Wednesday, August 16, 2006


I need to blog Vegas but it's so big I don't know where to start. Since I blogged Florence and Venice last year and skipped Rome, I thought maybe I should complete the last one before starting a new one.
Since Rome was ending our trip, I thought we should try a nice B&B and Trip Advisor pulled up 69 Manin Street. The good news was that all of the reviews loved it. The only drawback was that it was a few blocks from the Train station which is a faster part of town and not in the center of the activities. Since I liked the reviews and really didn’t know which part of town was best since the activities themselves are spread out I took a chance.

They had a great selection of breakfast food and an upscale coffee vending machine that offered most of what you’re use to from the Starbucks menu. The room had satellite TV and since no more than 2 channels spoke English, they had over 100 DVDs that did. The only negative was that they misunderstood our email and were late is meeting us to check in.

The place was owned by a couple our age, though we only met the female end. Her “man” as she called him had a regular job and she worked the business. She was very meticulous and although she was rated 2nd or 3rd out of 80 places on Trip Advisor (currently ranked #12 – she must be having a fit) it bothered her that someone complained that she didn’t have a breakfast area and had to eat in their own room. She told me that she was leaning toward gutting one of the guest rooms to provide a breakfast place. I tried to talk her out of it. Why give up the revenue of the extra room. I bet most people don’t care and would rather pay less than subsidize the breakfast nook.

She asked me on the second day if I like George Bush and I said yes. She said that I was the first American to stay in her place that said so since she bought the place two years prior. I have to figure that at least one other traveling American likes Bush, but they were just afraid to admit it to a European. It turned out that she actually likes Bush a great deal as well as the then current Prime Minister Berlusconi whom she predicted correctly would lose re-election. She said that most people are just ignorant about terrorism and the world was lucky to have Bush to lead the fight. She and “her man” wanted to sell the B&B in a few years and move to California. They want to be Americans.

On our first Friday in Florence we witnessed the General Strike that closed down most attractions and featured little socialists roaming the streets some with Soviet flags. It seemed like a funny thing. The second Friday in Rome was bit less so, especially when we were packed in a Roman subway station and some Bolshevik set off a firecracker. I saw a woman yelling at her husband because the commie flags and signs were littering the stroller and the wife was tired of carrying the baby. I also saw a guy parading around with one of those nude blowup dolls. I’m not sure if that was some sort of counterculture statement or just the option of quick relief in the restroom. The overall effect of seeing this really bothered me. Here’s a country that embraced the fascism of Benito and was now embracing Lenin. Also troublesome was that every newsstand had a copy of a recent Che biography and that Che shirts and signs were everywhere even in non-strike days. It seemed that the main point was an anti-American one which I expected somewhat, but I didn’t see any of this sort of thing in 2003 in Amsterdam, Belgium or Germany. I felt like a character from the movie Barcelona.

Rome was an overall disappointment, especially since I have wanted to go there my whole life. It’s dirty almost everywhere, the gypsies are a bother and the attractions were mostly underwhelming. The touristy things like the Spanish Steps, and Trevi Fountain were actually fun little places to visit if you don’t mind the sideshows.

Not far from either attraction were guys dressed up as gladiators that will pose with you for a price and Bangladeshis trying to sell you wilted roses and Polaroids.

The historical things were a mixed bag. I enjoyed the Coliseum the most. It had a good audio tour and you could really imagine the action back in the day.

Palatine Hill, The Forum, the Circus Maximus were an education but redundant. The Pantheon was mostly interesting for how old it looked. McSorely’s Old Ale House in New York City has been opened since the 1850s and has the look of a place where grime has just absorbed into every crevice. The Pantheon looked like that to the extreme. Parts of the Tower in London are 1000 years old and look fresh and new compared to the Pantheon.

Although I had always wanted to see the Sistine Chapel our earlier ventures into Italian art in Florence made me less excited when the time came. The Chapel lets in only a select amount of people and they make you wander through hall after hall of less interesting artwork to get there. When we got into the actual chapel part every seat around the perimeter was taken and my sore back felt the pressure as I listened intently to the audio tour. The Michelangelo ceiling looked as great as in the photos and the drawings on the walls from lesser art figures couldn’t live up to it. It really looked like teacher and student. Even the well-respected Raphael didn’t impress me compared to Michelangelo. And to think they guy considered him self a sculptor and had to be bribed into painting the thing. At the same time, the greatness of the work didn’t surprise me like David back in Florence. They were what I expected.

A pleasant surprise was visiting this castle after we left the Vatican. There wasn’t much of a crowd and it offered great views of the city. We stayed up there for a while drinking Italian beer and looking over the side. There were some people on the ground just enjoying the day. Some young men were kicking around a metric football and another family was playing fetch with their dog. At some point the dog returned the fetch ball to one of the footballers and he kicked it out of his way not paying attention and the dog took it as the game continued. We both laughed when we saw it happen and those on the ground stopped and looked up at us which made it funnier.

Wine is so cheap everywhere. In the grocery store some wine could be had for Coca Cola prices. They had Grappa for as much a 30 Euro and as little at 4. I bought a bottle for 6 and it tasted like turpentine. I bought some Spumante for 4 Euro and it tasted great. Cheese was a lot cheaper too and we ate it plenty. Funny thing was the Peroni beer was no cheaper there than here. When you ordered it from a bar they usually included a bowl of potato chips and a dish of olives. I bought a 3 Euro draft and I think I ate 3 Euro worth of olives.

Although I grew tired of German food in 2003, I never got tired of Italian cuisine. The best part as we learned was that it was all good and the price you paid mostly had to do with location and view. So after the first night in Rome eating by the Pantheon, we spent the next 4 nights supping in the restaurant 2 doors down from the hotel and it was the least expensive place we went in Italy and no disappointment. It was a Mom & Pop called Ristorante Santi. We tried the pasta, pizza, bruschetta, steak, risotto, and it all met the test. By the end of the week they were treating us as old friends to boot.

The most bizarre situation happened on the last day when we were sitting in the Coliseum area and a Bangladeshi approached us to buy some silver Jewelry. I didn’t have a lot of cash left and didn’t want to make another ATM stop before the plane home and kept trying to shoo him away. He began by trying to sell us 1 piece for 25 Euro and ended with 3 for 10 Euro and Trish rationalized that she could maybe give them as Christmas gifts (I don’t think she did) so I said okay and gave the guy a Ten spot.

That was no sooner done and this lady started screaming at us for buying the stuff. She had a little flea market like table setup not far away trying to peddle miniatures of the Coliseum, David and such. She was tall and looked a little gypsy-like. The man with her was short and reminded me of an Italian Bob Hoskins. She went on about how they paid for their spot and the Bangladeshis had no right to trespass, but instead of taking it out on those guys, she was yelling at us and demanded that we leave or she’d call the cops. Now while I don’t know every Italian law I surmised that no cop is going to harass a paying tourist for buying a piece of silver jewelry and I refused to move. She and the runt were yelling and screaming at us to leave and we yelled back and stayed put. It was surreal to say the least and for the hell of it I decided to snap a photo of the little guy who didn’t like it one bit as shown.

We probably sat around ten minutes longer than we wanted simply to see if they would actually call Polize which they didn’t.

Earlier in the week we had another brush with gypsies when a mother and her two preteen daughters walked up to me trancelike as I was reading a tourist map. The girls each tugged on either arm of my jacket and the mother was holding the box, I suppose for the loot, but Trish who saw this before me was the hero and yelled at them harshly to leave and they cowered away with not a penny for their troubles.

We also saw a gypsy in a grocery store paying with change and it reminded me when I broke my penny bank to buy the Star Trek action figures in 1976, the only difference was that she paid mostly with pennies.

A great thing about the trip was that it was so relaxing that I read the five books I brought before we made it to Rome and I had to find an English language bookstore to re-stock. My mind had been so cluttered for months that I was having trouble concentrating enough to read and here I was flying through pages on the trains and just before bedtime.

On the plane trip over we sat next to an Italian girl from Naples which was interesting because the plane was actually connecting in Atlanta and she was probably the only other person on the plane heading to Rome. She worked at Alfredo’s restaurant in Epcot and she told us that the original one is in Rome and it would be the only place in the country that we’d find Alfredo sauce. She said Americans all think it’s typically Italian, but that they never eat it. She was dead right. Not one place on the whole trip offered Alfredo. We did stumble upon the original restaurant heading to the Pantheon our first night, but we didn’t venture in understanding it to be overpriced and not even authentic.

One thing that I wanted to do is get Trish and I posing in front of the Mouth of Truth as seen in Roman Holiday.

I wonder if Wyler made the choice of darkening the eyes for the movie. It makes the thing come alive like a monster. It doesn't read at all in our photos

On both our European trips I have found that I am good and ready to come home by the 9th or 10th day. I don’t know how John ever lasted 6 weeks on that tour he took in 1995. The biggest mistake I made was 5 days in Rome. 3 days would have been enough. We could have spent the other 2 in Bologna, Parma and Tuscan countryside vineyards. Trish planned the prior trip and she had us moving city to city much better than me. I hope to learn from her example in the next trip. Our preliminary goal is to see Prague and I think that trip would offer an excellent chance to see Budapest too. We can’t decide if we should visit Salzberg, Vienna and Bavaria in that trip too or head north instead to Berlin and Warsaw and make it an Iron Curtain theme.

Now I can blog Vegas

Friday, August 11, 2006


Terrific piece by a British commentator, and I think he is right. Things appear a lot different these days on the surface, but at its core, America is not far removed from its roots. We are a stable democracy rooted in an idealistic worldview that is not easily understood from abroad and should not be too quickly dismissed.

I spent the better part of a year in England and Europe. Europeans do scoff at Americans. It's as if the British still sting at their loss of global influence and can't believe they lost it to the likes of us. They consider us nouveau-riche, uncultured, arrogant, naive. To me they seemed like aristocrats without the land, hanging on to what was and feeling superior based just on a feeling of superiority. I found it all kind of stupid and pointless, and I validated their stereotypes by telling them that Americans may not be able to locate the English Channel on a map or name a British poet, but we kicked your ass sure enough. It's an argument that Americans understand. We are willing to fight, and when we fight, we fight to win. I think and hope that still defines America. We maintain our superiority through lack of subtlety, and that's precisely what I like, and the left hates, about Bush.

Even this insightful commentator can't grasp that we don't really give a rip about "winning hearts and minds." When someone shoots at us, we crush them like a bug, as we ought. That's not being a bully, it's defending liberty. You are free to shoot at us, and we are free to eliminate threats to our safety.
We are inclined, in our snobbish way, to dismiss the Americans as a new and vulgar people, whose civilisation has hardly risen above the level of cowboys and Indians. Yet the United States of America is actually the oldest republic in the world, with a constitution that is one of the noblest works of man. When one strips away the distracting symbols of modernity - motor cars, skyscrapers, space rockets, microchips, junk food - one finds an essentially 18th-century country. While Europe has engaged in the headlong and frankly rather immature pursuit of novelty - how many constitutions have the nations of Europe been through in this time? - the Americans have held to the ideals enunciated more than 200 years ago by their founding fathers.

Thomas Jefferson warned that the tree of liberty must be watered from time to time with the blood of tyrants and patriots. To the Americans, the idea that freedom and democracy exact a cost in blood is second nature.

The Americans are prepared to use force in pursuit of what they regard as noble aims. It is yet another respect in which they are rather old-fashioned. They are patriots who venerate their nation and their flag.

The idea has somehow gained currency in Britain that America is an essentially peaceful nation. Quite how this notion took root, I do not know. Perhaps we were unduly impressed by the protesters against the Vietnam war.

It is an idea that cannot survive a visit to the National Museum of American History in Washington, where one is informed that the "price of freedom" is over and over again paid in blood.

The Americans' tactics in Iraq, and their sanction for Israel's tactics in Lebanon, have given rise to astonishment and anger in Europe. It may well be that those tactics are counter-productive, and that the Americans and Israelis need to take a different approach to these ventures if they are ever to have any hope of winning hearts and minds.

But when the Americans speak of freedom, we should not imagine, in our cynical and worldly-wise way, that they are merely using that word as a cloak for realpolitik. They are not above realpolitik, but they also mean what they say.

These formidable people think freedom is so valuable that it is worth dying for.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


Has America gone soft? Much of the population has never known anything but good times. The day will come, and soon, when our resolve as a nation will be tested. O that some good old American resolve will be leading this country when that day arrives. And I don't hear many (D)'s saying anything beyond "make love, not war." Michael Moore's boastful open letter yesterday promised the Lieberman treatment to any (D) who supported the war. When enemies shoot at you, what is the alternative to shooting back? What??

The security line at PHL this morning was a hundred yards long. That's inconvenient but not life-threatening. What horrible headlines would we be reading these days with Gore or Kerry at the helm?
As some of us have been trying to tell you, Democrats don't oppose the war on terrorism because they hate Bush: They hate Bush because he is fighting the war on terrorism. They would hate him for fighting terrorists even if he had a "D" after his name. They would hate Bernie Sanders if he were fighting a war on terrorism. In the past three decades, there have been more legitimate sightings of Big Foot than of "Scoop Jackson Democrats."

In Tuesday's primary, Connecticut Democrats dumped Joe Lieberman, an 18-year incumbent, because he supports the war on terrorism. This is the same Joe Lieberman who voted against all the Bush tax cuts, against banning same-sex marriage, against banning partial-birth abortion, against the confirmation of Judge Alito, against drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and in favor of the Kyoto accords. Oh yes, this was also the same Joe Lieberman who was the Democrats' own vice presidential candidate six years ago.

The free world, which is rapidly boiling down to us and Israel, is under savage attack. Treason is rampant in the country. True, Democrats hate Bush, but they would hate anybody who fights the war on terrorism. It is a hostile world, and there is now a real question about the will of the American people to survive.