December 5th, 2005 - There was a time - once, long, long ago - when I thought there would come a day when I would stand on top of the mighty computing mountain, finally past the learning foothills and in possession of a mastery of computing that enabled me to nearly effortlessly have my computer actually working for me instead of me for it, but I have come to realize - finally - that such a day will not likely ever come. There are bursts of productivity between the equivalent of shoveling coal into a boiler for a steam-powered engine, but there is still more working for the machines than I would like. An exaggeration? Certainly, but while I am getting far more done with my electronic machines than I ever could have with a steam engine, still... the aspect of continual service to keep the machine running is similar, and irritating at times.
December... winter... it's happened again. Spring turned to summer and that to fall, and now the trees are dropping their leaves in the rather cold air. I don't care for winter, but it does improve the spring by way of contrast.
"Expensive Dinner & Oversleeping" [Top of page]
From: KCM [US]
Aug. 2nd, 2005
Some of our friends, apparently, irk each other, which I find amusing, because I think they just suffer from geek-itis: stubbornness on a level so high that they refuse to let anything go, and social ineptitude, which leads them to being either really overbearing or really withdrawn. And undiagnosed ADD. They could probably deal with the other person by just saying, "Ok, you're right, I'm wrong" but I think that is anathema to most geeks.
I decided to treat my sisters to dinner for helping me move, since I didn't want to rent a U-Haul. They warned me that it would be expensive. Did I listen to them? No. We ate at King Crab, and they ordered up a seafood feast. It would have been cheaper to rent the U-Haul and tip them well. The restaurant had two events going on - a wedding reception for a Chinese/Vietnamese couple, and a small one-month party for a baby. The things people were wearing for this wedding reception - I almost have no words. Many of the women were dressed like they were going to prom, and several wore dresses from Paris Hilton's closet. One memorable dress was a low, low cut black v-neck that cut down to nearly her waist, and barely covered her bra. Now, they all looked good in what they were wearing, but I thought it was really inappropriate for a wedding.
The adults got drunk at the one-month
The baby had a lot of hair. Ah, the Asian flush - this one woman
got so flushed her entire backside was red.
From: KCM [US]
Aug. 4th, 2005
I overslept today. Put on a skirt and left for work. I forgot that there was going to be a day game today, and parking cost me $15 instead of the normal $6. Had I parked directly across the street, it would have been $30. Also realized that I had not shaved. Oh well.
Aabbb wants to throw a Scotch-tasting party. This is neither as classy nor as bougie as it sounds. If any of you guys are interested, let me know. The rules, I think, are to buy a bottle of Scotch (consult with him first so no one gets doubles) and bring it to the party, which will consist of a bunch of geeks making poop jokes playing Grand Turismo. I have no idea what food goes with Scotch, but I may make some brownies; I don't really drink it. The first time I tried it, I was like "BURN OW OW OW".
"Twenty & Ten?!" [Top of page]
Today was... an age shocker day for
I met a man from the outside, just recently returned to Japan to begin
second time here. I knew he was younger than I, but when I
something from what feels like the recent past for me, he said, "I
even born then!", whereupon I discovered that he was (gasp!) twenty
younger than I am (gasp-gasp!). Without having thought about it
all, there was a vague feeling that the number was eight or something
still, his father is only ten years older than I). For his part,
probably I seemed like I was 57 years older instead of just
Something about the perception of time - from the lower perspective,
are multiplied by three, four... ten, twenty.., five hundred &
From the upper perspective, years are perceived at one-third...
one-hundredth of their actual time. So, how long is a year?
No one knows! No one will ever know! Or... everyone knows,
but it's a concept not unlike "How much water is in the ocean?"
on your perspective, it's a conceivable amount or it's fathomless.....
(For pictures of the day, have a look at "From Koganei Park to Shibuya to Ebisu to Roppongi & Back", in the Photo Gallery.)
"Traveling About in Europe" [Top of page]
From: APR [Portugal]
Date: Sun, 4 Sep 2005
First I flew to Hamburg via London Stansted Airport. I have been to Germany many times, but this is my first time to visit Hamburg and I really liked that city. The fact that I had a good guide helped me to better know the city during my short stay there. My guide was a friend of a friend who was born and bred in Hamburg, but lived some years in Brazil and also in the US. But since my German is better than his Portuguese, we spoke more in German. As a journalist, he knows a lot of people, and knows how to pay less. We visited the main museum there and I didn't pay anything, because he presented me as a colleague journalist from Portugal; during our bus tour, I paid half the normal price (and he paid nothing) and the boat cruise around the canals and the port was free.
From Hamburg I took a low cost flight to Istanbul, where I arrived at 3 a.m.! While waiting for the first bus from the airport to the city center, I talked for several hours in Russian to some people from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, and they were very nice. Once in the bus, I met a German guy and we later spent the whole day walking around Istanbul. While walking around, I phoned my Turkish friend Aabbb, arranging to meet that evening on Istiklal Caddesi (Independence Avenue), a street with many cafes, restaurants and nights clubs in Istanbul.
She was a very good guide and showed us some places I would never have found if I had been alone. From some terraces we had a breathtaking view of Istanbul to the other side of the Golden Horn. To get back to the hostel, we walked for almost one hour because the only transportation available was taxis and we didn't want to spend too much money (my friend had sold her car).
The next day I arranged another meeting with the friend of a Greek friend. I had her phone number and had never met her personally, she also was very friendly and a good guide. Besides the city center, we went as far as the northern tip of the Golden Horn. There we walked up to a cafe from where we had a wonderful view of the European side of Istanbul.
That same day I began a 20-hour bus trip from Istanbul to Syria. I found out later that I paid much more than I should have for the ticket, because I had bought it from a dishonest travel agency. Instead I should have bought it directly at the bus company. At the Syrian border I also paid dearly for the visa. I suspect that part of the 50 dollars I paid was for baksheesh. I also noticed that the bus driver gave some money to the frontier guards, and while waiting for the visa, I met a guy from Azerbaijan and he was also angry at the Syrians because he had to pay 40 dollars for the visa. I started to talk to him in Russian and then he started saying the worst things about the Syrians; we laughed so loud that I suspected some people around us who didn't understand what was happening thought we were crazy! The whole process was probably more complicated because some functionaries didn't seem to know there was a country called Portugal!
My first stop in Syria was Aleppo, Syria's second city and one of the oldest cities in the world. There I stayed with a Syrian friend. He lives in a small city 50km south of Aleppo, but he and two other cousins had rented an apartment in Aleppo as they were still studying at the university. Like many other Syrians they really made me feel very welcome. With my friend, I always spoke in Russian because it was his second language, but when we were all together, we spoke in English. The younger cousin spoke English with a perfect British accent that really surprised me.
During a couple of days in the city, I was able to visit some historical places, taste the Syrian cuisine (sometimes too sweet) for the first time, and go to a hammam (Turkish style steam bath), one of Syria's oldest and most beautiful, and cheaper than in Turkey.
I moved south to the city of Hama, the greenest city in Syria, with a large river flowing through and whose main attractions were the huge water wheels (called "noria"). To go there I traveled by train for the first time in my life: a little more than one euro for 200km!
From there I went to Palmira, a city in the middle of the desert now, but which was very important in the days when it was ruled by Queen Zenobia. I was really quite impressed with these ruins and I would recommend visiting them to anyone. As in some other countries, tickets for foreigners to visit monuments and museums are not cheap, but I didn't pay anything because there were no doors there and I went there twice, late in the afternoon and early in the morning around sunrise when the guards hadn't arrived yet and - maybe best of all - there were very few tourists there yet.
After I arrived at the bus station, I didn't know how to get to the city center and I had no hotel references so I decided to do what guide books don't recommend: to accept a offer of someone offering rooms. I ended up in a clean room with three beds, a private bathroom, and only ten minutes on foot to the ruins - and for this I only paid a little more than three euros!
My next stop was Damascus, the capital of Syria. According to legend, the prophet Muhammad passed near the city and had a look at it from a nearby mountain. Some inhabitants asked him to visit the city, but he replied he wanted to see paradise only once, after he died! I wouldn't call it a paradise; there were no rivers, no lakes, no sea, no parks and not many historical sites, but still I liked the city. It must have been a sort of New York a long time ago, and at least it had the huge souk (market) to prove it. I could have spent hours exploring it. It was quite interesting to notice the invisible barrier between the Muslim and the Christian quarter; this division also existed in Aleppo, where I visited four churches. In Syria I visited a Greek orthodox church and ended up exchanging some words in Greek with a priest who offered me a New Testament in Arabic. In a street mentioned in the bible, I talked in French with an old man in French who had the same surname as a French teacher I had at the university, and even his first name had the same initial! Some tourists I met told me they loved the city and would try to come back as soon as possible.
I was advised by several people not to visit Syria, because for them it was a very dangerous country. It proved to be the opposite - besides the baksheesh at the border, it was quite straightforward to enter the country (no complicated questions asked!); I never felt I was being watched or controlled by any of the several infamous secret police; I never felt I was in some kind of danger; people were very helpful, and as far I know, I was only cheated a couple of times, but always very little money and sometimes people even paid my bus fare for me. In addition to all that, the cost of living is quite low, so - overall - everything was quite reasonable. In fact, all the tourists I talked to liked the country and Damascus, and said they would like to come back. I would have liked to stay longer, but unfortunately I had to go back to Turkey.
My next big stop was almost a week in the city of Izmir not because it was an especially interesting city, but because I had promised to help Bbccc, my Turkish friend, learn the Portuguese language. She really wanted to learn my mother tongue, even more than I Turkish. I think that in the end, she learned something and also realized she could learn the language by herself. Unfortunately I didn't feel the same way about Turkish, but I am still hopeful I will have a working knowledge of it some day. We went together to the famous Greek and Roman ruins of Ephesus, and traveled a lot together.
From Izmir I went south again to Marmaris, but I must say I was a little disappointed: too many tourists, especially British. In some places prices were even quoted in British Pounds. Too many tourists change the character of a place, and then local people behave differently towards foreigners. However, in the first evening there, I had the opportunity to attend a concert of traditional Turkish music, and I appeared to be the only foreigner there. I met a young Turk who had watched more films than I had watched my entire life. I also left my camera in the bus I took to Fethiye. I came back to Marmaris and asked at the hotel reception counter to call the bus company to ask if they had found it. The same evening at 1:30 a.m. they gave it back to me.
From Marmaris I took the catamaran to the Greek Island of Rhodes. I stayed there only three hours, and then left for Piraeus, the port of Athens, on a boat that took 24 hours to make the trip. To me, Athens is not exactly the best looking capital city in Europe, but I went there, firstly, because I wanted to visit a Brazilian friend of mine, who is studying for his doctorate in ancient Greek, and secondly, because Greek is one of the my favorite languages. My friend also teaches Portuguese to Greek students, and I was surprised at how many Greeks want to learn the language. Portugal is a very popular destination for Greek students, and my friend has more and more students. Sometimes he needs my help, because he has some doubts about the correct Portuguese accent in Portugal.
My last stop was Berlin - my second time to visit what is now my favorite German city. An interesting thing happened on this visit - during a free walking tour through the city, we met by chance a soldier who guarded Hitler's bunker the day he killed himself. He was 28 at the time and he was talking to other tourists at the exact location of the bunker. Then I asked him what his opinion of Hitler was and a friend of his there said I shouldn't have asked him that question.... Just when we were moving to the next attraction, a man passed by and started calling names to the old man and asked him to tell people about when he used to sell photos of the prisoners (like his uncle) who were forced to build Hitler's bunker.
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"New Apartment, Pizza, Plates, Etc." [Top of page]
From: KCM [US]
Date: Thu, 22 Sep 2005
I love my new apartment, the only part I haven't figured out is how to come home and convince myself to cook. I've been eating too much pizza and ramen. I have a coffee table now. And a TV, but no TV stand. I only just plugged it in, but haven't turned it on. I found a futon I want, but have not bought it yet. I probably will next week.
I am annoyed by my HMO. My healthcare, when I was paying for it on my own, was expensive, but it was convenient. I've contemplated several times going back to Kaiser.
Work is excellent, but boring. I just had my evaluation, so I will be getting a slight raise. There has just been a new hire - a part-time student whose main credential is that her father is one of the group's managers, but aside from that, she seems genuinely nice and capable. She's taken over some of my duties, so I currently have even less to do than I did before. I am taking on more responsibilities by being more of a primary contact for external people, so that's useful.
Re: "I love my new apartment, that much is for sure. The only part I haven't figured out is how to come home and convince myself to cook. I've been eating too much pizza and ramen."
Don't eat too much junk food - it'll throw you off balance. If you don't like cooking, just do what I used to do - eat a lot of stuff as it is. Here's one meal that was popular with the former me (where as he gotten off to anyway? That's not the same person in the mirror any more...):
1) Tuna Fish - Open a can of tuna fish over the sink, with the lid still slightly attached (so you only have one thing to throw away, not two), taking care to open the still attached lid (after the can opener part) with a fork and not your fingers (safer and saves you from having to wash your hands again). Lightly salt it with seasoning salt and eat it out of the can, eating a piece of bread (sitting on a dry side of the sink, not on a plate) as you work through the can - no need to put the tuna on the bread when you can mix it in your mouth!
2) Tomato - Then, cut a tomato in half using a regular dull table knife that has a serrated edge (put there for the meat that you're not eating). That way, you don't need a cutting board - just hold it in your left hand and cut it with your right. Saw it a little and the serrated edge will break through the skin, if it doesn't, use enough force with the (rounded and safe) tip to break into the tomato, after which it's easy to cut. After that, make a couple of V-shaped cuts to cut out the parts at the top and bottom that you don't want to eat. The tomato halves also taste good lightly seasoned with seasoning salt.
3) Avocado - Pick up your trusty dull table knife with the serrated edge again, and cut an avocado an half by cutting down to the seed and rotating the knife around it. Once you've cut a circular cut all the way around the avocado, take a half in each hand and rotate it to break whichever side off from the seed. Lightly season it with seasoning salt and eat it out of the hard skin with a spoon. (Remember; don't stupidly put it on a plate and waste part of your future washing dishes!) After finishing the easy half, pick up the half with the seed still attached and work the seed out with the spoon. Invariably, you end up touching the seed and needing to wash your hands, but - hey - you're standing over the sink, so the water is right there!
4) Carrot - Back to the trusty dull table knife - this time though, only use the semi-sharp edge to cut off the very tip of the carrot - then turn it over and used the edge of the back of the knife to scrape the surface off the carrot. It'll give the carrot a rough surface, but it doesn't mind - it's going to be smashed to bits in your mouth by your teeth in a minute or two anyway! And no - no seasoning salt for the carrot - just eat it as-is. Since it's a little difficult to swallow a whole (raw) carrot alone, eat it with bread or tuna fish to provide a mix that carries everything down the hatch.
5) Fruit - This needs no explanation - fruit isn't generally cooked, so just remember to eat it over the sink and never on a plate (which you would need to waste part of your life washing).
So - one again, remember to always eat standing up, over the sink, and never - under any circumstances - use anything other than one knife, one fork, one spoon, and one cup or glass. That's the maximum amount of tools that humans will readily and happily keep washed - the four pieces can be washed in under a minute. Standing over the sink, if any food is dropped, no problem - just rinse it down the drain! And since you're already standing where the water and soap are, if you're too lazy to use dishwashing soap, then just use an extra dose of soap when washing your hands and wash the silverware and glass or cup at the same time.
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"Writing on the Train" [Top of page]
(2005/11/18 a.m.) Writing... so easy to
do, once you get going, but so difficult to start when the flow has
stopped for a while. It's like taking a journey somewhere,
setting off takes some courage and a mental push, but once in motion,
tendency is towards continual motion (kinetic energy?), thus the stupid
phrase "He/she has the travel bug". Staying in one place on the
hand, and putting down roots, has its own momentum (I suppose you could
then say that someone has the "root-growing bug"?).
All this preamble just to explain that I've forgotten to bring a book with me today (to read on the trains), and so have taken out a notebook and pen to write with while I travel about Tokyo on several trains. [Never mind which trains - suffice it to say that I wrote a bit on several trains - gleefully dropping my small notebook and pen into my pocket between trains, thinking "No shutdown time, no battery worries...", but then having to burn off a bit of time typing it all up the next day once I was back in front of a computer.]
........ Uh-oh... now I'm ready to "begin" writing, the words aren't coming! So easy to slip into a state of mediocrity where you view the world around you without a sense of passion. Not being passionate about what you see may be a healthy way to live, but then the string-pullers can push and pull the group (that you thought you were "safely" a part of) in any direction.... I suppose "dispassionate passion" would be the best and/or most effective way to keep on the path that you know (in a non-verbal way) to be correct and true. Keep it under control, but don't let the fires go out!
Writing With Pen & Paper
There is much to be said for writing via the keyboard and also with a pen and paper (I hate pencils - something about their marks being easily erasable bothers me). With the keyboard, there is speed and infinite editability. With pen and paper, there is the continuity of one word falling after another and the satisfying physical manifestation of your efforts bearing immediate physical reality. (My reasons for disliking pencils seem contradictory here, but with a computer, it's all nonphysical electrons anyway, while with a pencil, it's a physical substance laid down on a physical medium, so ink is just so much nicer to put on the page.)
And... I'm not exactly sure of this - certainly it can't be pinned down exactly - but pen & paper promote a different kind of thinking, a more contemplative frame of mind? Maybe it's the simple fact that the paper can wait indefinitely for your next words, while when writing with a computer, there is a cloud of technology hanging over your consciousness - "I haven't saved this for awhile - better hit Ctrl+S... when was the last time I backed everything up anyway?... How old is the hard drive now?... Two years? Probably it's okay, but I'd hate to lose all this, I better back it up to a second hard drive. It sure is convenient to be able to write with a computer! This would take so much more time were it via paper & pen!" etc. etc. etc. There is a lot of noise in the background, preventing a truly empty page on which to write, and diluting or blocking out the written version of harmonics.
"Moving & A Movie" [Top of page]
Subject: RE: LL-333 & Etc.
From: APP [Australia]
Date: Sun, 25 Sep 2005
Last Christmas, my partner and I decided to sell up and move closer to my children and grandchildren who live in another state. We decided to try selling my house privately to avoid paying, what I consider, a commission that is far too high for work that is done. But alas, after all this time the house did not sell. The market is very slow here with many houses on the market. We had lots people loving the house but either the house was too big, too small, or a price which they couldn't afford. So we have decided to give it to a real estate agent - reluctantly on my part. I haven't signed up yet as things have changed since I last sold a house - about 12 years ago, and I want to check out everything before I sign. I remember when real estate took a percentage of the sale price and did all the advertising and work for that price, but not so today. I have to pay $600 up front to get things started, which includes a signboard for the front of the house, and brochures printed with photos and a floor plan to hand out at open inspections. (All agents wanted this.) They do minimal marketing and if I want more - bigger ads etc. - I have to pay for it. One agent suggested $2,343 should get me reasonable publicity for the house for a month. After complaining about this, the agent agreed to deduct the extra monies spent by me from the commission. It seems they have themselves covered very nicely, but not so good for the seller!! But I am getting tired of the whole thing and just want it sold so I can get moving.
Just a bit of trivia:
I saw a movie the other day (made a couple of years ago in Australia), which was called The Japanese Story. It was about a Japanese businessman (with very little English) who came to Western Australia to check out the minerals there for a business deal. He wanted to see beyond what they showed him and one of the partners (a woman - Toni Collette) drove him on this long journey through the Australian desert. It turns into a moving love story, and it was so interesting seeing the vast difference in cultures - but no boundaries when love enters. Toni Collette was as Aussie as you can get with no makeup, short hair giving her a boyish look, dressed for the Australian hard climate in singlet, jeans and hat, whilst he was in his dapper business suit and white shirt. A very moving story with great scenery and sadness when he dives into a billabong (as only a foreigner would do) hits his head on a rock and dies. The rest of the story is heart wrenching to say the least, as she struggles to get his body into the car and drive the long distance to the nearest town. I loved the dignity of the Japanese man's wife when she came to claim his body and of course found photos of her husband with this woman, but still passed on to her the letter he had left for Toni. The Japanese music played often in the background just added to the beauty of the film. The credits rolled too fast and small for me to catch the Japanese actor's name but he was very good.
Movies exploring crossovers from other cultures are always a difficult tightrope to safely cross. I haven't seen the movie mentioned above, but just about every movie I have seen that puts two cultures together, pleases some and bothers others. I think the problem is one of focus; just exactly what aspects do you show from each culture? As accurate as the information is, someone is always going to think that the cultural aspect being shown isn't the right aspect - that there are better, more common, or more up-to-date aspects that could have been explored.
Having said all that, I had better find a DVD
of that movie, watch it, and then report back on how it looks to me!
"Greasy Keyboard" & "Keep Playing" [Top of page]
(2005/11/10) The problem with using
computers is that some people must be eating fried chicken just before
they get their mitts on the keyboard... in fact, the keyboard I'm
this with is really... really... disgusting! It's got an oil
on the keys and my fingertips are all slippery now.
Periodically there are bands playing here and there on the streets of Tokyo. I've bought a couple of CD's, but I've never given them money (just for listening) - "When I'm dripping with money, I'll aim some your way..." I tell myself optimistically(?). I don't usually think about it overly much, but last week in Shinjuku on the west side of the station, I walked past a trio - a man on guitar, a woman vocalist also with a guitar, and a man sitting on what looked sort of like a speaker box with an open round hole about the size of a speaker (maybe it really was a speaker box?), playing it like a drum. The beats sounded good and it was interesting to see music coming from a hand-played box.
Many a time I've seen someone playing outside and many a time I've intellectually thought how it's good to see people pursuing the arts, and I've nearly always hoped that they keep going with it. Those thoughts I have had, but never with overly much passion. The three musicians (possibly college students) affected me emotionally though. I really liked the sound of their music, especially the guitar (which one I'm not sure) and drum. The vocals were not bad, but it was the guitar that sounded magic. I looked at their open guitar case and was disappointed to see that they weren't selling any CD's (almost relieved actually - I would have had to endure a mental battle over the money if there had been one for sale), and - as has nearly always been the case - I didn't feel I was in a position to toss some cash their way - something to join their lonely one thousand yen bill sitting alone in that big case....
I listened for a little while and thought as I watched them play, "Keep playing! I love your music! It may be tough to pay the bills, but your music is something the world needs, so keep playing!".
As I reluctantly walked on to the station, I thought to myself "Well... that's it, isn't it? The true path should be taken, but it's not an easy one... and so I shouldn't worry overly much about the perpetual money shortage? Hmmm........"
"Educating My Niece" [Top of page]
From: KCM [US]
Aug. 7th, 2005
My sisters and I have been having Aabbb (my niece) write down journal entries for a while to help her learn English. She's been a bit lazy about them, so I'm going to try and make her do them more. She recently wrote about her trip to Disneyland with my sisters. It was pretty good and lengthy - almost a page. The good thing about her mistakes is that they were fairly consistent - for example, she confused "when" and "went", she knew that "ate" was another word for "eat", etc. So she's definitely picking up some of the rules. I tried explaining tenses to her, but I'm not sure I got through, and I don't remember how my elementary school teachers did it. I don't remember getting any sort of grammar explanations until I was in fourth grade. The fact that English is a highly inconsistent language makes my job really hard - she kept asking me things like "Why do I put an "es" here and an 's' there?" and "Why do I need to put an 'ed' here, but I don't need to on the second word?"
Next lesson: nouns, verbs, subjects. Do I remember what predicates are? No, I do not. Maybe I should get a grammar book. Hmm...
A lot of things in a language that don't need
to actually be taught to the natives of the language due to constant
to it (which syllables to accent when pronouncing a word for example),
are a bit strange to teach. Since the natives (of whatever
learn them by osmosis, the feel of these things drifts off-center when
people are mechanically thinking about them. So, to best learn a
language, it is my own opinion that the closer your language education
is to the way the natives pick it up, the closer you'll be to the real
thing. And writing is a great way to learn I think - as it forces
you think about what you're saying.
"Science & Cookies" [Top of page]
From: FTB [US]
Date: Sun, 28 Aug 2005
Aabbb and I took Bbccc to the New York Hall of Science, going by Main Street in Queens along the way, where we ran into my mother who was returning from shopping. Bbccc, Aabbb and I enjoyed the Hall of Science, but unfortunately, Ccddd was not interested in going this time and Ddeee is too old to appreciate it. Bbccc also went to the science playground next to the Hall of Science, and after that, we went to a pizzeria on Main Street. On the way home, Aabbb tried to find a cookie jar, but couldn't find one, so she settled for a regular plastic container instead.
"A Trip to Italy-II" [Top of page]
From: KJA [US]
Date: Thu, 6 Oct 2005
From Milan to Venice is reasonably flat, no mountains and the scenery is always beautiful and productive with the most beautiful vineyards and cornfields. It's easy to see why this part of the world has been civilized for thousands of years. Late in the afternoon we arrived on the outskirts of Venice. This is where all vehicles are parked and the location of the train station. Our tour group loaded onto several taxi motorboats and proceeded on the Grand Canal, which is lined with old Casinos and hotels. There are many boats and - it seemed to me - few rules of traffic. Just Go.
At Hotel Splendid Swiss, we disembarked from boats to the sidewalk in front of the hotel. Again, our guide picked up room keys for everybody and passed them out. We were on the third floor with a window view of the canal and passing boats. Our room was very nice and again we took note of the different fixtures in the bathroom. I decided Italy is far ahead of us with new innovations in showers and commodes, which leads to the question of sewers. After all, there are no streets and roads, just canals. I decided that the coming and going of the ocean tides might be part of the solution. Later that evening we noted the canal emitted a foul odor....
We dinned at the hotel restaurant and found the food okay, but no medals. Our guide had said that St. Mark Square was only minutes away by foot, so Aabbb and I struck out. The "blocks" in Venice are short and not really square and the "streets" just foot paths of old, very narrow. Soon one is lost and walking in circles, but we did stumble onto St. Marks, the focal center of Venice. Meanwhile, we ran a gauntlet of illegal street peddlers. One can be fined for buying something from them. Police chase them into back streets but make no arrests.
Anyway, at night the huge square features several music groups playing light classics and traditional music. Listening is free but the only place to sit is in front of bars and restaurants where a waiter quickly appears for your order. Otherwise, one must stand, but the atmosphere and perfect weather made it all very nice.
Next day we were under the leadership of a local guide who knew everything about Venice, and we walked through ancient and large rooms of law and government. The special guides supply each person with a receiver and headset to hear his/her lecturing. That afternoon we took a boat ride over to an island where glass blowing has been going on for hundreds of years. This place was once the only source of glass mirrors. In fact Venice was once the center for trade, finance, and shipping. This was a long way back when Italy was a hodgepodge of city-states. The glass offered for sale is beautiful and EXPENSIVE. Aabbb and I also walked through a museum or two.
We tried little pizzerias and found pizzas to be very different from those in the US, but good. All eateries offer "House wine." This is the cheapest wine they have, and usually good enough to wash down pizza.
Our stay in Venice had to end, and the
boat and water taxis came back for us.
From: KJA [US]
Date: Sat, 8 Oct 2005
Departing Venice, a truly wondrous city with history of many hundreds of years, our bus (far more comfortable than the #%$# airplanes, an experience I want to forget) made a stop at Padua. This is another city so ancient that Americans have a hard time grasping that this is where Galileo, 1564-1642, attended university, and with a telescope proved the Copernican theory (planets revolving about the sun) and for this bit of genus was condemned for heresy by the inquisition. Here, we walked through the beautiful Basilica where the remains of St. Anthony are interned. Nothing was said of the remains of Galileo....
Passing through Tuscany is a delight of beautiful fields and ancient mountaintop towns in the distance. I would have loved to visit one of these fortified towns where travelers of old could find a safe night's sleep in shelter, as well as a meal of bread and wine. Again we lunched at a rest stop with gas station and restaurant. Aabbb and I chose a delicious dish of chicken and fried potatoes cooked together, and she was presented with a gift from the restaurant of a large plate. By now, I know my way around these restaurants.
Florence, the home of Michelangelo and many other artists. We checked in at Hotel Londra. All hotels in out tour were excellent. This area is always crowded with university students, all majoring in advanced Graffiti. Their homework assignments are to cover every surface in the city with meaningless and mindless graffiti. First evening we ate in a little restaurant nearby. Again minestrone soup was my choice. The following two nights we ate in a pizzeria. Italian pizza is not the same as ours, but very thin. Only one size and with vino Rosa, it's just fine.
A Florentine name of Amerigo Vespucci, navigator, is where the US gets the name America. The city is rich in history that began long before Christopher Columbus had to borrow money to finance his three ships, as well as empty the jails (replacement depots of that day) to get crewmembers. First morning, we visited a hill overlooking the city at a place called Piazzale Michelangelo, a wonderful bird's eye view overlooking Florence. Also there are two thousand souvenir stands, all featuring pictures or carvings of male equipment. I must mention this. Italy seems to have a fixation on this sort of thing. One city seems to offer more male images than the last - they don't entirely neglect productions of female forms, but large equipment is in. Heck, it doesn't write well, but women love Italy.
The old section of the city is absolutely bursting with antiquity, art, and history, as well as thousands of tourists. One simply cannot absorb it all in a day or two. I advise anyone to read about these things before visiting them. One such place is the Academy of Fine Arts where Michelangelo's statue of David is on display. I would be spoofing you if I said anything less than the statue is a fine thing to see, even with a couple of obvious flaws in proportion. Women practically swoon over the unknown handsome young man's likeness, full details and all - no fig leaves here.
Again, this city is also plagued by illegal immigrants. I predict that problem will grow. Begging Gypsies are also a problem,
Aabbb and I required refreshment, so we stopped in at an ice cream shop for a cone. I selected the big ones and big they grew to be. More ice cream than several men could eat at a cost of $15.00 a cone. At least we got a lot of laughs from people passing by.
After our guide released us to our own devices, Aabbb and I became lost, even with a map, and we developed more foot blisters than we needed. In Italian cities, a street will change names every two blocks, and corners of blocks (in old sections of town) do not meet. There are no straight streets. However, we found Ponte Vechio (Roman bridge). This old bridge built by the Romans is covered and has shops on both sides. These shops feature gold jewelry. Good photo ops here. With tired and hurting feet (we had taken shoes comfortable on the plane, but murder on cobblestone streets) we limped back to the hotel.
Next day we made a side trip to Pisa. Again it's a very old place, but the main tourist attraction is the well-known "Leaning tower". There are other leaning towers in Italy, but this one leans more and is better known. Apparently Galileo made some experiments here to establish his laws of the pendulum. During the fifties, I could drive my Chevy right up to the tower, enter and climb to the top without so much as seeing a guide or guard or purchase a ticket. Not so today. Literally thousands of tourists a day, plus the condition of the tower, means that only a few can enter the tower at one time, with $15.00 tickets, after a wait of hours. The street is blocked and a car cannot park within 1/4 of a mile. The old shops with small quality marble and alabaster statues have been replaced with pizza and souvenir shops featuring male equipment... I began to feel inadequate.
Next: On to Sorrento.....
"At the Back of the Hall..." [Top of page]
(2005/11) I've been obsessed with getting stuff together for my website (taking many photos, etc.) and so haven't been doing much else. I did get some backstage photos of Suntory Hall, taken when an acquaintance played at the smaller of the two concert halls there. Getting there early, I walked into the main concert hall and got some photos while a woman was practicing the huge pipe organ there. It was a pretty cool experience actually - she was totally relaxed (not realizing that there was someone up in the back of the hall walking around taking pictures - she was facing the other way), and her playing was a combination of trying out the different sounds the pipe organ can make and some stuff she played just because it was fun to play - with no pressure to please anyone. One tune in particular I really liked - she only played it for a couple of minutes, but it was a really happy sound and played on that huge pipe organ and in a room with fantastic acoustics, it was a pretty intense pleasure to hear. I just wish I could find out who the musician was, but I wasn't able to get a flier for that evening's performance and (stupidly) didn't write down the name of that evening's performance (a group name, not an individual) when I asked one of the ushers upon leaving the early afternoon performance I was there for. Oh well... whoever she was, the tunes were cool! If I'm lucky, maybe I'll get to hear her again sometime!
"Deconstruction Infects My Food" [Top of page]
From: KCM [US]
Aug. 16th, 2005
I didn't really take note of this food trend until I had a "deconstructed" salad in New Orleans. Simply put, it is a salad where the presentation is pretty, but it forces you to cut the lettuce yourself. I had it again yesterday at a restaurant right next to work. I hadn't realized; otherwise I wouldn't have ordered it.
The trend was annoying as an English major; most of my T.A.s were young and strongly believed in the magic of Derrida, and thought it could be used for every book that was assigned. It can't.
In the fashion world, deconstruction took place alongside minimalism and grunge. Things were torn, seams were ripped, colors were drab, etc. It was ugly. Thankfully, they grew out of it and made things look better.
In the food world, deconstruction takes a classic dish, such as the Caesar salad I ordered, and separates the parts. So what I got was a couple of romaine leaves, uncut, layered with croutons and anchovies. The dressing was very light.
Did I tell you that I am terrible with a fork and knife? I can't even cut steak properly. Once when I was a kid, I had dinner at a white friend's house. I took so long using the knife and fork that her parents asked me if I hated their food. I replied, "No, I'm just more used to chopsticks."
This is why Asian food is so much easier for me. Everything is ALREADY cut for me.
So, to end this rant, I conclude: I DO NOT
want to have to work on my meal while I'm having it. Especially
my lunch hour.
Aug. 18th, 2005, 06:34 a.m.
Up Too Early
So I finally started staying at my apartment last night, and I just woke up. My living room is a total mess, and I have almost no furniture, and no food, but none of this matters because I have an Internet connection!!
Sometimes I wonder if I'm really nerdier than I think I am.
"Working Nights" [Top of page]
Subject: Re: Trucks
From: TJE [US]
Date: Mon, 22 Aug 2005
Going over an overpass I hit an ice patch and my new VW spun around and came to a stop against the cement guardrail, some forty or fifty feet above the road below.... I was sitting stunned and deep breathing when a policeman appeared holding a flare. I rolled down the window and he said "Lady - it ices over when it's very cold". I felt like punching him, but instead I said "If you know that, then why isn't the flare on the ground instead in your hand? Had it been placed properly, there would have been no problem." I looked across at the opposite bridge and there were cars lined up for a couple of blocks watching the "show". I will never get over my irritation at an idiot in a uniform!
"Mechanics..." [Top of page]
(2005/12/04) I wrote the following in an attempt to put form to the long-standing mechanical problems I've had with printers. I originally posted it to a computer users group and the responses indicated that the other users had had pretty much the same type of experience with the printers they had used both personally and at companies they worked at. My suspicions about the quality of the air affecting rubber parts were also confirmed. Mega-city dwellers sharing the air with millions of fire-breathing monsters on wheels can expect not only shorter life-spans of their own lungs, but shorter life-spans of the rubber parts of their printers....
(2005/10/23) Computers tend to be thought of as electronic devices, and that they are, but there is still a fair bit of mechanics to them.
Printer. I'm on printer number three (not counting a fourth printer (color ink-jet) that is used once a year for New Year's cards) and this third printer is experiencing the same problem that took down printers one and two - namely nearly always grabbing a handful of paper instead of just one page and then jamming. The first printer (an HP) was an ink-jet printer, so I was happy to upgrade to a B&W laser printer (also HP) - well... happy to upgrade, but not very happy about having to do so only one year after buying the first machine. Anyway, the second machine had the paper feed arranged at an angle, with gravity helping to push the paper into the machine, so when it started grabbing bunches of paper, I figured it was at least partly due to the gravity aspect, but now that my latest B&W laser printer (an Epson this time) is doing the same thing with it's purely horizontal paper feed, I'm looking for some other cause.
One interesting side note about the HP laser
is that the first toner cartridge I changed was interesting to break
(shortly before the machine went bad) to see how it was put together
what parts were within the black plastic casing. I wrote about
experience at the time - in 1999 - as follows:
"More Like a Printing Press!"
I changed the toner cartridge in my Hewlett
Packard 6L LaserJet printer on Saturday, and yesterday I got to
about what was inside the "cartridge", so after removing the only two
I could find on it, I half opened... and then fully broke it open and
it apart. Inside, other than prodigious amounts of leftover toner
power (don't try this inside!), there were three rollers, the largest
the lightest, about one inch in diameter and coated with... something
is a very nice greenish turquoise color. Another (smaller
roller is quite heavy, and is a magnet (it sticks to the
I was contemplating how to get the third roller out, but as I turned
cartridge one way and the other, piles of toner began puffing out here
and there, so I gave up on that and was about to put it in a plastic
when a gust of wind blew toner all over me.... Fast loosing
for further exploration, I hurriedly stuffed the main cartridge in the
plastic bag I had, and began to clean up the toner that had spilled
the edges of the paper I had laid out (I was at least rudimentarily
for toner leaks). Happily, the mess wasn't actually too difficult
to clean up. The toner brushed off of my clothes, and the toner
the concrete of the balcony cleaned up with wet paper towels fairly
It was a mess, but I'm glad I went to the trouble. The setup within the cartridge looks like that of an offset printing press; more complicated than I had imagined. The general reliability of modern machinery requires little thinking about the inner workings of it, but when you can see the technology, the way you can with the mechanical gears and rollers in a printing press, you have more respect for the complexity of it. The trouble with our very complex computers is that the complex circuitry of computer chips is virtually invisible, and thus less appreciated. I suppose that instead of getting bent out of shape too much when our technology doesn't work, we should appreciate it when it does...
Back to the cause of the paper feed going bad... the only thing that comes to mind is the air... I once bought some old enlarging equipment from a guy who used to live in Los Angeles, California, and he claimed that the rubber parts were in bad condition due to the polluted air in LA (we were up in Northern California at the time of the conversation). Since the rubber feed rollers on the old machines that I've broken apart (after they malfunctioned) have had a damaged surface (hard to explain exactly, the surface looks slightly different and isn't as smooth as it was when the machines were new), I have to wonder if that could be caused by the rubber degenerating faster than it should.
In any case, there is still a way to use my
LP-900 - I put in about ten sheets at a time, and then when I print
I lightly rest a finger on the edge of the paper sitting in the feed
and just after the first page is pulled in (with several pages below it
pulled in slightly more than they should be (a half centimeter or so),
I forcibly pull the paper out and realign it before it gets sucked into
the machine as one bunch. With each sheet of paper printed, I
that. It's not something I should have to do, and I never had to
when the machine was new, but it beats (for now anyway) having to buy a
new printer and for the time being - when operated that way - it almost
I've added a couple of internal bits to one of my computers, requiring internal DC power connections, so I solved the lack of internal extra plugs by buying an adaptor that plugs in between the power supply and the hard drive. It worked fine, with the caveat that the female side of the plugs is tighter and the male-side pins seem to be of a larger diameter than the originals. Not a big deal, as it's still possible to plug them in and even (with more effort) to unplug them. All fine and good, but today I tried to plug in an accessory adaptor cable for yet another device that needs internal DC power (a USB 2.0 / IEEE 1394 board), but the new plug wouldn't go into the adaptor cable I put in previously, and it wouldn't connect! I tried to force it, but it just wasn't going in, so I finally rearranged things so the two new cables didn't have to be connected with each other, but even then, the first attempt at connecting an old plug to one of the new female connections pushed the pins out of the plug case! I was able to shove them back in and (supporting the wires in back this time) get all four of the pins plugged in that way... but I got into a slightly stormy frame of mind at one point. Just plugging in a cable shouldn't require that much effort!
All of that said, I should add that getting into the old OptiPlex computer was a breeze, and getting the new board plugged in only required bending the metal end piece back slightly so the board would line up correctly with the slot it needed to plug into.
"Just a Platform with One Light" [Top of page]
[The letter below is in response to a batch of pictures that I sent to KJA of Yutenji - an area of Tokyo he spent some time in during the occupation of Japan just after WW-II. - LHS]
From: KJA [US]
Date: Sun, 9 Oct 2005
I made the interesting walk through that part of Yutenji. I never ventured over the train track but am aware there is more Yutenji there.
In 1950, the commercial part of town ended at the end of the street shown on pictures 1 through 3. There were no more shops to the right or straight-ahead. I would continue past that short street and pick up the trail through the area of weeds. It turned to the right and - after a minute or so, I would emerge from the dust and weeds into a residential area and another minute or so took me to the house where I rented a room.
The stroll through Yutenji was very enjoyable. But all those lights.... In 1950, Ginza wasn't lit so well.
The train station then was just a platform with one light bulb.
I must say that I really envy KJA his
in pre-florescent light tube Tokyo! Florescent tubes (and other
beasts) are more energy efficient and probably keep the streets safer
overlighting, but they also destroy ambience and cause undue eye strain
at night - especially on the vastly overlit trains and the
overlit convenience stores. So... a world with not a single
tube! It sounds like paradise!
"At the Junkyard" [Top of page]
From: CPK [US]
Date: Tue, 11 Oct 2005
I have greatly neglected corresponding with you and giving your group letters, etc. the attention they deserve. I'm sure you've heard the same old excuses, "too busy" a million times. I got your latest update a couple of days ago, and just now indulged in some time to glance through the LL-Letters. I was thinking about writing, and what, in my soap opera life might I share with you when a stupid old family story came to mind. First, I must say I was very surprised to read about your old Honda Prelude. Yours, right? I never imagined that you might actually own a car there, in crowded Japan, let alone be paying for the parking. I don't recall you mentioning it before. Did you ever take it for drives? Well, maybe I'm in complete misunderstanding, but here's the old Midwest family story that came to my mind:
My father had a distant cousin, Aabbb, a very very large man. I mean, enormous! The kind of guy you imagine would have to be buried in a piano case. I remember seeing him as a child at a family reunion when he was about 40 and I was about 10. They always said he was just the nicest guy you could ever meet. Years ago, probably in the late 50's, he had an old, beat up station wagon with a multitude of different parts and panels. He went to the junkyard to find something like an old horn. While he was rummaging around, I guess they thought his car was another junker and they "baled" it. He found his car missing only to find it had been crushed. He was nice about it but asked, "Is there any way I can get my personal belongings out of the glove compartment?"
Now I'm 41 and have no idea really how much of that story was true. I just remember hearing it repeatedly while growing up at many family gatherings. I have had this strong mental image in my mind over all these years but now I question its accuracy. Kinda funny, though, wouldn't you say?
Well, I must go for now, another head of hair to cut. I hope to return later and send you more ridiculous English dialogue to consider and maybe put out there for any other insomniacs on your list.
About my Prelude - I did write about it before, in a PDF file. If you go to the PDF page:
- and click on "New Files":
- and then click on the title "Trans". It's a PDF file that will - depending on your browser - possibly open up automatically. The fifth picture down is of my... sob... former 1984 Honda Prelude. The parking lot was away from the station in a patch of suburbia. It was no easy thing getting the roots out of the ground after it had been parked there for so long....
Before the insurance and inspection sticker
I used to drive it on weekends, and there was a period where I spent a
fair amount of time motoring about, including trips down to Izu
ski resorts in Niigata in the winter and the mountains in the
I'm glad I had those experiences, but I should have gotten rid of the
as soon as the insurance was about to expire. I kept thinking I'd
be able to pay it eventually and get the car back on the road, but it
to be.... [Top of
"Eating Out, Seeing Movies, Etc." [Top of page]
From: KCM [US]
Oct. 1st-13th, 2005
(2005/10/1) Serenity (and other stuff on my mind) - The movie was awesome. Do NOT read any reviews if you don't want it to be spoiled. It'll be less fun.
Aabbb... he just keeps sucking me back into the scifi stuff. First it was Firefly, now Battlestar Galactica. He may suck me into Lost, too.
(Just wondering - what is up with the whole "spoiler" thing anyway? Did this exist before the Internet? I now avoid reading any reviews before I see a movie.)
While waiting, I got lunch at the Chinese restaurant down the street. I don't know if we eat too fast or what, but lately, Aabbb and I have been cursed with really slow service. Maybe everyone here is super chill or something, but dude, one time at the Italian restaurant, both the busgirl and our waiter decided to take a smoke and beer break as soon as we asked for our checks. (They were the only two waitstaff in the restaurant. We live in a very, very slow area.) We waited for nearly half an hour and they still didn't come back with our check, so Aabbb went to the back and flagged one of them down. I also waited half an hour for my lunch, which was beef chow fun. Bleh on that. They weren't even busy at all.
I think this Chinese restaurant may be
judging by the chow fun. The menu is standard
fare, but I think I'll have to try the other things on the menu to
The staff speaks Mandarin, so I can't cozy up to them in
I really liked the fact that my food had FLAVOR. I have been
flavor so much - every other place I've tried here, no matter what
is bland, bland, bland. It's as if they think the aging
here have lost all their taste buds anyway, so why bother?
Mon, Oct. 3rd, 2005
My apartment is finally starting to come together. I have a futon! So now I can have people over, host parties, lounge, laze, and snack. Snacking is definitely the most important part. I feel so lucky. And so adult, too.
My little sister got a job, too, so that's good. She's working in San Francisco, but in a totally different part, so we can't do sisterly things like meet up for lunch or anything. She might be moving out next year; we'll see.
My sister and I lured Bbccc out of the house with Fenton's ice cream on Sunday. She's been refusing to come over lately, so I decided some good old-fashioned bribery was in order. At first I was worried that there was something else going on, but it turns out she mostly didn't come because she'd rather watch TV. I love the kid, but she's inherited some of her dad's worst traits. Anyway, we asked her about her schoolwork and friends, and she seems to be doing fine. She says she's reading chapter books now, and that she likes her teacher because "he's funny". She's got friends, who sometimes play with her and sometimes don't, and she seemed a bit sad about that, but then that's normal kid stuff.
I asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up.
Bbccc: "I want to be a doctor."
Sister: "Oh really? You know you have to go to college for a long time for that? Eight years!"
Bbccc (eyes wide): "Maybe I want to be a
Sat, Oct. 8th, 2005
Bistro Elan and other good things
On Wednesday we went to Bistro Elan to celebrate our anniversary. I requested French food because we rarely have it, and the few times that we do it's been excellent. It's a small bistro on California Street (near Stanford University); the entrance is almost obscured by all the foliage around it. Once we entered, it was really warm and had a sweet atmosphere.
Our waitress was French and awesome. I loved her accent; it was so adorable. She recommended a really good wine, and we ended up ordering two appetizers - foie gras and smoked salmon. It was the first time both of us tried foie gras. She assured us that many people came to their restaurant "just for the foie gras, and many think it is better than France". The foie gras came seared and soaked in a buttery pan sauce with some accompanying vegetables. Now, I generally do not like organs; for all my Chinese pride in chicken feet, it ends with pig intestines. But this fatty duck liver was exquisite. The texture was a little gelatinous and it was pleasantly warm inside, and tasted sweet and buttery.
The smoked salmon was also delicious, and was brought on a bed of some puff pastry, also very yummy, and covered with caviar, which was surprisingly flavorless. I guessed that the smokiness of the salmon probably overwhelmed whatever flavor the caviar had. It didn't feel decadent or anything.
Aabbb ordered the John Dory fish, which tastes definitely better than it looks. Our waitress described it as "sort of like swordfish", and it was very similar.
I ordered "Massachusetts scallops". Now, scallops are my favorite seafood, so I had high hopes for this one. They were perfectly cooked (which is a very rare occurrence), not too tough or spongy, and were flavored with a pan sauce and accompanied by some Yukon gold potatoes and chanterelle mushrooms, all of which were very delicious.
I want to go again.
Thu, Oct. 13th, 2005
GLEE, I tell you. I made it as far as today without buying a magazine, but then I saw Jane. Because thoughts of Claudine Ko and the whole American Apparel brouhaha was bouncing around in my head, I picked it up. Did you know it's only $1.99 now? (And what's up with the trend of magazines publishing only 10 issues a year?) I saw that one of the cover headlines, in tiny print at the bottom, was "Dov Charney wants to prove he's not a perv" or something like that and totally had to pick it up.
I was going to find a link for the original American Apparel article, but Jane's site doesn't run without Flash. Flash doesn't like my computer. So bleh. Man, I haven't even read the original article.
KCM [Top of
"A Trip to Italy-III" [Top of page]
From: KJA [US]
Date: Sat, 15 Oct 2005
Near the autostrada, the countryside is always a panoramic view of lush farms while in the distance ancient fortresses and walled towns crown many mountaintop. We approached Sorrento by skirting around Naples (Napoli) and followed the shore. I'm sure that's the best route for scenic beauty. Anyway the route through Naples was interrupted by a street demonstration (For jobs) that day.
A quick stop on a mountainside overlooking houses built close to the ocean provided a scene used many times in movies. There is very little beach, if any. Again, it's time to comment on differences from 1958. The aging of Italians: During the fifties the shoreline and flat roofs of beach front houses were always decorated with young (and shapely) women in bikinis, and on sidewalks and in the piazzas many young women in stylish skirts, heels, and lovely hair could be seen. And OK, virile young men in tight polo shirts were about as well. All seemingly hoping to meet a movie producer. Not today. Where have all the flowers gone? When we did see young (often overweight) girls, they were dressed the same as here. In bikini jeans, constantly being pushed down to the red-line, front and back and leaving no margin to allow for the unexpected. Mind you, I'm not really complaining about that, and will even allow that hideous tattoos on posteriors and bellies, as well as hog rings, rivets, and ear tags on faces were not so evident in Italy as in Tucson. However, just like here, maybe they combed their hair within the last week, and maybe not.
Continuing along the shore, we approached Sorrento by way of some impressive tunnels due to the area being mountainous. Interesting old villages pop up between tunnels. Everywhere we went, streets were narrow and crowded and the skill of our bus driver was really appreciated. At the end of the ever climbing and twisting road we arrived at Sorrento. If you have never heard of Sorrento, again the location for many movies, than you must get out more.
Grand Hotel Versuvio, perhaps the crown jewel of our hotels, would be home for three nights. Our room was equally grand and of course, baggage delivered to the room. An unexpected evening unfolded.
Our guide Enzo had mentioned a shuttle bus into town and the desk provided us with a schedule. An hour later, everybody gathered in front of the hotel to catch this bus into town for dinner. Everyone knows that hotel dinning rooms are very expensive and often the worst food in town, in any country. There were lots of people and from other tour groups as well. Even I could see that no shuttle bus would be large enough, so when I saw a group boarding a bus (remember I had no idea what the "Shuttle bus" looked like,) Aabbb and I quickly climbed on.
The entire ride was down the steep mountainside, through the town, and continued down the steep road until it ended at the water's edge. Grand Marina is a small (not very grand) collection of souvenir shops and restaurants on a narrow strip (about ten feet wide and 150 feet long) of land between mountain and sea. Everyone got off the bus. By now I realized that we had connected with a dinner party from another tour group, but nobody said anything. Aabbb and I found a different restaurant on a floating pier or some such thing. By now there are lights and it was all very nice and romantic with boat lights out on the water and lighted houses directly overhead clinging desperately to the mountain. We enjoyed our dinner and wine of the house, then returned to the bus.
But now however, the group's guide would not permit us to ride back to the hotel, some nonsense about company (Grand European Tours) insurance rules. So the partially filled bus departed to our hotel leaving us with the sea to our backs and the dark, winding, and very steep road our only choice. Now, I am 74 and almost past the flower of life, while Aabbb ain't no spring chicken either, but we climbed the d**n road because it was too steep for walking, while dodging cars.
In the town we walked a lot more while following sincere but worthless directions from town folk. Maybe it did us good, because besides exercise we got a good look at the main street of the town of Sorrento. In the fullness of time, and just before we expired, a taxi stand appeared. The three-minute kamikaze ride up the remainder of the mountainside to the hotel costs 15 Euro (around 18 dollars). If you want economical, Italy is not the place.
Next day, our group rode a boat to Isle of Capri. It seems that once there, one's only choice was to buy an expensive tour, otherwise - nothing but prowl through a few souvenir shops while waiting for the return of those who bought the extra tour. So Aabbb and I and one other couple stayed home that day and made an excursion into town, this time with the proper shuttle bus, which stopped at an ancient gate into the town. A high defensive wall around the town is still there as well as gates, all because of pirates from Africa in the old days.
We walked about and Aabbb used an auto teller to withdraw cash as if we were back home. We gawked at centuries old buildings, busy streets, and souvenir stands, even walked through a small store. I bought two one-litter boxes of wine for a mere three euro each, about four dollars. Back at our bus stop, we found the other couple and joined them later at the hotel for lunch and pleasant conversation. Italian-Americans are a delight and have a great sense of humor. During the afternoon, I judged my cheap wine to be far too expensive for weak vinegar.
For dinner, Aabbb and I joined the group now back from Capri and dinned at a most charming place in town. However, Sorrento wasn't through with me yet. I ordered minestrone (of which I am most fond) and was served with a soup plate of hot water with a helping of mixed vegetables straight from a can piled in the center. I sent it back and settled for another soup, which turned out rather well. Such an event made me wonder - was it a joke from the kitchen? Were the cooks rolling around holding their sides while knowing the dumb looking American would eat their swill, make favorable remarks, and even tip the waiter. Wrong, wrong, wrong! By now, I realize that the best food is from our kitchen at home. And it costs a lot less.
Our parting shot in Sorrento was a quick tour of a wood working shop that produces tables of every sort that are truly works of art. Trouble was, they are truly expensive. During the tour we stopped at places that produced jewelry, glass, leather, and wood products, all beautiful and fine, but all far too expensive for tourist class. A feature of every street in Italy is a lingerie shop with immodest dummies in the window. But alas, I saw no women during the trip who looked anywhere near as good as the dummies. (Why didn't we tour the lingerie factory?)
Next: On to Pompeii...
KJA [Top of
"Nearly Everything is Relative" [Top of page]
From: APR [Portugal]
Date: Sun, 30 Oct 2005
......... I also thought that Tokyo and other big Japanese cities were crowded and that they were also very noisy. But during my trip, I met some people who said about the same thing as your Portuguese friends. A Frenchman told me Tokyo was very playful and happy and at the same time a quiet city, where the cars were far from the pedestrians, the streets were large(!) and drivers didn't honk (a lot less stressful than Paris). I can't compare Tokyo to Portuguese cities or others that I know. However the first time a friend from Barcelona came here, one day we went to Porto (Portugal's second city) and suddenly she just stopped almost in the middle of the street and told me to listen - and said it was so incredible quiet, like it wasn't a real city! On the other hand, I remember the first time I was in Athens and it was so noisy that I couldn't hear when someone called me on my mobile phone!
About the Frenchman's comments about Tokyo, let me go over those one by one, namely that Tokyo is:
1) "playful and happy" - True enough in many ways, but any city doesn't give up its exclusive broadcasts to any but the most highly sensitive visitors and even some native residents are out of the loop. So, as a visitor you are dazzled by the new and generally treated well as a guest, so it's easy enough to think you've visited some sort of amusement park where everything is happy.
2) "a quiet city" - As I mentioned in "Quiet Tokyo?" (in LL334), this isn't quite the impression I've had over the years, but it's true that people avoid using their horns for the most part; it's become so taboo to talk on cell phones in pubic places that people hardly even use their phones as phones any more, sending mainly text messages instead, etc. So, maybe it should be said that the city has been on a quiet trend, becoming quieter than other large cities of the world? I'm still skeptical, but maybe it's true.
3) "cars are far from the pedestrians" - That definitely depends on which street you're on! There are many streets where, when a car stops by a telephone pole, you can't proceed down the street until it moves, as there's no space to squeeze between the cars and the telephone poles they are just barely clearing. New, wide streets with dedicated sidewalks are another issue of course. The streets have been getting wider and wider, and some parts of the country are hardly distinguishable from any car-culture country on the planet.
4) "the streets were large" - Again, this depends on what part of the city and the country you are in. Last year, when I spent some time driving around on the Boso Peninsula, I was quite happy to be driving one of the smallest class 660cc K-cars! If I'd had been in a larger car, I couldn't have gone on a lot of the streets I drove on in that K-car. On roads like that, no one would be making comments about large streets with the cars far from the pedestrians!
But just about everything is relative after
thus Portal may be quieter than Barcelona, Tokyo quieter than Portal,
quieter than Tokyo, and some smaller city quieter still than
"A Trip to Italy-IV" [Top of page]
From: KJA [US]
Date: Mon, 24 Oct 2005
On a clear day, Mount Vesuvius can be seen from Grand Vesuvio Hotel at Sorrento, so the drive to Pompeii following the shore is not long. On my visit to Pompeii in the late fifties, there were few tourists and the ruins were quiet with almost no other people around, so I just wandered about. Today however with giant jets landing everyday bringing hundreds of tourists, platoons of them collide and merge in the streets of the ancient city. Hannibal would have loved leading such an invasion. I was wary of getting mixed in with alien tours and experience again being abandoned on a dark mountain road by a guide who thinks a war is on between tour companies.
In this case, each tourist is supplied with a receiver and headset so he can listen to his own guide and stay with the proper group. Being a short man I found nothing new in peering around and over shoulders of tall people whom always get front row.
Walking on stone block streets (not cobble but large stone blocks) as they were in 79 AD, and looking into living and sleeping rooms as well as kitchens, bakeries, and quick food shops as they appeared on that day the mountain exploded with great stones flying, poisonous gasses, and choking ash, one feels a connection with those people. They were about the same as us in many ways. I will touch on the differences. Most interesting for every tour group are the houses of prostitution, and there were many of them. These houses were served by slaves, indeed there were lots of slaves performing every conceivable task all over the city, probably the majority of the population. They had no rights and no status, not even as human beings. Now, back to the houses of female slaves. To spend time at Pearl's Place with a slave did not qualify as philandering or adultery, which was against Roman law. Language barriers were overcome with pictures on the wall (still there). A menu so to speak.
Am I overdoing this? No I'm not. That was a part of early Roman life then and hasn't changed much today, as mistresses are still part of the scene, for them what can afford it.
Oh yes, we visited an amphitheater where plays were held. Stage plays for gosh sakes! The world was still very flat and America 1500 years in the future. It seems that a problem with city planning did arrive. No sewer. EVERYTHING was dumped into the stone block streets and so of course high sidewalks were necessary. But every night, streets were flooded from reservoirs built for that purpose. Too bad about those people at the lower end of the street. The rest of the world would get by with just dumping in the streets (and no flush) for near 1900 more years. We took pictures at a gladiatorial school.
While waiting for our tour bus to depart for Roma, Aabbb and I found a nice Tratatoria and lunched on pizza and wine. By now I am addicted to Italian pizzas, which are very thin, just one size, and do not leave one feeling stuffed.
The ride to Rome offered more beautiful countryside of lush vineyards and mountains with mysterious ancient buildings on the tops. Besides the endless antiquities and beautiful art, I say that the Italian countryside is the next best treat. It's always beautiful, never boring or dull. I can't help but think that visiting a farm and meeting some honest Italian folks instead of souvenir vendors would have been a refreshing change of pace.
Inside Rome, the first thing to catch an American's eye was the endless large advertising posters seen everywhere. The newest and most plentiful of them depicted a tall dude straddling a motorcycle while twisted about to use a urinal. More Italian obsession with male equipment. I couldn't be sure if they were advertising motorcycles, tight Levies, or urinals. Women on the bus loved this sort of thing, but I was now getting very suspicious of Italians....
Anyway, our hotel was excellent and bags delivered to the rooms. I must say that this service was never accompanied by an open hand for tips. One was a paying guest, and rated good service. We dined with friends at the hotel dinning room which maintained the tradition of hotel food being the worst, yet the most expensive. Everything was plush and waiters were lovely in coats and ties, but if food that bad came out of the kitchen at my house, well... let's not go there.
Next morning at 0800, our group joined the line waiting to enter the Vatican. As we watched rush hour traffic of scooters and cars rushing to work, the line grew considerably. All those tourists at Pompeii had followed us here.
At last, the line began moving and our group entered Vatican City and into a series of gigantic rooms. We had previously been admonished not to wear shorts or sleeveless tops and I did not because this place is a church, the world's largest church building. It's also a tremendous museum of ancient art (no abstract junk here). Statues and paintings in abundance, almost every single one depicting 100% nudity, full front, the works. It seems that in older times church officialdom had decided that immodest statuary and paintings had to have the genitals removed and replaced with fig leaves. That has since been reversed, full masculinity has been restored to former glory, and fig leaves raked in a pile. Apparently female forms were never altered (much) but our modern world is well accustomed to T&A. But, I'm 74 and these things are not as important as my painful feet, Aabbb said the same. We had worn the wrong shoes. A brandy would have been most welcome. Camera flashes are not permitted and I'm sure that lighting a smoke would have brought the Swiss Guard with lowered pikes.
Piece de la resistance was of course the Sistine Chapel. One thousand people jammed inside made it seem small, but as I gazed at walls and ceiling, all adorned by Michelangelo and other great artists of the day, I was as impressed as any. The beautiful paintings tell the story of creation to the crucifixion and beyond. Our guide pointed out that since most people a thousand years ago could not read, pictures told the story. To me, the most interesting painted figure, (next to the door and perhaps a quick exit for Michelangelo) was a painting of a naked man (Satan) with the face of a particular Cardinal who had harassed Michelangelo during his nine-year toil in the Chapel. The Cardinal in question protested mightily to the Pope, but His Holiness liked Michelangelo, so the painting stood and still does today. Oh, Satan features a great serpent wrapped around his naked body with its evil head emerging between Satan's legs in place of the normal male equipment.
That afternoon we joined with a million others and toured the Coliseum. One of the best known structures in the world, it is a mere skeleton of former days. All the marble, which once encased every surface, was stripped, carried way, and used to adorn the Vatican.
Dinner that evening was with friends at a local family operated Tratatoria, where I enjoyed some great minestrone, bread, and wine of the house.
Our group was left to its on devices next day and three couples, with maps, walked to the Spanish Steps. What is special about this place? I don't know, but it is seen in many movies and indeed, at least a thousand people were there to walk and sit on the steps and gaze at the large beautiful fountain.
One of our couples, victims of too many walks, dropped out here and the rest walked on to the Fountain of Trevi. Again, at least a thousand people had gathered to soak up the romantic atmosphere of many movies, Aabbb and I dutifully tossed coins in the splashing water and sat for awhile admiring this tremendous work of art. I can't say enough about objects de art in Italy. They present themselves at every turn in every city, small, large, simple, complicated, and all are a treat to see. At just one cathedral alone (there are hundreds) there are so many beautiful marble statues, inside and out, that the count is unknown. A far cry indeed from the abstract scrap metal absurdities to be seen around Tucson, for which the city paid dearly and attempt to pawn off as clever. They don't even mention beautiful.
Then we walked on to the Pantheon. There are hundreds of beautiful churches in Rome (as well as every Italian city) but this one is special, why I don't know, but it does have a great hole in the center of the dome overhead. Rain comes in but the floor below has drains for that. Inside the church is decorated with mosaics, no paintings, so flash is permitted.
Food and strong drink is on my mind so we walked on to yet another large piazza (don't confuse with pizza) with restaurants on one side of the street and old buildings on the other. Hundreds of tourists are here as well as two English girls performing a tap routine in the street. I suspect they hoped to make some lunch money. We selected an outdoor table under umbrella where I again stuck to a dependable pizza and house wine. Our comrades then sprung for a taxi ride for all back to the hotel. That evening we ate with friends again at the hotel dining room where I was served the worst spaghetti of my life. C-ration spaghetti was delicious compared to this. You see, I am spoiled. Aabbb makes the best spaghetti in the world. So what could those Italians possibly know about spaghetti?
Our flight back to New York was uneventful. However, we were again on Alitalia Airlines and the plane, with small seats, was packed. Many people, I observed, (Italian Americans) cannot relax. Even with warnings to stay in their seats and belts fastened, people stood in the aisle, made repeated trips to the toilet and yet again opened the luggage lockers overhead. The guy in front of me (no English) moved the back of his seat up and down in waltz time. Since the back of my seat was against the toilet bulkhead, it could not lay back. Thus, this guy's head was bouncing to and fro only three inches from my nose. Wine served by the attendant kept me calm enough to prevent screaming.
At JFK Airport we again stayed at a nearby Comfort Inn and took a cab early the next morning to La Guardia Airport for plane connections to Chicago and Tucson.
Pulling in to my driveway I resisted the impulse to fall to my knees and kiss the oily concrete. It was good to get home!
The following Sunday, our son, his fiance, and Aabbb's parents came for dinner. What did we serve? REAL spaghetti by Mama Aabbb.
KJA [Top of
"My Dad is Awesome" [Top of page]
Sat, Nov. 12th, 2005
From: KCM [US]
Yesterday was his birthday. My sister tells me that during a conversation with one of my uncles, my uncle was making racist remarks about black people. My dad cuts in and says something like, "Well, you can't say that about all of them. Some are nice, and you know, everyone's got their share of stupid people."
You have no idea - I never expected anything like that to come out of his mouth.
"You What?!" [Top of page]
Subject: RE: Keep Writing!
From: KJA [US]
Date: Sun, 30 Oct 2005
[LHS] - I quite enjoyed reading your final installment on the trip to Italy. Thinking about it now, I wish you had been writing things down during your time in Tokyo - I think that your Tokyo time alone would have made for a book or two if you'd been writing about it at the time. Mind you, I'm not criticizing your book in any way - I just wish there was more of it! When I go back and read something I've written just a few years ago, I'm constantly amazed that I'll read about something I did and have no recollection of it until I finish reading, think back, and suddenly find the hidden archive in the back reaches of my memory. I wish I'd been writing all along, but I didn't start doing so regularly until I got my first computer. Now I wonder - how much of my life has gone missing in file room? - [LHS]
Yes, life is like that. We look back and see that we should have gone right and not left, or was it the other way.
While in Korea and Japan, I did in fact write a lot of letters to my father in which I described a lot of things. Those he made the mistake of giving to me immediately on my return. Being a thoughtless twenty-year-old with no thoughts beyond bedtime, I burned them....
My first reaction upon reading of the
letters was for my eyes to go wide and I wordlessly thought "You
but I can't really say much, as I destroyed some old letters, diaries,
etc. of mine in one of my moves - thinking that I needed a clean break
with the past. I wish I had them now, but I can only wonder what
I lost. I don't remember things written even just a few years ago
until I read them and get to thinking about them, so I'll probably
remember what I wrote before.... Of course in the age of
it's the opposite problem - once you write something - you may not be
to make it go away, never mind worrying about having thrown it away!
"I Miss Tokyo..." [Top of page]
From: RER [Portugal]
Date: Mon, 17 Oct 2005
This month has been really hard! Right now, I'm really glad to be able have some free time next month. I can't wait for my new "plenty of free time" life!
Actually, every time I have a break I start missing Tokyo. It's probably a "travel-syndrome" that makes me feel like everything is so boring when I get back. Some friends showed me today some pictures they took in Budapest and Prague but they just felt European-boring...
Besides, summer is going away and rainy days are here to stay. Cold rainy days, not the warm rain days from Japan unfortunately.
RER was here for a month, which is probably an
interesting length of time - it's not long enough to grow any roots,
it's not short enough to miss all the ambiences of a city, so I imagine
there is a feeling of unfinished concepts and overly sudden
back to home base? The closest thing I've done is to spend three
weeks in Australia, mainly in Sydney. While the other cities I
visited in Australia on that and another trip (Melbourne, Brisbane,
Paradise, & Cairns) left only a superficial feeling and images in
mind about the same as something I might have seen in a movie, I spent
some time walking in Sydney, quietly tuning in to the ambience of the
and I ended up feeling like the city got a small piece of me....
"Restaurants & Genealogy" [Top of page]
Subject: RE: LL-334
From: KJA [US]
Date: Wed, 12 Oct 2005
[Regarding LL-334] Other comments caught my eye, like men always thinking of past and future, not the present. That has a strong ring of truth and many times I have thought about this. We do that as children, "When I get to be big, everything will be great" "When I graduate from high school, I will be an adult and entitled to drink and have other kinds of fun" (with no thoughts of responsibility).
It took many years for me to see that I must appreciate today, or good things would always be tomorrow. However, remembering yesterday is still important, less we forget where we parked the car.
I wonder about the people's families in Islamabad. Have they survived the earthquake?
Changing ships made me recall an old Laurel
and Hardy movie. During the great depression, they returned
from Europe and were immediately fighting the crowds to get a
They drew a one-night stand as butlers serving a high society dinner to
people who have it all. Of course the dinner was a disaster, a
of olives dropped down dresses, giant cakes dumped on the floor and
From: KJA [US]
Date: Sun, 16 Oct 2005
I was just re-reading "Focus" in the photo Gallery. It's very good and it struck a chord. I don't often eat out in Tucson because I pay a high price for food not as good as what comes from my own kitchen. Plus indifferent, freshly hired college student cooks can only guarantee an upset stomach with a trip to the medicine cabinet. BUT, I too like to hear of someplace where food is great, reasonably priced, and with plenty of parking spaces. I think the Cosi-Cosi page will attract the adventurous supper crowd.
I have been researching my genealogy. I used to do that a lot, but my recent book project then occupied my spare time. Now I am back at it, and now have a computer. That makes everything so easy. In times past, I made trips, visited libraries and county records... I even visited the National Archives in Washington, DC. Now, I need only find websites. My latest discovery is that my great great grandfather served in two different Arkansas units during the Civil War. In time he went AWOL and never returned, a very common thing in those days. Desertion sounds bad, but consider, conscripted at gun point or hanging rope; armed with shotguns brought from home, no pay, poor food if any, clothing in rags, barefoot, and certain defeat on the way. Plus they didn't know if their families were starving or what.
His oldest son served in another unit and simply did not come home, also very common.
I learn many things through genealogy.
Well - that's all for LL-335. Keep in
Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon
December 6th, 2005
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