Thursday, November 29, 2007

Where did everybody go???

Something happened while I was in Prague....low tourist season started! Its truly amazing to walk around in the middle of the day (yes, the part of the day I hate to be outside) and have all sorts of personal space around me.

Dont get me wrong, there are still tourists here, but you can feel a marked decline in the numbers. How refreshing that must be for the Venetians--just a little breathing room until the next round starts.

The Christmas lights are starting to go up around town, the nativity scenes are being put together (Venentians walk around and look at nativity scenes rather than christmas lights like we do) and the first Christmas craft market opens Saturday. It is going to be so nice to view all these things without the masses of people.

I think it will be quiet like this until Carnival starts at the end of January....then they will come like they have never come before and make up for this lull!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Lido Market

Every Tuesday on the Lido, there is an outdoor market. If I had to guess, I would say its close to a mile long and pretty much offers you everything you could think of.

You can buy clothes and shoes (yeah!) and housewares and miscellaneous items as well as fruits, vegetables, cheese and cooked meals.

In general, the items are priced much cheaper than anything you would find on Venice. Dont expect the highest quality of product but its better than 'dollar store' quality. I bought some warm pajamas there and a few household items so I have no problem recommending the place.

Unfortunately, there was a food incident there a few weeks ago. One of the vendors sold some cicchetti (snacks) that had salmonella. I have been in awe since my arrival here--I just havent heard anything about food poisoning and with all the food sitting out in shops all day, its amazing. Turns out 7 people ended up in the hospital, one on dialysis and many others with basic food poisoning symptoms.

So yesterday as I perused the market, it was obvious to me what vendor had the incident. There they were, surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of people shopping and buying and no one was at their counter. What a stigma that must be in a place like this where everyone knows everything about everyone.

I hear every other day about some food poisoning scenario and food recall in the US--almost to the point of becoming immune to importance of it. Because it seems to be so rare here, I imagine it can really have a community effect. The funny thing is that this vendor is now probably the safest one there after 2 weeks being closed and a check by inspectors. I do hope they recover. Time will tell.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Prague--City of a Thousand Spires

I have returned from a wonderful trip to Prague. It is an incredibly beautiful city and I understand why it is often referred to as the most beautiful in Europe. To be able to compare with Venice is not possible--Venice is an island and its history is 180 degrees different than Prague. But let me remark on a few things that were a surprise.

First, the people of Prague are soooooooooooooooo nice. They smile, they say 'can I help you', 'thank you', 'please', 'have a nice day' and most importantly, 'excuse me'. Being in Venice for 7 months and hardly experiencing that made me realize how unfriendly I have become. It was an amazing study on human nature. When people are nice to you, you get the same in return. I will always wonder why Venetians are so rude.

Next, the stores and hotels and restaurants in Prague are not afraid to use the heater. In fact, many of the buildings were almost too warm on the inside. Either their utilities are much cheaper than Venice or they dont buy into the 'just put another sweater on' line that the Venetians espouse.

Also, the water pressure was wickedly strong. I dont think we even have water pressure like this in the US. It was enough to move you to the other end of the shower if you didnt brace yourself.

Prague is overrun with casinos and strip clubs and sex museums (sex, torture, etc). It was a very unsightly scene. I remarked that they were like a kid in a candy store after communism and they copied so many things from the free world and unfortunately, with that, came some of the worst.

Finally, there is an unusually large number of Americans that live in Prague. The numbers were almost overwhelming. I was truly surprised at the availability of American restaurants, stores and people.

As an American, I am seriously lacking on history and geography. We visited the 'Communist Museum' which provided a nice high level description of the life they led not so long ago. You really dont realize how blessed you are until you see things like this. The hard part is to keep that humble attitude in check.

Thursday night we had a wonderful American turkey dinner and even watched a bit of the Green Bay Packer game at a local pub!! Friday lunch was a goulash meal (very tasty). Friday night we ate at TGIFridays and had a wonderful margarita and hamburger! Saturday lunch was another traditional Czech meal and Saturday night was American pub food (potato skins, chicken fingers, onion rings, etc.). And throughout the days, we snacked on traditional Czech pastries and desserts. It was a great food smorgasboard!

My souvenir purchases were mostly food items--American and Czech! I did buy one small item for myself to remember my travels. It was always a bit daunting when you saw your bill in Czech crowns and had to convert to Euros.....our turkey dinner for 3 people was 1,396 crowns which was about 50 euros---but when you see a bill with 1,396 on it for food, you can help but get a hot flash!

I wont bore you with my stories as they probably wouldnt be as funny written down but suffice to say, I had a wonderful time. I am happy I chose Venice to live in as I do love this city. But I am also happy I experienced Prague. Not only did I get to see more history, but my eyes became more global and that is priceless.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Today is Salute day here in Venice. It is another religious celebration to commemorate the end of one of the plagues. Like Redentore in July, they build a bridge over the Grand Canal so the people can cross to the church. Unlike Redentore, the bridge doesnt go directly into the church but into a side street. There are masses every hour on the hour for the entire day and many buy and light candles to pray for healing as well as give thanks for their health.

But that is where the religious atmosphere stops. Although I have been told this is 'the holiday' for Venetians, the draw seems to be more from the small street fair. Along 2 of the calli (streets) by the church, vendors are set up selling balloons to children and sweets to everyone. The idea is that after you go to church to worship, you then walk to the fair, get something to eat and enjoy your afternoon. Its really a sweet atmosphere--very small town like.

Having just eaten lunch, I didnt have much room left to sample the goodies, but the deep fried bread intrigued me so I indulged. Its not like elephant ears at the fair and its not like indian fry bread in phoenix.....its got a chewy consistency---maybe like a donut that is just taken out. At any rate, it was more than delicious and I enjoyed every bit.

Tomorrow I am off to Prague so you will have to wait for my return to hear about those adventures. In the meantime, Happy Thanksgiving to all!

P.S. Update on Mr. Peabody....he has a slight urinary tract infection so antibiotics for 10 days. He has also finally shown on the blood test a thyroid problem, so now he get a pill a day for the rest of his life. The only bad thing is that I have to take him back to the vet in 3 weeks for another blood test to see how the pills are working...please, please dont tell him....we will just forget about that trauma to come for a bit!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Its Christmas Time!

I was walking by the local hardware store today and noticed that they were putting up a Christmas tree in the window display. It dawned on me that it's Christmastime. Albeit a month early but I am sure that Christmas arrived in the US before Halloween! There have been a few stores here that have put up some Christmas decorations/sale items in the last few weeks but I havent really 'noticed'. I was thinking that was probably because there isnt a fake Santa standing in front of every store ringing a bell or because I dont get the Sunday newspaper with all those sale ads urging me to shop soon. I kinda like this casual atmosphere here. Its a refreshing change.

On the other hand, I have seen several news segments about things going on in the US (re: the upcoming holidays) that really disturb me. Its no secret that I am a conservative Christian but these 'ideas' being presented have nothing to do with religion for me....its a matter of common sense.

First, I heard that we should now mourn Thanksgiving. Apparently there are a handful of Native Americans who find this holiday repulsive--a slap in the face of their heritage--how the Americans came and ruined their lives forever (notice how I have been conditioned to say Native Americans and not Indians). And, apparently, they want to take their case to court!!!!!! What is this nonsense? Thanksgiving has long lost any reference to its original meaning in the US. Its a long weekend where most people travel to visit relatives they dont really want to spend time with and eat way too much and watch football before going to the stores to start shopping for Christmas. No one thinks about the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria when they start to carve that turkey. Give me a break--this politically correct crap (and thats the PC word) is out of hand.

And then I hear there is a coalition of people who want to change Santa's appearance. The want all the Santa's in the malls and stores to be 'not overweight' and eating carrots instead of cookies. I cant even write what I want to say because it is so obscene. Who even thinks this idea is worth talking about? Because an imaginary man eats cookies all the time and is jolly and his belly jiggles, we are portraying the wrong image to our children that fat is OK?????? How about stop feeding your kid McDonalds 4 times a week because you are too lazy to cook for them? Or perhaps you should stop buying your child Nintendo games and tell them to go ride their bike and play outside? But I guess I am just thinking silly.

Dont even get me started on how they want us to say Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas and how all those big mega stores are following this idea because they are pansies. If you want to be politcally correct across the board, then we better find other ways to say Happy St. Patricks Day and come up with a holiday for Vice Presidents (why should the Presidents get all the credit). And if you arent a Christian, then you need to be working on these holidays or else I need to be getting days off for all of your holidays. Its more than ridiculous. Every other religion or atheist group wants their holiday to be in the forefront in the US and have the Christian holidays banned because they are biased. I have news for you--they arent Christian holidays anymore--everyone benefits from them. They are vacation days wrought with American consumerism and some of the biggest giving times of the year for homeless shelters. Ands whats more important, they are traditions in this country. Traditions that should not be cast aside because our country is suffering from the ability to stand up for its values and going overboard in trying to please everyone.

I am glad to be spending this time of year here in Italy.....I have a feeling its about tradition here also. Keep in mind that well over half of the population claim to be Catholic but that is only by birth. The overwhelming majority attend mass on Christmas and Easter only (sound familiar??). But they dont seem to have a problem in rejoicing in their traditions.

What do I want for Christmas? I want you to continue to say Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas to everyone you pass. I want you to write your congressman and tell him what hooey all this is. And I want you to enjoy the traditions we grew up with without fear of offending someone. And, if you are so inclined, I want you to celebrate the true, long-lost meaning of Christmas and say some prayers for our country and this disturbing trend. But, of course, I dont really have an opinion on this, do I?!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Life is Good

Do you ever notice how everything is wonderful right after a massage? Well, thats how I feel right now....I could care less that its only 46 outside. I am feeling wonderful. I got the oil gal again so I am sufficiently greased up all over and she did a wonderful job.....we even communicated about my sore shoulder and she did some extra work there.

I am going to turn up the heat in the apartment to 25 celsius (which is like 75 or so F--who cares how much it costs--well, at least for a few hours--hows that for living on the edge!), put on my sweats, snuggle up on the couch and revel in this bliss.

She also gave my tummy a good massage which I believe spurs on hunger I must consider eating soon also.......thats even better....a massage and a nice meal. How did I get so lucky!?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Crime in Venice

Those of you who have come to visit me have heard me exclaim with wonderment and joy at the lack of crime in this city. It really is refreshing that there is no crime occasional pickpocket but that really is about it (unless you read Donna Leon's books, in which case, there is a murder here every week!). When one thinks about all the great art and fine jewels that are strewn about the city in churches and museums, you begin to realize how valuable Venice is (aside from its beauty and historical perspective). I often wonder why there are no guards stationed in these places as they have in the Louvre, etc. And why is it that things are being stolen from the Louvre with these guards in place and nothing happens here?

In my opinion the reason are varied. First, you are on a island, so there really isnt any place to run to! And because all the streets are so narrow and the residents are everywhere listening to the daily activity, you cant really remain anonymous during an altercation of some sort. (I often 'listen' to my neighbors arguments only because I dont really have a choice in the matter. Good practice on the Italian, right?!). Finally, when you enter the island you are immediately captured by the atmosphere of the 19th century (or earlier) and with that, its almost like everyone agrees to play nicely and just enjoy the beauty that is offered by this timeless city.

So, I find this story sad but also funny. In Venice, security in the Law Courts of the old town is a problem that is well-known to everyone. There is no closed-circuit television, and there are only four guards who patrol the vast palazzo. Anyone can go in without being searched and documents are stored in the corridors because the archives are full. The latest episode of this "malaise" took place last week, when a person, whose identity remains unknown, entered a chamber half an hour before a hearing was to take place, took two heavy folders from the table of one of the attorneys, and threw them out a window and into the Grand Canal, striking a man who was passing by in his boat and who alerted the authorities(courtesy of Bongiorno Venezia).

Its obvious that Venice cannot remain at this level of security for much longer, but I am amused that the worst that this man did was say, 'so there' and threw the papers into the water. A much more grand statement than violence, dont you think?!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Cold and the oddities it brings

So, in case I havent whined about it enough, its cold here! At 1:15pm today, its a whopping 45 degrees with a nice bitter wind attached. I am really doing much better than I thought I would (which is the upside) but its only November, so I dont want to make any statements I cant live up to for the next few months!

I asked several people again if they REALLY turn their heat on and off during the day. With 100% certainty, they all said yes--boggles the mind and so unAmerican! haha Basically, from what I am hearing is that they turn it on when they wake up in the morning and are getting ready for work and then its off all day and they turn it back on for a couple of hours right before bed and then off all night. It obviously helps to have a job in this scenario but I am home, so this situation doesnt exactly work for me. If I only knew how much it reallys costs, I could make a more informed decision (again, havent received any bills which I am now convinced they are holding until I leave and will want the entire year at that time).

On a high note, however, I dont need ice anylonger because I can just let stuff sit out in the apartment to stay cold! The marble floor stays a constant 50 degrees for me and the brick walls suck up all the humidity and cold and stay about 60 degrees. I could hang meat in here and the USDA would approve!

Oh yeah, and then there is hot chocolate. Its way different than the US. I have had two kinds now. The first is like a solid Hersheys candy bar that has been melted and put in a cup. You can stand a spoon in it without trouble. More of a meal than a drink, actually. And a great source if you need a sugar rush! The other kind has the consistancy of pudding--also needing to be eaten rather than drank. Not as sweet as the first kind and not really the idea that I was going for.

And for the oddest of them all, I am going to Prague on Thursday (voluntarily) for 4 days where it has been snowing off and on all week and the high is only 34! See what happens when a person gets too cold...their brain malfunctions and they start making silly decisions! I probably shouldn't have bought a white coat because now they wont find me until the spring when everything starts to thaw!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Mr. Peabody

Yesterday (or should I say last night) was by far the worst time I have had in Italy and I am sure it was the worst time Mr. Peabody had in his 16 years.

For over 3 years, my vet at home has suspected either kidney trouble or hyperthyroid issues with him. But the tests never confirm, so no medication. The vet here (in June) also mentioned the same thing. He eats like a horse but never gains weight and recently started drinking soooooo much water. So, I decided to take him in for more tests. This pains me greatly because getting him from my apartment to the other side of the Grand Canal and island is no small task. I was stressed about it for 2 days before and Mr. P had a bad day as soon as he saw the cat carrier come out from hiding!

Our appt was at 630pm. My wonderful tutor and friend said she would accompany me to help with the 'veterinarian speak'. Well, somewhere earlier in the day, there was an emergency and that put the vet way behind. I didnt actually get in to see her until 830pm and by then, Monica (tutor) had to leave because of prior engagements--but not until her cat allergies kicked in--I felt so bad for her.

But I am getting ahead of myself here. On the way over to the vet, we walked part of the way and took the water bus part of the way. As always, he was a big hit to all the people around (as he is screaming bloody murder for his life!). Almost to the vet, he throws up all over himself in the carrier. Problem number one as I didnt bring towels, etc. At the vet waiting room, I get him out of the carrier only to find that he has s%*t on himself (and now me) as well. In his 16 years, he has never done that. I felt horrible for him and the smell was less than attractive on both of us. Waiting for 2 hours before I could try to clean him up didnt help the situation any either.

There was a woman who's appt was right before mine. She was so kind and gracious and agreed to stay and help with any translations. My angel! All the while Mr. P has taken to growling, hissing and spitting--other behaviors that are not common in our life together. When the vet goes to draw blood (unlike in America, you are there holding your cat and helping through all of this), I thought he was going to die. The noises and the convulsions were almost too much for me to watch. As the vet starts to analyze the blood and urine, I attempt to clean up Mr. P and myself--not very successfully I might add.

We are finally done about an hour later. She truly is a good vet...she is kind and patient and comes highly recommended on the island, but Mr. P and myself were pretty much done for the night. She tells me that she doesnt really want to shave his rear to clean him up and that it is better to go home and wash him with soap. Sure, lets just top off a great evening by putting the cat in water!

Either because of the wait or because of the stress (I dont know which), I end up getting the Venetian Vet price which was 44 euros less than the original bill! So, after paying my 100 euros and putting the cat back in the messy carrier, I am on my home where he promptly throws up on himself again.

On the verge of tears, I call some fellow expats (my other angels for the evening) and they meet me at my apartment and help clean up the cat. I will spare you the details of this one.

Mr. P is then voraciously hungry and thirsty and eats non stop for like 1/2 hour. Its well after 1am before we get to bed and today I am feeling every muscle in my body. Definitely getting a massage soon!

The good news so far is that is doesnt seem that Mr. P has kidney trouble and all his basic levels are good. His sodium is high (the food he eats) and his potassium is better than in June. Now we wait until next Wednesday to get the rest of the results back. For this morning, however, I am doing laundry to clean up all this crap--literally!
P.S. Dont let this picture deceive you--it was taken over a month ago--he doesnt look all that beautiful today!

Thursday, November 15, 2007


I am often reminded of the NBC Nightly News segment, 'The Fleecing of America', where they tell stories of wasted money and effort--stories that make you shake your head in wonder. And the reason I am often reminded is that 'fleecing' happens over here as well.

We all know I am no fan of the pigeons here---vermin that they are. However, the local government has recently told the people who sell the corn to tourists (in order to feed the pigeons) that they will have to find a new job by April of next year. Before you (or I) start clapping our hands, lets review. This family has been doing this same job for like 150 years. Its their livlihood and they are true Venetians. While the pigeon problem has become a health problem, firing your natives is not really the answer. Especially since they continue to let the Nigerians sells their fake Prada purses made by child slave labor and the Chinese mob is slowing buying up blocks and blocks of Venice and importing their goods illegally. How about doing the right thing by the Venetians?

Or perhaps we could talk about that infamous 4th bridge that is still under construction. Remember the one that came floating down the Grand Canal a few months ago due to be finished by years end. Well, at last look, I dont think so. The years spent and insane amounts of Venetian tax money wasted for this bridge that will serve mostly only the tourists (by making their transition from the bus station to the train station easier) is a sad exchange when you look at the endless decay, collapse and ruin of this beautiful city. How about money better spent by helping Venice and its people?

And then we have, as the mayor calls it, "the problem of problems"--the excessive number of tourists (story courtesy of Bongiorno Venezia). He feels that it is essential to find ways to control their arrival. He proposed closing St. Mark's Square and permitting access only by ticket, but it appears that isn't legally possible. So he is considering a tactic similar to what is used in London which imposes an eleven euro fee for cars that enter the city centre. Venice is full to capacity already. How about putting out the 'no occupancy' sign by stopping the construction on the new hotel at the Arsenale that houses over 300 rooms?

Well, you get the idea. As usual, its politics and the almighty dollar (or in this case, euro) that tend to drive these 'fleecing' decisions. It may be a different city in a different country, but it still makes you shake your head.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


It took me two days to find them on sale, but I finally got my San Martino cookie. This one was 4.50 euros and was half price so you can see that they were quite costly before the event.

I'd love to stay and chat but its rude to talk with your mouth full!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

And its only noon!

What a busy day here in Venice and it is only noon. Not only is it Veterans Day in the good ol' USA, but also Remembrance Day for the UK. The Anglican church I have been attending did a nice service this morning to remember those who fell in the line of duty. I am always grateful to the Reverand as all of his prayers include not only the Queen but our President and the President of Italy.

Then on the walk home, I noticed many, many people running what I thought was another marathon. The annual Venice marathon was a few weeks ago so it took me by surprise to see all these runners. Not so much that they were running a race but rather WHERE they were running. Everywhere is the was a hodgepodge of a race and everyone was definitely lost and running in all directions. I tried hard to read the placards on their chest to see what they were doing but in the chaos of them passing me or turning around in front of me, etc. the best I got was that this is the International Race for the Orientation of Venice. What a hoot that is.

All of the runners had maps and were desperately using them which leads me to believe these are all foreigners and they have no clue how to maneuver the labryinth that I call home now. It was truly fun to watch....there were no groups of people and not all of them seemed athletic (I saw one guy who was easily over 300 pounds and was looking at the Accademia Bridge like it was Mt. Everest). They also had some small piece of paper with what looked like boxes to check off....again, I didnt see it close enough but based on the in-depth use of their map, I would say it was not only a race but also some sort of scavenger hunt where they had to go to certain places along the run. I was reminded of my first 3 weeks here as I always had a map in hand and was endlessly lost trying to get to the places I needed to be. The only difference is that I wasnt running and I wasnt being timed!

And then today is St. Martino Day. I was hardpressed to find much out about this Catholic holiday/tradition but I guess it is more popular in Germany. Basically, St. Martino was a nice guy who stopped on his horse one day and tore his coat in half to give to a beggar in a snowstorm and saved him from dying in the cold. Apparently the weather is always supposed to be good on this day and sure enough, its actually going to reach 60 today! Thanx to St. Martino!

Also, the Venetian children (and only in Venice, not the rest of Italy so I am told) will go through the streets later today banging on pots and pans and singing some rhyme they have made up in order to get candy and money from the shopkeepers. Cudos to them for managing to now have two Halloweens in a few weeks time! All of the bakeries have made St. Martino cookies which have been decorating the windows for a good week. It is a cookie of a man on a horse and decorated with colorful frostings and candies. They come in small sizes up to really, really large ones with prices to match. I think I will wait until tomorrow when they all go on sale (hopefully) to get mine!

Friday, November 9, 2007

Bring on Winter

OK...I am not really wishing for that but since I have convinced myself that I cannot stop it, I must use mind over matter to conquer it. The last week it has been consistently been around 39 degrees as I wake morning routine has become as follows: I run downstairs, flip on the heat (yes, I am actually leaving it off at night in order to save money), feed the cat and then run back upstairs before the sheets have turned cold and wait....wait for the heat to warm up the apartment!

I am also forcing myself to go out in this weather in order to hopefully thicken my Arizona blood a bit. Its not as bad as I thought as long as my feet and hands stay warm. I am pretty much the only person wearing gloves right now by the way. I was out the other day with a fellow expat from New York and we were in a store where the sales gal spoke extremely good American english with no Italian accent...turns out she spent a good deal of time growing up in Canada.....anyway, she was very enamored with NY and wants to go. When she turned to me and asked if I also came from NY, I told her Arizona....she said (and I quote): 'that would explain the gloves'! :-) If I survive this cold, damp winter, it will be one of life great accomplishments.
I went out a few times this week to look for a birthday present for my father. I was completely unsuccessful in that regard but I did find a great blanket and coat for myself! (Sorry dad!). I paid more for the blanket than the coat but you all know where my priorities lie once you look at the picture.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Secret Itineraries

Yesterday I visited the Doges Palace again. Again because I think I have been there no less than 6 times already. But this time, I took a different tour--the Secret Itineraries. I dont have any pictures to show you because they werent allowed (i.e. it would no longer be a secret then, would it?!).

Basically, the tour was to show several of the secret back rooms used by the government of Venice during her day. 110 of the 120 Doges (kings) lived in the Palace as well as it being the seat of government for that time. Venetian government was a bit avant garde for the time. They strived for many democratic features and to avoid at all costs a monarchy or a family line in rule. The Doge was followed constantly by 6 men who represented the 6 districts in Venice. Then there were the Council of 10 who had final decisions on much of the activity that happened in Venice. And beneath them were a plethora of senators, ambassadors, informants, military, etc. But until the 16th century, they werent above torture and had some pretty elaborate secret prisons for their use. If you ever want to read more detail (in a not so boring history book), try reading The History of Venice by John Norwich.

Back to the tour. We saw the archive rooms and general offices and prisons built in between floors (as a side, there are many building and palaces here in Venice that have floors built between floors---interesting---I always think of that movie Being John Malkovich where everyone worked on the 9 1/2 floor). The two most interesting things were the prisons in between the top floor and the roof/rafters and the actual attic.

The prisons on this half floor were called Piombi. This is where Casanova was held for 15 months before he escaped (you can read his memoirs for the details of that story). Others did escape during the history of the Palace but apparently no one bothered to write the details like Casanova.

The other interesting visit was the actual attic/rafters of the Palace. Being up there walking on the boards and buttresses that are basically supporting this building from the 1400's is amazing. Its chaotic up there with boards and wooden pillars in all directions and yet there is some sense of order. Its an architects and builders dream to see that. The wood is from the 'lurch' tree up by Cortina (one of my favorite places to visit). They were very careful to replant those forests as they used them up (think of all the wood they used to build the city and to provide the supports under the island-whew!). Once cut, the wood was treated in salt water and then allowed to dry. This provided a protection against any pests that would eat wood and so they still stand and support to this day. Amazing.

Was the tour worth 16 euros (12 for the price of the Palace and an extra 4 for the tour)? Perhaps, if it is your first time and you visit the rest of the Palace afterwards. I am not disappointed I went but once is probably enough for this one!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Aqua Alta Revisited

A couple of weeks ago, we had a real aqua alta here. I am a bit late in sharing it with you because of technical difficulties (i.e the pics were on my brothers camera and he is in Germany!).

So, as you can hopefully tell from the pics, the water was several feet higher than normal around the edges and that translated to several inches worth in St. Marks and other squares. The entrance to the actual Basilica was filled with about 2-3 inches of water so everyone entered only through one door and via the walkways put up.

It was a great time to test out my new water boots and make sure there weren't any holes! The water came up past my ankles and my boots were secure (although not really good for warmth). It was definitely a cold day with a wind that I swore was straight from Siberia, but it was fun playing in the water like a kid again. Although I dont wish a flood on Venice of the kind like 1966 or so, I do hope to experience this phenomenon again!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Armed Forces Day

So, I was on my way to church today and decided to walk through St. Marks just for fun. I dont go there often because of the crowds but I like to see if anything is new or different occasionally. Today, I stumbled into a celebration which I think is the equivalent of our Armed Forces Day. I didnt find alot on the web about it but I figured it wasnt the celebration of the day that Italy annexed Venice (on November 4, 1866). The reason I really drew this conclusion is because they raised the Italian flag up the pole and not the Venetian flag!

Anyway, it was about a 30 minute ceremony. It was nice to see that there was some hommage paid to the forces in Italy but it was also a bit amusing. I cant say that I have ever been to an Armed Forces celebration in the US, so I have no clue if it happens or how big of a deal it is. But today, in Venice, it was a rather small event.

They blocked off part of the square and had all the different troops represented. I use the term troop loosely because there really was only about 10-12 of each group which I dont think is a troop???? There was the Navy, the military band, some vetereans and others that might have represented are what we know as army, airforce and marines. But to be honest, I dont know if they have all those distinctions here.

The funny part was that all the different types of police were present in troop form. I have always been amazed at how many uniformed police patrol around Venice. I know they are different only because of uniform but really dont know what their individual duties are. There is the military police, urban police, local police, prison police, and finance police. The finance police amuse me the most since I am in a country and city that is engulfed in financial corruption. They walk around with their machine guns apparently with the purpose of gunning down the tax evaders?! I dont know.

The band was to play music as each troop arrived into the square. I am assuming it was their particular theme song. It was like watching Gomer Pyle. The were so out of step, many of them turned the wrong way and ran into the other guys and they stopped very haphazardly and had to be reformed into some semblance of order. Again, I have no idea if the Italian military is worthy or not, but the show today didnt exactly provide a level of confidence.

After about 20 times of telling the troops to stand at attention and then at ease (as each troop or dignitary arrived and took their place), they rose the Italian flag up the middle flagpole in the square (the other 2 flagpoles are currently being repaired) and they played the equivalent of the Star Spangled Banner. Because its Venice, there were definitely more tourists than natives at the ceremony, but I was pleased to hear the Venetians belt out their national anthem.

Another 20 times of 'attention' and 'at ease' as everyone left one by one and the ceremony was over. In a place that one doesnt usually associate with patrioticism (mostly because it is so touristy), it was nice to see it happen, regardless of the fumbles made. God Bless Italy and the US.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Italian Immersion

So last night I was invited to dinner at the apartment of my tutor. She truly is a saint for being so patient with my skills. It was me, her (Monica), her boyfriend Guido, her roomate Domenico and another friend Matteo. The final roomate, Lara, wasnt home.

This has been the first time I have been invited to someones house. I thought it was an Italian thing but turns out its actually a northern Italian thing. The Italians from the South tend to be a bit more hospitable (so I am told). Monica and roomates are all from the South. With that, I encountered another accent to try to decipher on top of the Italian. But it was a fun night and I am very glad I went.

I am rather impressed at how much I did understand. And some of the conversations were a bit more involved than 'where are you from' and 'what do you do'.....for example, do you know how to say guinnea pig in Italian? And why would people who just met me for the first time be interested in explaining this to me? Well, turns out Monica and Guido did some homemade cooking (which was wonderful) and they told me it was an experiment. I explained how we would say that I was their guinea pig. This, of course, brought the need for the dictionary to decipher the difference between a guinnea pig, a rat and a mouse (which some Americans might argue as well if there is any). In the end, they learned a new American saying and I got a good meal.

One of the funnier questions was when they asked me how to say zucchini in English. What joy when they found out it was the same....sigh of relief all less word for all of us to learn!

I am still not good at speaking on command. It seems that I tried more when I only knew the infinitives of verbs. Now that I know to conjugate and several tenses, I am deeply concerned about saying it the right way and tend to tense up in fear of doing it wrong. Interesting would think that the more I learn, the more I would speak?

So who knows if I will ever be fluent, but I am still having a great time learning and I appreciate meeting Italians who accept me where I am.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Calgon Take Me Away!

There are many things that are so different in Italy than America (as one would expect) and then there are some things that remind me of home (and not always comforting).

Yesterday was the national holiday. Here I thought (and who knows why) that it was going to be a quiet day to honor the saints. Instead half of Europe thought it was the start of 4 day weekend and descended upon Venice in droves.

For those of you who have visited me, you know how crowded it can be here. Well, just multiply that a few times and that is what I am experiencing now. Its herendous! The only comparison I can draw is the day after Thanksgiving when all of America is out beginning their Christmas shopping. Cars and people everywhere. Obviously, there are no cars here, but the streets, the boats, the stores, the restaurants, the hotels are all jam packed. The weather is really nice--60 and sunny--which only adds to the hords of people.

I think this is a good weekend to either leave town or to hibernate. Since I am not able to leave, I will do my best to stay in and hope that Monday finds Venice back to 'normal' levels of tourists!