Some Things Never Change

She’s cradling her son’s broken, bloodied, lifeless body the way she cradled him as an infant. He’s grown now, but you know what they say – no matter how big they get, they’re always your baby. What had he done but offer love and hope for the future? And the world’s inability to respond in kind punctured his hands and pierced his side and left him splayed out to die.

And whose sins do the dead bodies of the children in Uvalde bear? (Or Sandy Hook…or Marjory Stoneman Douglass…or Columbine…or…or…) What are the failings in their world that ripped through their bodies until all the love and hope for the future drained out? How many more mothers will cradle the dead bodies of their always-my-babies?

She grieves behind plexiglass, and I wonder if it’s bulletproof. That would be ironic.

After seeing Allison off to her train back to Paris, we spent the morning at the Vatican, taxied to Trevi Fountain for obligatory selfies and appreciative ooohing, had a break for lunch and Aperol spritzes, the joined my cousin, mother, and aunt to visit the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel. Dinner was eaten after 10, so the long uphill walk back to our Airbnb helped take the edge off our gluttony.

Cousins, Sisters, and Singing Strangers

The day started with lots of coffee…

When you are in a tiny trattoria, and there is a big long table of Italians celebrating a birthday…and when they are finished singing and the Spaniards at the next table follow with happy birthday in Spanish…and when they turn to you and look with expectant smiles,…just know that yes, you are obligated to sing happy birthday in your native language.

Even if you are a Korean guy sitting there all by yourself. (That guy is officially my hero.) True story and it happened at lunch on our way to the Colosseum, where my cousin and aunt smuggled in contraband leftover pizza.

My aunt casually holding a rain-soaked pizza box like a business portfolio. No one suspects a thing.

The nice thing about cousins is they get it. I mean, maybe you don’t see each other for a few years, and when you finally get together, there are things you don’t even have to explain because they already know. Your deeper backstory is their deeper back story.

After purchasing cheap €5 umbrellas from a street vendor to protect us from the sudden downpour, we finally made our way into the protection of the cool stone shade of the Colosseum. Traveling with a group is a different experience – this one meanders this way, another two trail behind that way, no one seems to have a working phone, and my inner teacher wants to bark, “Everyone get in one line!” As some of our group lost orbit, my cousin Nicole and I were standing with my mother, who was telling one of those stories that sounds something like, “…and then Diana DeFazio’s brother Mario – the one who had five teeth pulled – he lives on the corner next to the Russos, the ones who owned the shop where my grandmother bought coppacol’, and their cousin Lydia still lives in Ferrazzano on the street below grandpa’s…”

And there it was, the glance between cousins. Then the pee-your-pants laughing. We get it.

My mom and my aunt are the two oldest out of eight. They are the same and they are different, but there is some kind of special bond they share from being the two that existed together before the others. Before the first boy came. They will always have each other’s back somehow. This trip, together, to the country of their grandparents, the country that gave the smells and sounds and tastes to their childhood, is something my mom has been anxious to share with her sister. Months of planning on my mom’s part to make sure everything goes smoothly, to make sure my aunt is comfortable and at ease, and they are like two peas in a pod walking around the Colosseum together.

How is our pizza looking at the end of the Colosseum tour?

David and his sister are two middles. She took the train from Paris just to meet her little brother for dinner in Trastevere in Rome. Dinner. In Rome. And a train back to Paris the next morning. .

That’s love…

A fountain on Via Giulia that shall henceforth be known as Furry Freak Brother Fountain; the Tiber at night.

Did You Order The Special Meal?

“Did you order the special meal?” asked the harried flight attendant as he held a tray with a blue box perched atop.

“No, but I was hoping you might have an extra vegan or vegetarian meal perhaps?” I replied hopefully.

He took a quick glance at the label on the box, and said, “Right, that’ll do, then.” And set it in front of me.

A vegan meal. With my seat number, 42J, on the sticker. Past Me must have ordered vegan for Future Me, and Present Me had forgotten entirely. Present Me thanks Past Me profusely.

Sunset with airplane wing and moon over Canada. David took this one for me since he had the window seat.

Most of the outbound travel went smoothly, though Heathrow was more chaotic than I remembered. The cliché reference to cattle never felt more appropriate. We arrived in Rome late, with a few minor mishaps involving customs technology,but finally got to our home for the next three days around 8:30. When Traveler Number Three arrived an hour later, we walked to a trattoria outside the walls of the Vatican and had pizza, bruschetta, and wine before ambling back to shower off the airport cooties and hit our respective pillows for much-needed sleep.

David is already snoring.

Seen on our walk back from dinner. We think it’s St. Peter’s but we are not sure tonight. Verification to follow.

What Megan Said

The last time I took a long trip, which was in 2019 before the world turned upside down, I was posting updates on my Facebook account. And my friend Megan said, “Do you have a blog? Cuz I would follow the s*** out of that.”

So I made a blog.

It’s this one. This blog.

I originally started trying to move over all of my Facebook posts into This Blog. But it became too tedious and I ran out of time. Who knows, I may still dredge up some old adventures From The Archives in case anyone is interested in reading about past explorations.

In the meantime, here’s to new ramblings…of one kind and another.

Ready bags.

Prague, Day 3 – June 27, 2019

So, as it turns out, I’m hopelessly in love with George Orwell.

Today I slept in a little late, since I woke myself at 3 am to watch the debates and text commentary with a friend who is also interested in politics. Probably will do the same tonight. Porque es muy importante, la política. Hablo español, una mas cerveza por favor! 😉Little debate humor there…when all else fails, throw in some Spanish to show you’re one of the people.

I talked to David for a bit, got up, and decided today should be the day to hit the more touristy spots, as they may be more crowded come the weekend, à la Amsterdam. Visited the old town, the Charles Bridge, etc. I did that thing I do, where I think I know where I’m going, and at some point I realize I don’t, but I stubbornly keep walking aimlessly, overestimating my sense of direction. (Mind you, my sense of direction is not terrible…it’s just not GPS. Or even a paper map.) Eventually I did that other thing I do, which is to finally concede defeat, sit somewhere with a drink, and regain my bearings.

Kranner’s Fountain, a fountain and monument to Emperor Francis I of Austria found along the left bank of the River Vlava between the Legion Bridge and the Charles Bridge.
All above are from the Charles Bridge…ummmm, maybe not the horses. I think they were from a nearby building, but they balance the format so I am taking artistic license.

Here are more photos of things that tickled my eyeballs on either side of the bridge…

One of my favorite points of interest in Venice is the clock tower at St Mark’s Square. Churches and castles and museums have their beautiful sculptures and architectural embellishments and majestic stained glass and gold leaf. But a clock tower like the one at St Mark’s is a grand achievement of art AND mechanics AND architecture AND mathematics AND astronomy. So seeing the astronomical clock in Prague was a key destination today, so much so that I actually claimed a table at a tourist restaurant directly opposite the clock and ordered a cheese plate and two Aperol spritzers, just to better enjoy waiting for the next turn of the hour to arrive. The crowd swelled just before 3:00, and the restaurant itself was inundated with tourists who tried to position themselves between the tables, only to be firmly shooed away by the staff. My waiter and I shared a wry, knowing smile in a way that signaled how patient one must be with the rabble.

I’m adding a video of the clock for your enjoyment.

Wove my way back to my tram stop, taking more photos along the way. The heat and the Aperol spritzers made me sleepy, so I wrote a few postcards then took a nap before heading up the street for a dinner of black truffle risotto, pinot gris, and Orwell in the garden patio of a nearby restaurant. The restaurant was especially considerate and had misters strung along the edge of the patio that would periodically spritz cool droplets in the direction of the diners. After finishing everything ( including the Orwell), I walked back down the hill and settled in for the evening.

Prague, Day 2 (Part 1)- Mad Dogs and Englishmen (and Foolish American Women) – June 26, 2019

Tempted though I was to spend the record-breaking day in my cool ground-floor flat, I decided it wouldn’t do, so out I went. (Last time I was in Italy, they also had record-breaking heat. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. The sweaty, sweaty t-shirt.) I looked online last night to find “where to stay cool in Prague,” and one of the suggestions was Vyšehrad, a 10th century fortress at the top of a hill overlooking the city.

I showered, had my instant coffee and a deformed piece of the previously liquid chocolate, and caught the tram. Screenshots of the route are your friend. Caught the 5, rode it to the appropriate stop, caught the 7…and realized I had taken the 5 in the wrong direction and would have to ride 13 stops instead of 4.

Screenshots have their limitations.

Got off at the right stop and started walking the hill to the fortress. Yes, again I said hill. Because smart medieval city planners always built their fortresses on hills. I took it easy and stopped at every turn to cool down a bit in the shade. I’m not here to be a hero. Reached a brick tunnel that acted as a windchannel and luxuriated for a few minutes. I wanted to stay there longer,but decided that hanging around tunnel entrances at a public park might look different from the outside, and getting arrested for soliciting in Prague is not my idea of a fun vacation. So I continued on my way.

The funny thing about countries that offer free healthcare is that they seem to be the same countries that charge coin to use the restroom. (I had my revenge, though… accidentally stuck a 1 pound sterling coin into a machine designed for Euros at the Amsterdam train station and it jammed. Oops! I mean, F*** you and your toilet extortion, Europe!) Anyway, attempted again to use what I knew of Czech combined with what I know of Russian to talk to the bathroom attendant at the top of the hill (this doesn’t work, as pretending Danish was the same as Dutch did not work in Holland, but my brain can’t help but try to fill in the gaps), she asked where I was from and when I told her I was from near San Francisco, she happily said, “czechczechczech HOUSE San Francisco! San Francisco HOUSE czechczechczech!” Now, I did not know if she meant that my house was near San Francisco, or if she was showing off her knowledge that Full House was set in San Francisco, but the correct response to either was the same, so I said, “Yes! Ano!” And went about my toilet business.

Several cafes are to be found in the fortress, so I found one, had a beer, read, ate beet salad with goat cheese that seemed more like brie, got a map, and proceeded to explore the fortress. Still so hot, I walked very slowly. I strolled. I idled. I meandered. I took my sweet ass time getting from place to place. Spent time in the Church of St Peter and Paul, sat quietly in the pew for a while before taking some photos of the beautiful artwork. Lit a candle for beloveds. Went out and walked through the cemetery. It was a fine and quiet place indeed.

(What follows includes lots of photos of the Church and cemetery, so I don’t blame you if you scroll fast. Just be sure to pause at the photo of my second beer and contemplate how refreshing it must have been to have a cold beer and a breeze in the shade, overlooking Prague, on an otherwise perspiration-soaked day.)

I used to think when I’m gone, I want to be buried in a sunny spot. I always felt that shadow on a grave might make me feel too cold and depressed for all of eternity. However, after walking through a cemetery in 99 degree weather, I can see how being interred in direct sunlight might also feel pretty sweltering. So make a note, I would like a place with dappled shade – not too cold, not too hot.

Found a spot overlooking the city to read and have more beer. (The one you most certainly paused to admire in the slideshow above.) I wanted to eat, too,but the grill was not grilling because of the heat, so no food was to be had.

Walked around some more (Google was right about Vyšehrad being a good place to escape heat…lots of shady spots with a breeze…jumping from shade to shade was like playing the real life version of that game you used to play as kids, jumping from dark tile to dark tile so as not to step in the “hot lava”), caught my trams (correct direction this time!),and made my way home.

Cold showers and easy access to a washing machine are such luxuries, especially when you are a Human Who Wears a Bra. Took a cold shower and rested (and am now doing washing). Being a member of the petite bourgeoisie has a fresh feel to it.

Got dressed, went to dinner at a place down the street, and ate a scandalous amount of food (the beet salad, beer, and square of once-melted chocolate ran dry hours ago). Potato pancakes and more beer,followed by a palačinky (Czech style crepe) with ice cream and chocolate. Fizzy water. Read my book in the lulls. Heard the gentleman at the next table speaking on the phone in Italian. I debated whether it would be presumptuous to speak to him in Italian, then realized he had been just as nosy and spoken to me in English. So the next time he struggled to stand, I asked him in Italian if his leg was broken. He said, no, his foot. We carried on a long conversation (in Italian), he’s lived in Prague 10 years, originally from near Florence, has visited New York and New Jersey, has a daughter who is Czech, lives on the top floor of that building over there and it’s even hotter up high which is why he’s at the restaurant, etc. He wanted to know why I speak Italian and why I’m reading Orwell. We talked about Orwell (he’s a fan and had read everything by him), and he recommended another of his titles to me. I asked him about bus tickets and gratuities. Paid my bill, said Buona sera, piacere, and he gave me his name (Luca) and I gave him mine.

And that’s that.

(Postscript: I found out later that the cemetery at Vyšegrad is quite significant, where many famous Czechs are buried, including the Czech artist Alfons Mucha, of whom I am an admirer. You’ll find his resting place, along with others, at the monumental tomb Slavín at the cemetery’s eastern end.)

Prague, Czechia – June 25, 2019

Hey, I packed for a month in a duffel and a normal sized backpack. How long it will stay that way us anyone’s guess.

It’s some sort of mystery of physics…you can pack carefully for a trip, add nothing along the way, yet your belongings somehow experience some sort of dimensional expansion that makes each subsequent attempt to pack more and more difficult…

The bus driver today was my first female bus driver. SHE actually apologized to ME for not speaking English better (after I apologized for my Dutch). I pointed out that we were in Holland, soooo… Anyway, there seems to be an inverse correlation between chronological distance from the weekend and driver grumpiness.

Got to the airport very early. (I have come to the conclusion that the Germanic reputation for promptness is a result of dependence on public transportation…I can’t explain the Italians). It was already muggy by 9 am. I got breakfast at the airport (not expensive!) and waited.

Flying into Prague was beautiful. Clusters of red-roofed villages surrounded by patchworks of field in varying shades of green and yellow, interspersed with lush, almost black, forests.

Taking the bus then tram to my place was relatively easy. Except for the guy who told me “dvatzat shest” and pointed emphatically at the ground to let me know to wait here at the bus stop for 26. I waited until I saw a TRAM reading 26 across the street, and asked some people nearby in my lame Czech-Russian mashup if I was supposed to be over there. They said yes. (Thanks for nothing, old man…) Fortunately 26 comes every 8 minutes. Oh, except then I got off one stop too early, because Czech buses and trains announce both the current stop AND the next stop. Thank you, Costa Coffee barista, for getting me on track.

By the way, I’ll interject here that if you are someone who gets all panty-twisted when you hear foreigners speaking their native language in America, I’m here to tell you to stop that s***. I speak (rusty) Italian and Russian, some French, Spanish, and a few silly sounding sentences of Danish. I do not speak Czech or Dutch or any other number of languages. People are always very kind and helpful to me, and I’d like you to do the same for non-native English speakers. If you’ve ever travelled, it’s good karma (and I’m sure you’ve spoken English in public), and if you haven’t, well, use your imagination.
Back to my day.

My apartment is fantastic. $23/ night. Twenty. Three. Dollars. A. Night. And travellers…it has a washer. YOU know what I mean…

Found a killer (yuk yuk) vegan restaurant around the corner that not only had a beet-soy burger that knocked my socks off (ok, I wasn’t wearing any…please refer to: it’s hot), but they also employ formerly homeless or incarcerated people and buy from businesses that employ disabled people AND you can buy a lunch voucher that they keep for homeless or hungry people needing food. Damn.

Walked to Tesco, picked up more sh**** travel conditioner and lotion and laundry soap and diet Coke and a melted chocolate bar (did I mention it was hot?), and now I sit in front of the fan tapping on my phone, sitting on a futon in the living room of an apartment in an old Czech building.

June 24, 2019 – Amsterdam, The Netherlands (Anne Frank House)

Visited the Anne Frank House today. Had to do a separate post for this one. Photos are not allowed inside. I am an emotional person who feels things deeply, and neither David nor my son will be surprised to know that it was very hard for me to keep from crying in here. It’s one thing to read the diary and to know, it’s another to be in the space. It didn’t help that it occurred to me that Anne looked EXACTLY like a former student of mine (minus my student’s bright red hair). Or that I wondered if the train tracks I’ve been riding daily were the same ones used to transport men, women, and children to a final horrific ending. Or that names on the transport lists matched the surnames of people dear to me. I cannot imagine the terrible, terrible pain of having your children separated from you and have no idea where they are being sent, how they will be treated, having no way to indulge that most primal drive of protecting your beloved, precious treasures.

People are still fleeing political violence and genocide today. Can we see it the same way? Are are we too close to it to recognize it? What regrets will we have in a decade looking back?

Link to the virtual tour…there is actually no furniture, only in the virtual tour, because Otto Frank wanted it left unfurnished the way it was after they were removed and it was cleaned out.

June 24, 2019 – Amsterdam, The Netherlands

One thing I have a special talent for is sweating. I mean, I don’t just *sweat,* heavens, no. I also turn bright pink in the heat. I have graced Holland with my own special “lobster-still-dripping-with-cooking-water” look for the past few days. Lucky Dutch.

Today from my bus window I saw a woman wearing an effectively transparent top with no bra. She looked otherwise quite conservative – thick black hair that Asian women are blessed with tied back in a ponytail, cropped white chinos, white boat shoes, hobo purse. I don’t know if she didn’t realize her top was transparent or if it was too hot for her to care. (By the way, congratulations.👌) Anyway, it was the kind of heat that makes the otherwise modest bare all.

I visited the Homomonument, a public square – make that public triangle – that commemorates the struggles and celebrations of LGBTQ people, past, present, and future. Done in a sort of pink granite. Nice concept, and the gentleman in the adjacent information booth was very outgoing and happy to explain it to me.

Walked around looking for Indonesian food, which I was told by my formerly-Dutch neighbor is something to be enjoyed. Took a few photos on my walk. Almost gave up finding an Indonesian place that was open, but spotted one just as I was about to cave to a regular beer pub. As I waited for my food, a South African mother and college aged son sat next to me and started a conversation. (Explaining why I only have a surreptitious photo of my beer and none of my lunch.) He had been accepted to the University at both Amsterdam and Maastricht (where his father, still at home in SA, was originally from), and he was coming to check them both out. I helped them out with the little public transportation info I had mastered, told them about free WiFi on all the buses (they were pleased and astounded), and helped them get onto the restaurant wifi. We said goodbye and wished each other well.

Got on the tram to get to my bus station. The tram driver spoke English to me without me having to ask, and let me ride for free because he said it was only two stops away and he didn’t want me to have to buy another ticket for the bus when it was such a short ride. (This was my second free ride of the day…I somehow managed to get on the train with a ticket that was only supposed to work for bus and tram, which I did not discover until the end of my ride when I was denied exit by the gate. I had to be creative and follow very closely behind a woman with a legitimate ticket in order to escape…) Apparently bus and tram drivers are more friendly on a Monday than on the weekend, because my bus driver willingly spoke English to me and made sure I bought the correct ticket as well. I do understand. I like Amsterdam better on a Monday, too…

Took a few photos on my bus ride home (slideshow below), including a few mundane-yet-somehow-intriguing ones of the GIANT flower growing and shipping area I pass through each day. Hundreds of flower shipping trucks from perhaps as many different companies. There are three or four stops within this growing compound alone. So much for majestic fields of tulips?

A nap, a phone call home, and preparations for departure to Prague tomorrow morning.

A couple of random things that tickled me today...

June 23, 2019 – Haarlem, The Netherlands

Tired from my 15 hour day in Amsterdam yesterday, so slept in, piddled around washing “small and delicates” (or “moderately sized and substantial,” as the case may be), then took the bus to Haarlem for a few hours. Had…WAIT FOR IT …mustard soup (I know, right? Brilliant Dutch people, so delicious), a smoked salmon sandwich, and a beer and enjoyed the breeze and people watching, then went and signed up for a tour of a historic mill. The only other guy on the tour was a recent LSU grad from New Orleans named Clyde. The tour was about what you might expect. The tour guide reminded me of Alyce Beasley, jumped a few times at noises, commiserated with me about the heat. Pointed to the nearby prison and said she used to work there as a security guard for 7 months, now she’s not allowed to work there. I tried not to draw a connection between that and her jumpiness and aversion to heat, so decided something was lost in the translation.

Haarlem prison in the distance…fancy architecture…PS, guide’s grandma lives on the street in front of the prison, guide lives over there (points off to right in the distance)

Haarlem is quiet and beautiful, wish I had more time to explore there. Rode the train to Amsterdam to try and by a bus ticket for tomorrow, couldn’t do it so rode the tram+bus back to Aalsmeer.

Word to the wise: people will tell you that you do not need to learn Dutch before you go, because “everyone speaks English.”. I found this is not as widely true as in Denmark, though most have some, but people are very friendly and will try to help, EXCEPT don’t count on this with bus drivers. While some are helpful, most will let you know in no uncertain terms that they are not here to play tour guide or be your babysitter. (Though one gruff bus driver refused to let me wait at a stop in a junkie haven at midnight last night, and instead made me come on his bus to a safer waiting place, then made sure I felt comfortable finding my connection. Old grump. ❤️)

People, if you learn anything, learn Bus Dutch.