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Monday, August 24, 2015

OUR TINY TOILET TOUR

     You might have heard that the bathrooms in Europe are small.  Well, "small" is too big a word to describe closets with plumbing.  The good news is that the toilets are the same as what you are used to. Unfortunately they are crammed into tiny vestibules that try your contortion skills.




    Consider the first one we encountered on this summer's expedition. It came with our hotel room in Rennes, France. Like many of the bathrooms we encountered, it was hard to cram a guy my size on to the seat.  When I would lean forward to stand up my head would hit the wall. 

      One alternative was to sit sideways and I gave this a try in a similar bathroom
when my summer beard 
was longer. 




 This particular bathroom at least had toilet paper you could reach.

     It was not visible in many sitting situations.  To grab some you had to reach somewhere behind and grope around. It was reminiscent of swatting a mosquito on your back.  
    
 In the old days land was cheap. You could build a bathroom big enough to let your guests have leg room. The odd thing was the water stored over you head.  When you yanked a chain it rushed down  sounding like an angry waterfall.
        Two toilets in Josselyn, France
  

 This place had big windows too. This one let the sun shine in and let the neighbors see what you were up to.






 
In Barcelona, our Air B&B apartment was shaped like a slice of pizza.  The bathroom and the bedroom were one,  no curtain or door separated them.   Convenient as well, you could roll out of bed and into the tub.

      Our room in Rome had two toilets.  Because they shared common leg space we didn't try using both at the same time.

     In France they frown on urinating in public.  You see these "Don't Pee Here" posters all over the place.



   

    To alleviate the problem they place plastic urinals on sidewalks that invite you to "Whiz here, show off your junk, and add your initials".



Thankfully, our Paris apartment had its own bathroom (with a door!).  What was great about this last place on our tiny bathroom tour, was the phone booth-size shower was so close I could sit on the throne and wash my feet at the same time.
    The toilet paper, who knows?  I think it was in the kitchen.
                          ____________

Friday, August 21, 2015

SARNOFF TELLS SCOTTY'S TO SCRAM


 

     The Coconut Grove Grapevine, Tom Falco's daily blog on what's happening in the Grove, let us know two days ago that the City of Miami had ordered Scott Wessel to close his restaurant, "Scotty's Landing" in sixty days.


      Everyone in Miami knows the story, how our city commissioner, Marc Sarnoff, conspired with his developer friends to orchestrate this move, one that would turn "Scotty's" and the boat storage facility next to it, into a mall. 
    

Screen%20Shot%202013-06-19%20at%205.47.30%20PM.jpg Rendering of the mall

     It came to a vote two years ago. The people of Coconut Grove  voted against it.  Unfortunately, when the city-wide votes were counted Sarnoff & company came out ahead.

     What a shock.  We were losing Scotty's -a cherished Coconut Grove icon- and the boatyard next to it.

      Yesterday, the Grapevine printed a bizarre retraction saying in effect, "We were wrong. Scotty's owner (Scott) is being ordered to leave so the mall owners can run his facility for a year.  During that time they will build a Shula's Steakhouse next to Scotty's where the Charthouse is now".                              Scott Wessel                                                                                                   
     The story continues. When Shula's-On-the Bay is completed, they will tear down Scotty's Landing and build some other glitzy restaurant (#2) on the water on Scotty's site (the left side of the rendering above).


    
     When they've finished #2 they will build restaurant #3, a fish sandwich place away from the water where the boat racks now are. They will call this laughably, "Scotty's Landing".

   

   But it won't be a "landing" (it's away from the water) and it won't be the Scotty's we've loved. It will be a spankin' new Shula's subsidiary fifty-feet west of the boat launch pit that's always filled with floating garbage.

   It will be Mark Sarnoff and his wealthy friends throwing us a bone as they say, "Here. Chew  this in the back ally. We've own the waterfront now".

      If this makes you angry you should be. Coconut Grove is getting its own version of Bayside, downtown Miami's unpopular waterfront mall.  It's the Sarnoff version of what the Grove should be.
     Coconut Grove is losing an important part of its past. We will no longer have a casual, charming restaurant with an amazing view of Biscayne Bay. 
    A year from now you will won't be able to nurse a beer as you watch boats pass by.  If you're at the "new Scotty's", you'll be watching tourists head for Shula's Steakhouse, that modern monstrosity between you and the bay.
                                       _________________


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

MAKING NEW FRIENDS

          One of the best things about traveling is the people you meet, not fellow road warriors but the locals.  

     One day we got lost in Lizio, a small town in Brittany. An unusual young man almost walked into our parked car as if we had blocked his path.  Maybe we had.
   He greeted us, "'Allo, my name is Stephan. I live here".  His broken English was much better than my horrible French. After a brief conversation we continued on (being lost). 

   The quiet village seemed like a good place for Stephan. 

      





     Renting a AirB&B apartment is a great way to meet local people. We shared a large 2-bedroom apartment with Danielle Balducci in Rome. He has his studio there.                                      

                                                                     


                                                                                 Danielle



                                                                                                  


 
Enjoying Martini Rossi on Danielle's patio. 

 









       Coming in from lunch through the hallway    window,...step up, step down, great fun!   
                               






      Danielle travels and was there just one night of our six-day stay. That was time enough to hear what he loved about about his city, his family, and his work as a cinematographer. 
    He showed us his website (www.bluecinimatv.com ) and his incredible invention, an new holography system (www.olosproject.com ).  It will be like having "Siri" sitting next to you. Ask her a question and your virtual friend will respond. 
   I am fortunate in having Francesca do the same thing for me.



     Our stay at Danielle's included breakfast at the nearby Moon Cafe.

     Every morning we would be greeted by Guilia's ("Julia's") engaging smile.  The young entrepreneur would serve us hot croissants and delicious cafecitos.  We loved her broken English and her tiny four-seat cafe.  The 24-year-old works 12-hour days to keep her customers happy.

            
        Three million people live in Italy's capital.


         
     Imagine how many more stories 
are out there.  
                         __________________                   

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

THE MAGIC OF VENICE



           The allure of Venice is its water.  With canals instead of streets there are no cars, the bane of every modern city. 
      That's where the magic begins. To get around you walk, boat or swim. While we didn't see anyone doing the breaststroke, there were thousands of us strolling or waiting for a water bus. You could also take a 

water taxi, kayak, or  gondola to ply the 170 winding canals that pass under 409 arching bridges to take you any of the 115 islands
Water taxi

that make up Venice.
   

 If you've never been there try to find a way. Maybe you can go there for the next Biennale di Venezia.

     The Venice Biennale may be the world's greatest art gathering, one week in May every other year, they celebrate music, dance, and the visual arts.  Half of the too-big-to-see show hangs around for another six months and 2015's is still going on.
      We discovered the Biennale in palazzos (palaces) throughout the city.  Francesca and I began our tour in the Palazzo Grimaldi on the Grand Canal.       The balcony view from the balcony at Palazzo Grimaldi 

   
   Sixty artists representing 29 countries exhibited sculptures and paintings focused on the theme, "The world is one".

TThese are photographs (taken from above) of  40-foot sculptures made out of salvaged machine parts.
 



Viewers were invited to take off their shoes and walk on this bed composed of 5000 ceramic skulls.







Wings made from the flip-flops of 400 Singapore prisoners
   












Walking past the Northern Lights

    
 
 Wheelchair made of razor blades








Just touring the palaces was as exhilarating as seeing the art.

        
Another show, another palazzo

 
We ended our Biennale adventure the next day by edging inside a dark warehouse on the wharf.   We learned a Russian movie, "Inverso Mundus" ("World Upside Down"), was being shown. It was not a very long (25 minutes) but certainly wide.  The 9-foot high screen stretched 110 feet. 
     We took seats on an endless bench.  The experience was like watching TV on a screen 24-inches high and 22-feet wide.   I watched this incredible, surreal film with my neck turning constantly, like checking traffic before crossing a busy street. 
   Want to see a two-minute sample?

       https://vimeo.com/125328696

You may want to turn your head when the knife-wielding pig goes after the butcher.

    



 


Afterwards, we took a gondola across the Grand Canal. It costs $4 but for $114 more, we could have gone on our own hour-long sunset cruise (opera singers are extra).  Gondola tours aren't cheap but few things are in the popular island city.
  
   Francesca got a great deal on  beautiful handkerchiefs!




   
We enjoyed delicious meals, a concert, and an evening mass in St. Marks Cathedral. Rising water has caused much of the historic church's floor to buckle. Long pews have been replaced by director's chairs.  Some tilt so much you can't really sit in them.
     





We went home to pack and reluctantly close the curtains on our windows with canal views.


     It's not easy to leave as 
1) There is so much to love in Venice and,
2) You can't just catch a cab.
  
    We dragged our bags past canals and over   bridges until
we reached a large island on the edge of the town. There were the cars, trucks, and buses we had not missed for three days.  The magic began to subside.
    A red bus took us across the causeway to  Leonardo da Vinci airport.  A Boeing 737 awaited to take us to Paris. A water taxi would have been more fun.
                            ___________ 


                                   First and last photos by the ultra talented Francesca Violich

                                                                            ________

Saturday, August 15, 2015

WHEN IN ROME

 

    It may have been the perfect vacation moment. I was rowing Francesca around a lake in Rome's huge central park, Villa Borgese.  Suddenly the sweet sound of a mandolino drifted though the cool air. A man on a distant bench played "Somewhere My Love".  
"Ahh", I thought, "It doesn't get better than this".        Roman Boaters 














       I can't write about everything we enjoyed in Italy's central city but let me share a few more snippets...

      We stepped into a small museum by the Garibaldi Piazza dedicated to Rome's war for independence (in the 1840's).  They were fighting Pope Pius IX's soldiers who were allied with the French and Austrian armies. 
   The Romans lost. In final siege, one of their leaders, Ciceruvacchio, and his 13 year-old-son were captured. They and their five companions were quickly condemned to death. Ciceruvacchio begged them to spare his son's life. They laughed and replied, "We'll shoot him first".  
   They did. The monument outside captured that horrific moment. 








     On the Fourth of July no one was celebrating our country's independence in Europe.  They have their own histories soaked with blood shed in fights for freedom.
     I never gave our country's Independence Day more serious thought than when I looked up at that bronze casting of the father and son spending their last moment together.





Rome is so hot in July. 

 

Public drinking fountains help. They are everywhere, all different and very old. The water flows continuously and is super-refreshing on summer's torrid days.


   

I was putting my mouth into the stream on one occasion when a smiling old man tapped me on the shoulder.  He gestured, "This is how you do it".  He put a finger in the end of the pipe and water spouted up through a tiny hole, like...a drinking fountain!



           

   



  


400 MORE FOUNTAINS

  We visited Tivoli Gardens in the cool hills outside of Rome. The tour begins in the over-the-top, 17th century mansion, Villa d'Este.  It is something like Viscaya at the top of a hill in the town of Tivoli.  The four-acres of manicured water gardens lie below.

What a view!


Water dances everywhere in the garden's 400 fountains.
It shoots out of cannons, dragons, and gargoyles landing in troughs, cascades, and fish-filled ponds.


                         


 
We loved that place.



The next day we visited the most well-known ruins in Rome.




The Forum
 
   
The Forum, just west the Colosseum, is a complex of fallen down temples, markets, and government buildings that once were the heart of the Roman Empire. You walk its paths and imagine what was happening all around you in the bustling kingdom that died 1500 years ago.

    

  Desperate men dressed as Roman soldiers ask you for five bucks to have your picture taken with them.  The real ones didn't have this opportunity. Sadly,  cameras had not been invented yet.
     

   Remember the chariots racing around Circus Maximus in Ben Hur?    It's now a sunken field filled with gravel and wildflowers, the thunder of hoof beats long gone, replaced by the bleats of passing vehicles. 

 

I could go on about visiting the Pantheon, a former first century Roman temple now used as a tomb for the royal, the rich, and the famous,



or the cool cars I passing by,











but it's time            

to head 200 miles north
 to a city composed of so many little islands -connected by boats and bridges-


there are no cars.
      Ahh
                                  _________



                   Even the door knobs are different in Europe.


                                        ___