Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Monsoon in Venice?

In the 15 years I spent in Phoenix, I have seen my share of monsoon storms. The last few years have been less than spectacular as far as that goes, but we have gotten our share of wind and dust (haboob as they call it) and just enough rain to make the humidity go away for a bit.

Yesterday morning I walked out to go to the grocery store and made it about 10 paces before I turned around and went back in. It was unbelievably heavy outside. You could breathe the humidity. I just didnt feel like lugging groceries in that mess. So imagine my surprise when about 3pm the clouds rolled in, the wind started and the temperature dropped from 88 to 68 in about 1 hour!

I, of course, chose that time to go out and get some cat food (afterall, a good mom makes sure her cat is well fed even if she isnt). The pet store is not that far from my apartment and the cool air (it wasnt quite 68 yet) was a nice change.

I went out in the hurricane force winds...sand blasting at my legs, dust devils of trash and pigeon feathers making their way, and the ever present threat of rain. I got my cat food, walked back in the thunder and drizzle and no sooner was I inside, than the lightening and the rain began.

It was downright cold--I think the wind was coming from Antarctica or something. The rain was blowing sideways because of the wind and the thunder just hung above the island. After about 3 hours of this mess, the rain stopped, the winds subsided a bit and people started to venture out again (in their sweaters, of course).

Now thats a monsoon!

Sunday, July 29, 2007

La Biennale

Thanks to a new friend, I got to the go the Biennale for free! Let me make my disclaimer by saying that I am neither an art lover or afficianado, but since the Biennale is the worlds largest art show, I figured I should check it out at least once in my life.

The Biennale is down by that park I discovered a month or so back...the one with all the trees. Nice setting. I dont know if it is truly the largest as far as land area goes (although it is quite large), but it does encompass over 30 countries, so in that respect, I think it takes the cake. By the name, obviously, you understand that it happens every other year.

I have come to learn that I prefer the older art---the things I see in the churches and buildings here in Venice. I just dont think I understand this contemporary thing. It's all so vague and subliminal and worst of all, political. Since when does art get to be political?

There was the Romanian exhibit which was a large room with filled cement bags nailed into the walls...some of the dry cement was piled on the floor below each bag. In the middle of the room was some video of the communist regime there in the 80's. The little descriptive plaque on the wall said something about how the cement bags represent the uncertainness of the communism then and the democracy they have now.....whatever?

The American exhibit was a crack up....it was a tribute to some artist who had recently died of aids...most of his work apparently had to do with 'wasting away' (I only found this out later after talking to someone). He had a huge room filled with liquorice hard candy on the floor in the shape of a large rectangle. It apparently weighed the same amount as him and his partner did during their health (his partner also died of aids) and when people come in and take a piece of candy away, it signifies the slow demise of our (their) lives---how encouraging! They also had 2 stacks of papers (about 3-4 feet tall when I saw them)....basically the size of a newspaper sheet opened up. All white with a black border and in the middle in small print it either said "Memorial Day Sale" or "Veterans Day Sale". Obviously another political statement, but again, the idea was for everyone to take one of these posters off the pile to signify the wasting away. So now I finally know why all these people in Venice are walking around with rolled up tubes of paper....what are they going to do with these things when they get home (or how are they going to get them home is a better question?!).

However, my favorite has to go to Finland (and this will indicate to you how much I appreciate contemporary art!). It was a huge wall, about the size of a movie screen, and filled with dartboards all butted up next to each other! There were hundreds of them. And best of all, they gave you darts to throw!!! Not only visually attractive (circles, lines, etc) but interactive. Now that's art!

Runner up would have to go to France. This woman had received a 'dear john' letter. For whatever reason, she decided to send it to 107 different people and ask their take on it. She mailed it to the police commissioner, a psychologist, a writer, a housewife, a clown, you name it. And all these people wrote her back (amazing)! So the entire exhibit was this dear john letter and all the response along with videos to match...she had huge pictures of the letter in brail and with all the grammar corrected (like our 3 grade teachers with their red pen marks). It was quite amusing.

Germany and Korea were quite disturbing..enough to give you nightmares and some were just silly---in the Italian building there were large pictures of a black square on a white canvas! How is that art? I can do that...my blog is more creative than that!

But who am I to critique art....I am sure that the person who was taking a picture of the trashcan with a rolled up "Veterans Day Sale" poster shoved in it has a much better sense of art than I do, right?

Friday, July 27, 2007

Musings on Venice

I was reading this book yesterday about Venice. It was a bit different as it described what was written on all the plaques around the city. You see, Venice doesnt have many statues or memorials to people (I imagine because of the lack of space), so instead, they put plaques up on buildings to commemorate events. And because I often wondered what they said (many are in Latin), I thought I would read this book.

Richard Wagner, the great composer, visited and died in Venice back in the late 1800's. He was given a plaque to commemorate his death on Feb 13, 1883. From his personal diary, he wrote:

"I arrived in Venice on the afternoon of 29 August (1858). On the journey to St Mark's Square along the Grand Canal, melancholy impressions, gloomy and reflective mood: grandeur, beauty and decline before ones eyes all at the same time. I was, on the other hand, comforted to realize that there is no sign of the prosperity of our times here, and therefore no vulgar commercialism. Piazza San Marco looked like a scene from a fairy tale. An absolutely faraway world from another age: everything in excellent harmony with my deisre for solitude. Nothing here seems to be in direct contact with real life; everything gives the objective impression of a work of art. I want to stay here--and I will stay....."

Richard, 150 years later and I couldn't have said it any better myself! Of course, some will argue the commercialism aspect has changed but Venice truly is still a fairy tale.

I was lucky enough to see an apartment in the throws of reconstruction yesterday. All the recent walls (by recent, I mean in the last 100 years), ceilings and facades were removed and what remained was the original brick from this 15th century palace. It was by far the most fascinating thing I have seen here. To view where a fireplace used to be, to notice the settled bricks making a curved pattern yet still structurally sound (all right, not completely sound), and to see the exposed beams and wood supports used in the original building is an eerie experience. I could almost hear the generations of people talking.

And if that wasn't a good enough day already, I sat down to watch a bit of TV and was lucky enough to stumble across some Warner Brothers cartoons. I got to see Bugs and Daffy and Sylvester and best of all Roadrunner and Coyote. What more could I ask for than to listen to the lisping 'sssssthuffering succotash' of Sylvester being spoken by an Italian. Or better, yet, Bugs saying, 'whats up doc' in Italian. The perfect end to a perfect day!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Game of Chicken

Do you remember playing that game as a kid? You would race towards each other on a bike or scooter at breakneck speed and see who would swerve at the last minute to save themselves from the head-on collision. Of course, some adults still play this silly game (usually when they are drunk)! I have also noticed that the Venetians like to play this game as well.

Venice is forever crowded and the personal space allotments are so much smaller than what we are used to in America. I can think of several instances back home where I was heading straight into another person while walking and we didnt play chicken. Someone was gracious enough to move out of the way, probably give a brief smile or say excuse me, etc. Just a common courtesy that one takes for granted. Particularly, being a female, I have become accustomed to the man moving out of his way for me. Now, this doesnt always happen--I find the younger generation has lost this sense of courtesy but you get the idea.

No such thing exists here. Walking in public is one continual game of chicken. And usually, the people who want to play are the Italians. Whether they are tired of all the tourists, have some sense of entitlement because this is their city, or they are just plain ol' rude, they are the least likely to move when you are on the crash course.

This was one of the things I had the most difficult time adjusting to in my first few weeks. Tourists will bump into you and not notice you, etc. but for the most part, they will offer some apology in their native tongue. I have yet to have an Italian say anything when they slam their body into mine in an effort to morph through my skin and arrive out the other side. You hear the occassional 'permisso' from behind right before you are hit, but you never get anything coming head on. The workers will yell 'attenzione' because they are carting something to somewhere and genuinely need you to move.

So you can imagine, this can get old quickly and I have had my days where I am tired of being cordial and making sure I get out of their way. As my ammunition, I have my height. Since I tend to be taller than most Italians (or at least the same height), I can stand up straighter, broaden my shoulders and prepare for the game. I havent won yet by the way! In fact, I got a great bruiser on my arm last week. But I will continue to play...for what reason, I have no clue....part of adapting to the culture I suppose??!!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Time Flies....

I dont mind telling you that I woke up a bit melancholy this morning....nothing major, just a little blue. My friend did not receive her passport so she wont be at the airport today. I have been here almost 3 months and that is a good amount of time to reflect on what I am doing (or not doing). And I had the most bizarre dreams (nightmares really). So, all of that together has me a bit out of sorts.

It is interesting to think of how life just goes on whether you participate or not. Of course, I am now participating in the Italian life and not the American life but nonetheless, it goes on. I think of my family and friends back home doing whatever it is they normally do (which at the time of this writing would be sleeping!) and I am living my daily life over here. Not that the novelty of Venice has worn off, but I still have to go grocery shopping and do laundry just like the rest of them.

Not working throws a whole new wrench into the mix. I was actually concerned before I left (although I never shared it) that I would be bored out of my mind after a month. For years, I worked 50 hours a week, went to school and did outside community activities. All I whined about was wanting to do nothing for a while. And now I am here doing 'nothing' and I absolutely love it. Time flies when you are unemployed! Maybe because there is always something to see or do here and chores take up so much more time than in the US, but I cant help think that I would not be experiencing this same euphoria back home.

Some days I think I cant do this another day and should move back home and other days I think I want to do this forever and buy a extremely overpriced apartment in Venice. But it is comforting to know that I had those same thoughts in Phoenix. I guess it is just human nature (or maybe just my nature) to always be worried about missing out on something or not living your life to its fullest.

I do find that the American Dream and the Italian Dream are different. Americans are consumed with money and possessions (as a sweeping generalization). In fact, I actually have developed some resentment for the games that go on when Americans 'have' to buy a new car every 3 years or get a bigger house just because or my all-time personal favorite--'what do you mean you only have one bathroom?' (dont even get me started on this topic). Working in America is almost mesmerizing and you start to lose track of what is important--people-- and focus on making more money and buying more things--false security. I truly do like the simple life, but it is difficult to be simple in America with all the marketing and pressure we are raised with. The Italians, however (as a sweeping generalization) tend to be more focused on relationships. They are perfectly ok with one bathroom in their life! Dont get me wrong, they have marketing and pressures also, but they are raised with a sense of family and not with some dream of a white picket fence, 2.5 kids, a house in the burbs--you ge the idea. I have been asking some Italians what is the most important thing in their life....bar none, they have answered good food with a good woman (or man) to talk with...simple....the rest will fall into place.

So somewhere in the middle, I find myself. Detaching from the consumerism I was raised with and happily participated in and drawing closer to the simpler things and the opportunity to look at the world through different eyes. I think that is a perfect reason to be out of sorts.....and a perfect thing to experience.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Blisters and Bruises and Breaks, Oh My!

Living in a city that is based solely on tourism for its economical existence is not without its own idiosyncracies. For over 1000 years, Venice existed as an independent Republic dominating both sea and land with much of its wealth coming from the trade business. Today, as a state in Italy, it relies solely on the curiousity of tourists to prosper. And for those of you who have been here, you know just how many tourists are here all the time. I often wonder why the city doesnt sink but that is another topic in itself.

And being an island means that all of those tourists must walk from A to B and inevitably get lost along the way, making their journey that much longer. Venice is hard on the feet and the knees. The soles of shoes do not last long and the comfortableness of them is a priority. Most tourists dont get this. They come to Venice with their cute shoes to match their outfits and their brand new 'walking' shoes they purchased 3 days before the trip. And this brings only one thing--blisters and bruises. I am amazed at how many people walk around with large band-aids on the heels of the foot or on the upper arch where the strap is rubbing. Not to mention the countless band-aids and gauze pads wrapped around various toes because they were cramped so tight in those new shoes that they have rubbed the skin raw. Its almost a fashion statement in itself!

But it doesnt end there. Walking amongst thousands of other people (who for some strange reason all think they are the only ones on the island), over bridges, down narrow streets and around sharp corners, only magnifies the possibility of injury. And there is a whole subset of those people as well. Just yesterday alone, I noted 6 different people who had their forearm bandaged with gauze and 3 more with white shin decorations. Falling is a hazard that comes with the territory. Missing just one step on the bridge could mean a broken bone (nevermind the embarassment) and I shudder when I see someone walking around on crutches in this town--what a trecherous path they are on--another accident just waiting to happen.

I myself have had my share of blisters so far and I have even rubbed the skin raw from a shoe strap on my arch, so I speak from experience. But they are getting fewer and farther between which leads me to believe that my feet are growing accustomed to the abuse. And this, as much as anything, explains why I hardly ever see an Italian with a white gauze bandage and how the women walk around in their 3 inch heels without so much as a wince of discomfort. I imagine over the more than thousand years of existence, the Venetian feet have been genetically altered (this is micro-evolution, right?) at conception to withstand what lies ahead. Kudos to them for adapting to their environment!

Sunday, July 22, 2007


Let's chat about red tape...not just here (although it is quite amazing) but also in the US. I have a friend due to get on a plane Tuesday to come visit me but has not received her passport after almost 4 months of sitting in an office somewhere. I have been keeping up to date about the mess at the passport agency in the US. It never ceases to amaze me that the government will make some new law and then not have in place the manpower or know how to accomplish it. So, if the postman does not deliver her passport on Monday, she is going to have to pay $200 to change her ticket...why should she have to pay--obvious question. I bet if the agency was held responsible, they would be more efficient?!

And now on to Italy. Getting my VISA truly was the easy part. After coming here, I had 7 days to apply for my Permisso di Sogiorno--permission to stay (you can read about that an earlier post). I applied on May 7th. The old format was that you went to the local police (for sometimes days in a row) with all the same paperwork you used to get the VISA. The would review, give you some flack, approve, take your fingerprints and you would have an official card. This apparently could take up to 3 months for the whole process. Well, in an effort to streamline and because of so many complaints, they changed the process.

They now have they computer generated 'modules' (i.e. forms) to fill out that can supposedly be scanned and approved. You fill it out, go to your local post office where they mail it to Rome....Rome reviews and sends back to your local police with anything they feel needs to be explained or is missing or they just want to give you flack about. The local police schedules an appt. for you where you explain and get your fingerprints and then your card. Sounds easy enough, but since this new process started last November, they are now 600,000 backlogged!!!! These are people who are applying for the first time (me), applying for renewals (the majority), and applying for citizenship. There are now protests going on weekly from both the applicants and the workers begging the government to step in and do something. So far, nothing.

So what this means is that I am legally allowed to be here because I have a receipt showing that I have applied. However, without the official document, I am not allowed to travel within the EU. I dont completely understand why (this would be like me not being able to travel to Chicago from Phoenix in my way of thinking) since I have a VISA, etc. but this is what I am being told. I can only travel to my home country and I cannot make a stop in the EU to do it. The backlog is about 9-10 months at this point. I should be receiving my official card just in time for my year to be over! Now THAT is bureaucracy at its finest!

The worst part is that I had a mission trip planned with my church back home to go to Romania in September. I am being told they are profiling people who dont resemble Italians and checking their documents. So, I could probably skate through immigration/customs because of my hair/skin color but I really dont want to risk it. Having an apartment and cat in Italy, the rest of my belongings in Phoenix and being stuck in Romania does not sound like a fun time.

So, with all of this paperwork inefficiency, I just sit in awe and wonder how countries can sometimes function. I used to think the same about my last job and some of the things that went on there...a multibillion dollar company---now it is magnified to the country level and I can only wonder about the rest of the business and foreign ecostructure that is going on.....its really much more scary than George Orwells 1984 book that we were all nervous about years ago when it came out! I think I will go read Harry Potter now to take my mind off of reality!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Aaaaahhhhhhhh--air conditioning!

Just like in the US, you dont really know when the delivery time is...you get a window of 'opportunity' to sit home and be confined. And such was the case yesterday. I waited and waited and then didnt want to wait any longer. Knowing that they were calling my realtor and not me, I chose to leave the house and meander (once outside in the heat and humidity, I realized that this was not the wisest decision I have ever made). Of course, I got just far enough away when the phone call came, so I ended up running home in that oppressive weather.

But, my delivery guy was nice and carried the unit upstairs to the bedroom and set it up for me. The effect was immediate when turned on. No sooner did he leave than I stood in front of it and had no intention of moving--ever! But, I figured I should try to read the instructions to understand all the buttons, etc. Luckily for me, there was an english section.

There is this hose that is about the size of the one on our dryers that blows all the hot air out of the window. And the problem is that you can no longer close your window all the way because of it. Because there is not some device created to solve this problem (because they havent and because it would be difficult with all the windows on this island being unique and various sizes from building to settling, etc) , you are on your own to be creative....and so I was. With a bungee cord to hold the window closed as much as possible and a blanket to shove in the cracks of the window frame, I have the best possible answer--not attractive, but functional. And truly, that is all that matters at this point.

I left for a few hours and could feel the difference when I returned and went upstairs. Not so much downstairs but I am hoping to redirect some of that cold air down over the next few days. I slept well and that makes me happy. And being happy is a good thing!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Fa Molto Caldo!

That means, its really hot! Actually, not hot compared to Phoenix as it is only about 90 degrees during the day. But with 90% humidity, its 'oppressive' as they say back in the day. It's like being in a wet t-shirt contest all day long!

People arent really any more crabby than usual and all of the tourists are still milling around but the locals are a bit more scarce. And, if you know of the few places (stores, restaurants) that have a/c, you are sure to find it crowded inside.

Being the spoiled American that I am, I have purchased a portable a/c that is to be delivered on Friday! I thought I could do it and for the most part I am hanging in there, but trying to sleep at night is unbearable. When you roll over and the sheet is stuck to you, you know its time for action!

So, after delivery today and me trying to figure out how to work the thing works with Italian instructions, I am hoping to write to you next time from the comforts of my newly air conditioned apartment!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


Just like the sun rises in the morning and sets in the evening, the Venetian sales have begun on time and with great fervor!

Overnight from Sunday to Monday (stores closed on Sunday), everything went on sale. Most things were from 30-50% off but some started right at 70%. From what I hear, the sales last a few weeks, so there is potential for more discounts.

Not to be left out, I diligently plotted my route and went out with the best of them. It was like that video we see every year on the TV about the wedding dress sale at Eileen's Basement in NYC.....frenzy and chaos...people grabbing the last one, waiting impatiently to get into the dressing room knowing that each minute spent there was one less to spend shopping. I did my part, spending a bit--as much as any unemployed person should spend--but am hoping to catch a few more things when they all hit 70% off.

And then in mid-August when it is continuously 90 degrees and 90% humidity, they start stocking the shelves and dressing the windows with winter wear. As I sit here now in this weather (without an a/c in my apt), I am thinking who would want to even think about buying winter wear, let alone try it on? But, as in the US, marketing is king and we must push the seasons far in advance. I suppose if they had Halloween and Thanksgiving here, they would be decorating as such like they do in the US. Lucky for me, that wont be happening.

And by the way, my couch cover was probably the only item not on sale as it is not considered seasonable. Ho hum......

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Redentore 2007

Yesterday marked the beginning of the weekend festival Redentore. This is a celebration commemorating the end of the plague (one of many) back in the 1600's. It has its roots as a religious celebration but has turned into a great day/night/weekend of fun. There is a church on the island of Giudecca called Redentore which is about 1/4 mile from Venice island. This church was built to give thanks for the cleansing of the plague. But since there is no direct way to get from Venice to Giudecca, they build a temporary pontoon bridge for the weekend so the people can ceremoniously cross and enter the church for mass and prayers. Afterwards, beginning at 1130pm, there are fireworks in the lagoon for about 1/2 hour and then many go to another island (Lido) and sit on the beach until sunrise. And on Sunday, the bridge remains open for those to make the journey to the church.

I actually went to the bridge twice yesterday. Once to see it before the crowds and then again right when the opening ceremony was taking place at 7pm. I really lucked out because the area where I was standing was right where the Cardinal or Bishop (dont know which it is) got off his boat and right where the police decided to open the gates for those people to start crossing. So, I was about the 50th person (after the religious/government entourage) on the bridge! Needless to say there where hords of people at 7pm who wanted to take part in the crossing. As soon as we made it to the other side, there were speeches and prayers and then 'let the fun begin'. By this time, there were already many boats in the lagoon for the afternoon. They find a spot, drop anchor and enjoy the sun, have dinner and wait for the fireworks with a birdseye view.

But first, I went into the church to attend mass. Because I was one of the first people around, I actually got a seat...after that, people just sort of came in, dunked in the holy water and left. Now, I didnt understand the mass (although he was kind enough to welcome everyone in several languages) but I sure wish I did. His sermon, with passion and conviction, reminded me of the likes of Martin Luther King. His voice was echoing off the marble and he was genuinely calling Christians to do something! I never heard a Catholic service like that.

After leaving the mass (it was about an hour), I walked along the Giudecca island sidewalk where the people were strewn everywhere..they just brought their beach blankets and 'copped a squat' wherever there was room. Its much like 4th of July with pic-nic'ing going on, music, family, drinking, blah blah blah. They dont do hamburgers and hot dogs and potato salad here, but they do have pasta and pizza and potato chips! And plenty of wine and Becks beer (very popular over here). So, as I was walking along, suddenly the big speaker in the sky (because I truly dont know where it came from but it was like surround sound on the island) started playing "I heard it through the grapevine"!!! Nothing brings a smile to an American's face than hearing their music at an Italian festival. The Italians do love 2 things about the Americans--our music and our movies.

After walking around on Giudecca for a bit, I crossed the bridge back to Venice and checked out that side of the activity. Pretty much the same. And there were quite a few more boats and party boats in the lagoon by now. It was about 930pm and just starting to get dark.

I have never been much of a circus, parade or fireworks person, so I didnt really intend on staying to watch even though this was the first year they were choreographed to music. So, I started heading home around 10pm but turned around to notice that there were lighted designs being shadowed on the Redentore church from somewhere. There were probably about 20 different designs as they ran through. It was really nice show. And not wanting to miss it, I 'copped my own squat' on the sidewalk and took some more pics. At this point I figured I might as well stay for the fireworks. I ended up sitting close to a barge like bar thing where people were doing kareoke. Kareoke should be outlawed in my opinion. These people were so drunk, not a single one of them had a voice, and they all had a microphone with speakers...it was horrid. And just when I thought I couldnt take it anymore and was going to leave, the fireworks started.

It started with the Star Wars theme from those mysterious speakers in the sky. And then the next song was some Celine Dion thing and then some Italian song....it is good to know that people from everywhere behave the same at fireworks--oooohhh, aaaahhhh, etc. By this time, I was done and started walking home. As I did, I could literally feel the walls of the buildings around me shake and could hear all the windows do the same. It struck me as odd at that point that they would actually do fireworks so close to everything. Afterall, these buildings are all hundreds of years old--some already leaning and crumbling on their own--they dont really need any extra jostling going on. But I also was thinking of how loud it was and how it probably sounded this way during all those wars in the history of Venice--when cannons would be blaring and guns firing. It was like I was part of history again.

By the time I made it home, the fireworks were over and the first wave of people were heading back. I think I felt the island level out again after a half a million people congregated in a 1/4 square mile area for several hours. The drinking and revelry lasted for many hours to come and I closed all my windows and shutters and turned the fan on to drown out the noise until I fell asleep. And this morning, I awoke being thankful that Venice is once again plague free for another year!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Things I Have Learned

There are just some various random events that happen throughout my days here...not enough to fill a blog with but perhaps ok to list together.....

I got my first solicitation call on my home phone. The beauty of this is that when you just keep saying 'hello', they hang up! When I go back to the US, I think I will just keep saying 'Pronto' and see if it works there also!

Had another great cashier experience at the grocery store. I actually admire the math skills of these people now. My bill totaled 23,37 euros (remember they use the comma and period backwards from the US). Well, I didnt have 37 centisemi on me and only had a 50 so I knew I was in trouble to begin with. But she didnt panic on me. I dug into my wallet to look at the change I had and being Venice, she started taking money out of my hand to solve her issue. I will wait why you try to figure out what amount above the 50 she took from me...go ahead, I am waiting. You'll never get it. She took 3,42. So my change was 30,05. OK...perfectly decent math but not really something I would think of doing in a grocery store. Maybe 53, 40 but never 53, 42. Still boggles the mind but I have been told I am easily amused.

Monday is a big day here. All the sales start! Apparently twice a year, they need to clear out the island in order to bring in the next season of stuff. So, suddenly everything is supposed to be 50% or more off. Well, we will just see about that, but I plan on scoping it out. I am looking for a couch cover which is currently 108 euros at the store...wont pay that at all...stayed tuned for the final price.

I was watching the news last night--I dont watch it often because I dont always understand everything and tend to wander in my thoughts. But last night I turned it on just as they were doing highlights from around the world. When they got to the US, they did a piece on the new Simpsons movie. Amazing. Of all the things to talk about in the US, they pick that. Talking today to my realtor, I find out that the Simpsons are highly popular here as well but he says not nearly as funny in Italian because things get lost in translation.

Speaking of language...not to bore you with the details, I had to help a friend the other day. We were both under the impression that these people I was greeting to the island spoke English. Well, they didnt--only French. Or they didnt want to speak English (you know that stereotype of the French). Very nice people and we pantomimed alot but the interesting thing was that as she was talking and asking me questions in French, all I could think of was the answer (or what I thought I should answer) in Italian! Go figure...didnt even think in English. Dont get too excited, I am still far from making conversation, but my words are coming faster and any day now, I might break out in a full sentence and surprise all of us.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

PG-13 Rating

The title is your warning. If you are 16 and under, dont read this. If you do or are a parent, send your cards and letters to the Pope or the President. This is my blog! :-)

I have actually been thinking about this for quite some time and cant seem to arrive at a decision or thought that satisfies my curiosity. There are actually two topics: the first encompasses most of the free world as we know it and the second seems to be more of a European thing.

First, when and why did it become acceptable, and dare I say, fashionable to show your underclothes when walking around in public? By the mere defintion of the word, underwear is to be worn UNDER your outer layer of clothing. I saw this in States before I left but not nearly as much as here. And I imagine that is because I worked for Corporate America and there are some places where clothing standards still exist. But having the opportunity to walk around in public any time I want has opened my eyes to this frustrating trend. Women are showing their bras becaue they are too lazy to buy one without straps or shaped to conform to their top and they dont even try to match the colors. I remember as a kid, the only women whose straps showed were the really heavy women whose straps were about a foot thick and impossible to hide! But now, it pretty much seems that anything goes. I am not a prude by any stretch of the imagination. I have a 'past' like most and I can go to the Lido now and not gawk at the naked people, but I just dont understand why this is happening. Must we really leave nothing to the imagination anymore? Do we have to show ALL of our cleavage or can we just be a bit more modest? I am certainly not calling for a return to Puritan times, but it is frustrating that everything seems to be about showing off and being comfortable. And, please, I am American, where we are the Kings of Comfort, so I know I am preaching to the choir, but isnt this going overboard just a bit? And as I walk around and look at the department store windows, none of them have their bra straps showing or cleavage down to their navels...so just who is promoting this fashion trend? And dont think it is just the women. Men have taken up this disgusting habit of showing their underwear all day long. Do you really want to look at someone's BVD's when you are walking around? And why would they think you would want to? Who is in charge of these things and how do I write to my congressman about it?! Well, you get the idea---those are my thoughts and opinions on the matter and the only comfort I have is in knowing that most fads are just that...they come and go and hopefully soon, we will return to some sense of modicum when wearing underwear.

The other topic is a bit more controversial. I realize that in different cultures, certain gestures can either be positive or negative. For example, in some places I understand it is actually a great compliment if someone burps at the table while most of us probably think that is rude. But with that understanding in mind, I am still having trouble with this one. The European men are ALWAYS touching themselves. What is this about? I remember a friend who was raising her 7 year old and was always telling him not to touch his 'turtle' in public. Seems reasonable enough to me. Afterall, if you are going to get grossed out because someone has their finger up their nose, how much more so when they have their hand in their crotch. And I am not talking about casual passes over the general area. No. The other night at dinner, we were next to a couple from Germany. Younger couple--not sure if dating or married but obviously on vacation together. During the middle of the meal, he put his fork down and put his hand down through his waistband and fidgeted to get under his underwear and, lets just say, stayed there a while. What I wanted to do was tell this girl to RUN...he obviously has a bad case of cooties or absolutely no manners whatsoever--either of which is grounds for leaving, I think. I have witnessed this sort of behavior over and over again. When you walk around Venice (as in most Italian cities), there are the African men who are selling the illegal/fake purses. As they stand there and try to hawk you over to them in a variety of languages, they are scratching and verifying and whatever else they are doing. Do you really think I want you to hand me a purse after your hand has been in your pants? I'd rather you be picking your nose--feel a bit safer that way. On a funny note, however, I was told that when an Italian funeral procession passes (this did not happen at the one I was at yesterday, thank goodness), and people stop in respect, you will see all the men grab themselves. Apparently some superstition and/or verility check, but nonetheless amusing. I am completely understanding of the fact that as humans, sometimes we have inconvenient things that happen when we are in a public place, so I will begrudge you the occasional pull or scratch, but the amount of activity going on here is a bit out of hand (no pun intended). But rest assured, I am going to find out if this is an epidemic (like the plagues of the 1300's) or just a bad habit, that hopefully will pass when the next fad arrives! My guess, however, and at the risk of making sweeping generalizations, is that its a man thing!

So, there you have it. Some of my most bizarre thoughts as I walk my miles around Venice. I imagine that the most of you were not the least bit interested in knowing about these thoughts of mine, but that's the beauty of having a blog. I write and you read.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Tribute to Pappa Gino

7/7/07 was a lucky day for Gino. He got to go home and be with the Lord. It was not such a lucky day for his family and friends he left behind.

This morning at 9 was the funeral for Gino at San Michele island. This is an island that is completely dedicated as a cemetary. There are a few churches and the rest is shore to shore graves and mausoleums. A tourist stop, certainly, but today, it held a different meaning for me.

I am a Protestant so I wont even claim to understand the Catholic funeral rites. And my Italian language skills are not filled with theological and heavenly vocabulary, so I am not even sure I can explain what happened. But first, it was by far one of the most beautiful, serene things I have seen. Despite the sadness and tears, the tribute from the Church commissioning Gino into God's hands was more than moving.

There were 7 priests officiating and each had a specific function during the hour long service. One of the most moving parts was the solo singing by one of the friars. His voice was nothing to commend but the resonance of it and the reverance of it echoing off of the ornately decorated marble structure was enough to bring tears to my eyes. Gods presence was in that building.

I dutifully stood when everyone else stood and I crossed myself when everyone else did and I listened intently to understand. I did not take part in the communion because I know that the Catholic faith does not believe that others can do such a thing and I did not want to be offensive (although they only took the bread and not the wine, so I dont understand that part). I was also taken aback when they took an offering from the pews. I am not sure where that money is going or why they did that and until I know, I guess I will have to check my judgement on that.

My dear friend Marco cried the entire service which was difficult to watch. His 15 year old neice broke into tears upon seeing the casket. Marco's sister was solemn for the most part, dabbing her eyes occassionally and Marco's mom was steadfast through the whole ceremony--a tribute to the matriarchal society that exists here. But no question, she was in grief, having lost her partner of 50 years.

After the service, they wheeled the casket to another part of the island (the obitorio) where the family took last condolences from others and then laid to rest their dear father, grandfather and husband. And the bells rang. Gino was in heaven immediately on his passing Saturday but now the family has released him there and they can begin the healing process.

I took the boat back to Venice and couldnt help but ponder how special and short and precious our life is and what an incredible gift we have to live it. A great reminder that each day is not to be taken for granted.

Rest in peace Gino.

Just a card

It might surprise you (as it did me) that the greeting card industry did not make it to Italy, and in particular, to Venice. There is no Hallmark, there is no Shoebox, there is no 'it's Tuesday and I want to send a card to my friend'....nothing. There are no cards here at all. It boggles the mind really.

So, what I wanted was a sympathy card to send to Marco and his family for the loss of papa Gino. Apparently, the custom here is to send a telegram through the post office. I didnt even know the telegram system was still around except for Western Union money. Alright, I dont like it and I think it is rather crass, but I will do what they expect. So, at the post office I find out that the telegram machine is out of order and being Italy, they have no idea when it will be fixed. OK..back to square one.

Perhaps flowers..yes, I will send some flowers. Off to the florist where they show me all the available flower arrangements they have for deaths. Mind you, these are all coverings for the casket and burial plot at hundreds of euros. Not what I wanted. How about a small plant to send to them? Not really an option....well, at least not for delivery. And I am not about to take it over there myself. OK...back to square one.

There is a paper store close to me.....I go in and find lots of blank journals and writing instruments, etc. and lo and behold, also blank note cards....of course you have to buy in bulk and the choice is less than thrilling but it is a card with an envelope and it is all I have to work with.

So, I have written my condolences in the card and put in the mailbox. I hope it will not be offensive, particularly because of all the effort I put into doing 'the right thing'. But I am wondering why they dont have cards here. Asking around, there really isnt a reason--of course, the postal system is less than efficient and perhaps it is some conspiracy to keep Hallmark out so they dont have to deliver more (I have already been here too long as everything that crosses my mind consists of conspiracies now!!!). And, of course, it all makes sense now when I mailed Marco's birthday card to him and he didnt know what it was....I thought he was joking, but I now understand he really didnt know what a birthday card was.....and the fact that I had brought it from the States and it was one of those new Hallmark cards that sings a song when you opened it only added to the confusion I am sure. His comment to me was 'you are not normal'! which always makes me laugh when he says this but now it makes so much more sense.

Anyone up for opening a card store with me in Italy?????? I feel a niche.........

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Sad News

I am writing now with a heavy heart. I just received a phone call from my dear, sweet friend Marco. We met last year on one of my trips here. His father died yesterday.

My heart aches for Marco. I was blessed to meet his father and mother two weeks ago when we all spent the day in Cortina in the mountains. While he didnt speak English, we actually communicated really well. He was a happy man at 83. Marco had told me he was ill but he certainly was spry that day and I will never forget how he beamed when he told me how much he loved his son, how big his heart was and how lucky he was that God gave him that son.

Gino and his wife were married for 50 years. I can only imagine her pain as she has lost her partner. Marco was devastated and I am sure the rest of his family is in great pain as well.

I dont know the protocol for funerals in Italy. Marco said he would let me know when the services were. I am going to ask some Italian friends what is appropriate to say and do under such circumstances. Its funny how you always feel helpless in a situation like this and now even more so when I have the cultural issue to contend with.

I can only ask that you pray for Marco and his family to ease their pain and give them comfort. And I ask for your prayers for myself that I may be helpful to them in any way they need.

Friday, July 6, 2007

The Hardware Store

OK...so last night I decided to rearrange furniture and make it a bit more 'homey'. I didnt even attempt to move the 5,000 pounds china cabinet although I really dont want it where it is. So, we work around it. Moving the rest of the things was easier but next to impossible to get traction on marble floors and my feet looked like something out of a Roadrunner cartoon! I finally have everything in place and with what I have to work with, I am quite pleased. The last piece to take care of was the cable cord for the TV.

Apparently they purchased the worlds shortest cord and therefore decided that the TV goes right there as well! My new arrangement didnt accommodate this and with 45 minutes before closing time (730pm), I went down to the local hardware store, Ratti.

I dutifully went upstairs of the store where they have the televisions, etc. with my cord and its strange battery pack permanent attachment (never saw anything like it in my life and if you are plugging it into the cable outlet in the wall, why do you need a battery for it?) and told the clerk I needed a longer cable. She told me to go downstairs and ask for Rino (pronounced Reeno).

Ok...back downstairs and I find a guy and ask if his name is Rino. He looks at me and says I need to go to the grocery store next door if I want Vino!!!! Do I really look that stupid? I mean, I am American and dont have a great grasp of speaking the Italian language, but why on God's green earth would I be standing in the middle of hardware store with a TV cable in my hand and asking for wine?! We both looked at each other incredulously for a moment and I asked again for a man name Rino.

Apparently the problem is that I am genetically incapable of rolling my R's and therefore, Rino doesnt sound like RRRRRRRRRRino but instead like Vino. At any rate, he points to another guy who is Rino and lucky for me, doesnt speak a lick of English! Ho hum. Time to pantomime again.

Anyway, they are finally able to provide me with an extension to the existing cable (which I made him prove to me that it worked because I now know you cant return anything after you leave the store!) and I went on my merry way to finishing my task and to having a glass of Vino in honor of Rino!

Thursday, July 5, 2007

So what do I miss?

Ok...I have been here about 2 months already (can you believe that!?). And now that there is a routine again in my life (and I use that term loosely!), I have come to some conclusions about the things I miss from the good ol' USA.

Contrary to what I thought, its not peanut butter because I have been lucky enough to get a supply so far. And while I do miss shoe shopping, I have managed to be creative and find a few places that will sell some shoes for 'cheaper' in order to indulge my habit.

So what is it? Well, dont be offended since I havent listed any people in the top 5. Of course, I miss all my friends and family. But so far, here is what is ranking on my day to day list (not in any particular order):

1. My couch. I paid good money for that set and I always enjoyed using it. Furniture in Europe is a bit more practical/functional and not so much concerned with comfort.

2. A garbage disposal. Its amazing how you take things for granted. I know that most people were surprised that I didnt have a dishwasher in my house in Phoenix but it didnt both me a bit. So, I certainly dont miss that here and I have that cool over-the-counter-drying rack anyway! But, not having a garbage disposal just makes things alot more difficult. You cant just put things in the sink and flush them down. Everything has to be wiped off into the trashcan first. Not really that big of a deal, but inconvenient and I miss it!

3. Genetically altered fruit that comes without seeds! The fruit here is fantastic, but I really hate having to buy grapes and watermelon with seeds (especially since I cant throw the seeds down the garbage disposal as I am cutting up the watermelon!). Its a small thing but somehow or other takes some enjoyment away for me when I bite into a grape and hit a seed.

Still working on number 4 and 5.

So, there it is. Nothing earthshattering but a list nonetheless.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

4th of July

Over here, the 4th of July is just another day. The American flag and its citizens aren't exactly held in high esteem, so no need to go around touting our Independence Day to them! But there are quite a few Americans here on the island and we know what today means and perhaps have a bit more insight to living a free life now that we are here--things that are often taken for granted when you live there and don't experience the world.

Italy is free also, and Venice has quite the history as one of the worlds first democracies--first established in 472AD!!! She is proud of her accomplishments and is steeped in tradition. It's one of the things that makes it so appealing to Americans, with our short history of some 200 years.

And not that one is better than the other, but I notice there is often a lacking of mental freedom--the power to dream--over here. Families are of the utmost importance here (and I really admire that trait) but sometimes to the detriment of experiencing all that this great land and world has to offer. Americans, on the other hand, are simply clueless to the rest of the world--somewhere along the history timeline, we got the idea that everything revolves around us--a dangerous place to be as we are finding out.

I love it here in Italy but I also love America. You can't compare the two--they are both beautiful in their own right. However, I believe that had I not been an American, I would not have had the inclination or opportunity to move here for this great adventure. I am truly blessed and may God continue to bless the United States of America and Italy.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Smoking and Eating

You know, there is an interesting phenomenon that happens over here. Despite the fact that Italians smoke like chimney's and tend to not have any problem eating meat that has been sitting out for hours at a time, they are some of the healthiest people I have seen. You dont hear about lung cancer and see people walking around with emphysema bags although smoking is alot like breathing for them. And you never hear about an ecoli breakouts or tainted food.

Smoking is forbidden inside any building so I guess I probably notice it more as I am dodging smoke and lit butts all day long as I walk around. I cant really say that the tourists are smoking alot...I really think its the Italians. In America, you occasionally get a smoker who feigns concern about blowing smoke at you and will give the courtesy wave to remove the smoke from in front of your face but not so here. They just smoke and blow, smoke and blow. Its actually rather amusing--they stand in doorways and yell to the people inside in order to carry on a conversation because they have to smoke. Dont get me wrong, its not like the air is so polluted that I cant breathe..its still is the most beautiful city I have seen. But the best I can do is comment on the cultural differences.

As far as food goes, I have long thought that Americans and the American food industry is just a bit too overdone. I remember growing up and eating raw hamburger meat with seasoning as a special treat. You do that nowadays and people in hazmat suits come after you. Not to mention the ecoli and tainted food breakouts that occur every 3 days in the US. How is one to keep up with all the recalled food? But here, they make their sandwiches in the morning, put them in the window in a 'colder' type shelf and there they sit all day for you to pick from--ham, maionnaise and all. The Rialto seafood market has fresh seafood caught presumably overnight and ready for your purchase but it sits there from sun up to 2pm on crushed ice with flys all around....after that, who knows what they do with the leftovers. Kitchens dont have the huge industrial type refridgerators with 18 control knobs for temperature variations. They just have a fridge. But yet, no one gets sick.

The lettuce and vegetables taste like food and they taste fresh...they arent covered in pesticides and wax. For example, when you go to the store and buy mushrooms, you will probably get alot of the ground with it...they just pull them up and package them. I actually feel a bit more comfortable eating over here....I dont wonder as much about the food, which is really contrary to what I thought since somehow we are programmed to buy into the fact that American food is better for you because of all of our 'regulations and controls'.

Do you think Americans are just over reacting? Perhaps we dont have to leave our food out all day to prove a point, but somewhere inbetween Italy and the US, there has to be a happy compromise.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

The Price and the Venetian Price

At the risk of making sweeping generalizations, the Venetian people are generally suspicious, whether about other people or things or events. I am reading a 700 page book about the history of Venice (fascinating) which seems to confirm this theory throughout their history. So, I am assuming this general suspiciousness is one of the reasons they aren't quite as friendly as they could be.

People are starting to recognize me now in various establishments as a person who is here longer than a 2 week vacation. However, I am far from welcomed and included. I get an occasional head nod to let me know that they have seen my face before but I am not at the point of getting a 'Buona Giornata' (have a good day). It's much like high school. For those of you who had to make that traumatic move during your high school years to a new place, you understand immediately. There is a 'clic' and it is very difficult to get inside that clic. I imagine once you do, you are there for life, but breaking in is the test.

One of the benefits of breaking inside is that you are often charged a different price for your purchases in restaurants, etc. Yes, there is a Venetian price and a tourist price. Of course, this isn't 'public knowledge', although you hear it rumored everywhere. And, I wasnt even sure it was true until I experienced it last evening.

I went to dinner with a new friend who has lived here for almost 6 years. She has a restaurant that she frequents and we went there. I was immediately welcomed because I was with her and we had a great meal. But the bill just didn't add up to what we ordered on the menu. In fact, it was about 1/3 less. And then that is when the rumor became reality to me.

Now in America, we do nice things for our 'regulars' and perhaps give them a free dessert or drink occasionally but never would we or could we charge 2 different prices. But then again, one of the fallacies of living here is thinking in any way, shape or form like an American! I just wish I would have known before that I was getting a discount because I would have ordered another glass of wine and dessert! haha