially here in Rome.  While the traffic here is much more willing to accommodate you than say London — where the rule is the larger vehicle has the right of way and cars start moving at yellow lights, whether or not you’ve cleared the intersection — some of the pedestrian pathways here are a shoulder width wide.


With two people traveling in opposite directions, math dictates one of you will be in the street.

This means you are now one of the two steps from death, and that makes everything stand that much sharper in your brain afterwards.  All it takes is one person changing the station on their radio or one teenager trying to be funny and your journey is over.  It just makes me thankful for this wonderful thing called life.