Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Mary's Milk

Here are some photos of paintings that depict the Virgin Mary either sharing or squirting her milk on others. For more on this motif, please see the entry "Prado, Pt III" dated October 26, 2005 and the comments it inspired.

As always, thanks to Fenway Partners, Inc. for the camera, although I'm sure they didn't expect it to be used for this.

Artist and painting, from top to bottom:
Pedro Machuca "Virgin with the Souls of Purgatory" 1517
Alonso Cano "The Miraculous Lactation of St. Bernard" 1650
Juan De Vivar "Appearance of the Virgin," 1545
Rubens "El nacimiento de la Vía Láctea"

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Memories of Morocco: Rabat

I didn't post much about my time in Rabat previously, probably because that was where I became sick and spent much of my time there in bed. But after reviewing videotapes and photographs this weekend, I was reminded of the city's beauty.

Rabat is the capital of Morocco and perhaps the most Westernized of all its major cities. It has wide, clean streets lined with palm trees. Imagine if a suburb of Los Angeles became Islamic and you get the idea of what Rabat is like.

There is a strong police presence in Rabat due to the fact that the king's palace is here as well as the parliment. The fact that Morocco has a king is not commented on or discussed. It never came up once in my break-the-ice discussions with Moroccans. "So what is the country like?" However, his picture seems to be everywhere. Handsome, silent, he watches over every shop I went into. I don't know whether this is by his choice or the shopkeepers.

After checking into my hotel I ambled to the coastline. I had a strong need to see the ocean, which was a deep azure, crashing with powerful waves but relaxing to watch. I noticed that there was more pieces of tiles on the shoreline than seashells. Across the road from the shore was an Islamic graveyard. All the graves face towards Mecca. The graves' cement base and headstones made them look like little beds, which, in a way, they were. From a distance the graves looked like writing, the individual lives now creating a message on the hillside.

As I headed back to my hotel, I saw a large mob outside the parliment building chanting something in Arabic. They were facing down a line of soldiers who looked quite young. Their uniforms didn't seem to fit - too big- but the large guns they carried suited them just fine. It was obviously a demonstration of some sort, but since I can't speak Arabic, they could have been demanding free dance lessons for all I know. With the words "Wrong place, wrong time" zipping through my head, I decided to head down a sidestreet. I heard a noise and saw the crowd starting to disburse...towards me. The kept turning and looking back at the soldiers, moving with the same ordered chaos as cattle. I picked up my pace, wondering if I had just vacationed to some growing insurrection. I could still hear the protest when I got back to my room. Tired, I laid in bed, waiting for and fearing what I thought would be the inevitable sound of gunshots. But I fell asleep while waiting, and when I woke up, it was like the demonstration had never happened.

Later that night another crowd gathered, and chanted, outside the same building. But I noticed people walking up and down the street ignoring the demonstration, so I figured this wa as much a fixture as the palm trees and fountains.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Cinque Terre Pics

After arriving in Florence and checking into my B&B, I went for a walk and stopped in a cafe. This cafe seemed to be part of some business or company - perhaps a delivery service or messenger center. If you walked past it, you never would have thought it a cafe. I only found it because I saw someone coming out. But it was filled with people which is always a good sign, and didn't seem pretentious.

If you were casting a movie and needed two people to play young thugs, your search would be over as soon as you saw the two guys working in the cafe. This isn't to say that they were thugs but that they had that certain aura of "don't screw with me" about them. Speaking in fractured Italian I ordered a snack and a beer. Some of the regulars left, and the older of the two men started quizzing me. Where was I from, why was I in Florence, was I a student, etc. I told them I wasn't a student, but I was traveling around Italy. They asked where I had been and where I was going. "Rome..." "Oh, yeah, Rome" they nodded at the inevitability of it. "Naples." "Yeah, Naples" they shrugged. "Cinque Terre." "Ahhh," they cooed in unison "Cinque Terre." They said it so wistfully, almost melting at the words, as if they were describing Shangri-la.

The region has that sort of effect on people. The pictures don't do it justice, but I hope you like them anyway. The first two pics are from Monterosso, the most northern of the five towns. The other three pics were taken on the trails that link the towns.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Pictures from Paris

A huge "thank you" to Fenway Partners, Inc. for the camera.

Taking photos went through several phases on my trip. When I first got to Amsterdam the excitement of being overseas led me to take pictures of everything. I don't know how many redundant images of the canals I ended up taking and later deleting. While my camera had a memory card that could hold over 400 pictures, this isn't really a lot when you consider I was traveling for two months in some of the most photogenic cities in Europe.

The second phase consisted of me taking pictures of things/scenes that I wanted to remember but felt I wouldn't be able to accurately describe in my journal. Which explains why I got home and found a picture of a street mime in Barcelona sitting on a toilet for spare change.

Finally, as the memory card became more than three quarters full, I began focusing on things that I wanted pictures of. What would I want hanging on my wall, even if it doesn't really say anything about my trip or the place? I began to use my videocamera to tape street scenes and get a general sense of a place and the digital camera to capture images I liked in and of themselves. So my final shots are of mortuary reliefs with cool looking skeletons and eerie shots of buildings at night.

Below are some photos of Paris. The City of Light has gotten short shrift (so far) in this journal so I thought I would remedy the situation with some pictures.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

No Sleep Till Brooklyn

Yep, I'm back in Brooklyn. Not only was my apartment not robbed while I was away, but my landlord fixed the light in the bathroom.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Rome again, Rome again, jiggedy jig

I'm back in Rome for a little over two days, before I catch my flight to Amsterdam on Wednesday, then fly from Amsterdam to Newark airport on Thursday. Being in Rome is a nice buffer, a transition from my last two months of travel and my re-entry into the US. I'm getting a dose of multiculturalism. My B&B (and this time it is a genuine B&B, meaning I get breakfast as part of the deal and a bathroom to myself so I don't have to piss in any bottles) is in the Little India section of Rome. I had no idea there was a little India in Rome, but one of the reasons to travel is to learn things. When I walk out of my B&B, it takes me a moment to realize that I am in Italy. More cultural exchange: I'm writing this in an "Irish" pub, where everyone speaks Italian and they're playing Jay Z. on the stereo. I'm sorry to hear that Jay has 99 problems, though I am relieved that a bitch ain't one of them.

I'm using this time to wrap things up. Rather than do any new sight seeing (or is it site seeing? Kate, you would know better than anyone else.), I've been trying to find gifts for people. Not to go offtrack, but I just realized that "sight seeing" is a little redundant. It's like saying "I went to the concert and did some 'sound hearing.' " Can you tell I'm writing this while in a pub? I have to - they won't let me drink at the computer center. When I was in Morocco and objected to my guide to only seeing stores and shops, he brusquely asked me "What's the matter? Don't you like shopping?" Well, frankly, no. I like wandering around and if I happen to see something either for myself or someone I know, I like to buy it. But going "shopping" with a goal in mind frustrates and annoys me. It's why my Christmas presents ususally come with an apology. It's why I've worn the same suit to every wedding for the last two years, even though each time I get a wedding invitation I say "I really need a new suit. This old one is shot." I've enjoyed re-visiting spots in Rome, but yesterday ended in frustration at my inability to find suitable gifts for some people. Oh, I bought a book for myself, sure, but finding stuff for others? Forget it.

During this transition period, old habits are coming back. Spending time in Irish pubs is one of them. Seeing something I want, not buying it, then regretting that fact and obsessing over the item, only to discover that I can't find it anywhere is another habit. I saw that British writer Alan Bennett has published a new book. His previous book "Writing Home" was one of the touchstones when I lived in London ten years ago. Seeing a sequal of sorts is now available while I am again overseas just seemed to fit. But I resolved not to buy anything for myself until I had finished buying for others. This resolve lasted half a day. I decided that I had another full day (today) to look for gifts, and I really wanted the book. I have two hour and an eight hour flights this week. Such a book would be the perfect way to spend the time.

As soon as I decided this, I couldn't find a copy of the book anywhere. This search eclipsed my search for gifts for others. I can only obsess over one thing at a time. Obviously the streets of Italy are not littered with English-language books, although their larger bookstores make a better effort to stock foreign language books than America's do. Finally, late in the day, I found a copy, and spent last night as an American reading a British author in the Little India section of Italy in a B&B rented to me by a Japanese lady. It is a small world, after all.

I spent today in earnest search of gifts. I went to the Trastevere section of Rome. It is west of the Tibor River, south of Vatican City. Small streets, generally ignored by tourists, more homeless than I've seen anywhere else. It does have a tourist info kiosk, so I stopped and asked if there where sections of Rome with little shops. Not fancy designer clothes boutiques (they're on Via Del Corso, and I made the mistake of going there yesterday) nor cheap souvenir shops (which are everywhere), but interesting little stores. The man at TI circled a few sections on a map, and he came through. I was able to find some things for others, see some cool stuff, and discover the Irish pub in which I am typing this.

Today, while shooting some video at the Roman Ruins and Cat Sanctuary, a little kid came up behind me and screamed. I don't know whether he was trying to ruin my video or set the cats scrambling. I looked over at he and his father, who laughed one of those smug parental "isn't my kid adorable?" laughs. I held the non-expression on my face and went back to looking through my videocamera. The only thing I could think to say to the kid was "don't be an asshole your whole life" but for once in my life, I kept my mouth shut. The cats also ignored them. Deprived of any reaction from two different species, the father and son quickly left. Since the cats hadn't changed position at all, I re-wound the tape to before the little bastard screamed, and began taping again.

As mentioned before, tomorrow I fly into Amsterdam, and then Thursday I fly home. I don't know if I will get a chance to get online in the next two days, so hard as it may be to believe, this is probably my last entry from Europe. Over the coming months I will update the journal with stories about my trip and maybe even some photos. But I just wanted to thank everyone for reading and especially for commenting. I wasn't too excited about this journal when the idea was first suggested to me, yet I have grown to really love posting here, and especially enjoy this format as a way of staying in touch with those who mean so much to me. So thanks again to everyone for joining in.

Oh yeah. Sorry, but I don't think I'll have time to get high tomorrow in Amsterdam. Everyone seems to love that story, and perhaps in the name of closure I should, but my flight arrives too late, and I don't feel like having the post-pot brownie hangover during an eight hour flight home.

Will post again soon.


Sunday, November 13, 2005

Cinque Terre, pt II

I arrive in Monterosso Al Mare, the northernmost of the five villages that make up Cinque Terre, and the one that Rick Steves rates as having the best nightlife. Which is probably true, although "nightlife" is a relative term. It should also be remembered that I am traveling in the offseason, edging almost into the closed-off season: appearantly a number of hotels and bars close for the months of December and January. I was a little concerned about finding a place to stay while there. While I didn't envision having to sleep on the beach, I woke up Friday morning in Siena with a vague anxiety about finding lodging in Monterosso.

This concern wasn't helped by the fact the town's Tourist Info office was closed. I had my guidbook and used that, searching for a hotel. I wandered into town and saw a giant banner strung across the town square. Some sort of festival, commemorating the 20th anniversary of something or other, was scheduled for that weekend. The banner had a picture of a stag on it, and someone had gone around town putting Viking hats with horns on all the town statues. I feared the festival was going to be something Nordic. If figured this would make my lodging search even more difficult. However, the festival was not what I thought it was (more on that later) and I found a room in the first hotel I stopped at. When I told the owner what I wanted, it seemed to take him a moment to remember that he does indeed run a hotel.

I wandered Monterosso and its beach, which didn't take long, because none of the towns of Cinque Terre are what you would call big. Most of them are homes and hotels surrounding a townsquare dotted with the sort of shops and services needed by villagers and tourists. A few minutes and you've "done" the town. However, this adds to the charm of the place, and induces a desire to aimlessly wander the same small area. When I got back to the main square, the festival was in full swing. I still don't know what it was commemorating, but it consisted of the older men in the town roasting chestnuts over a fire and drinking locally produced wine. Many of them were wearing Viking helmets. The ladies of the town sat on nearby benches, talking with each other, eating walnuts and shaking their heads when one of the gentlemen would get particularly boisterous.

I bought a bag of walnuts and asked about a glass of wine. The man I spoke to, who spoke no English, made it plain that there were two problems with selling me a glass of wine. One, it wasn't entirely legal and a local policeman was standing nearby, and two, even worse, they were out of cups. But he waved his hands to me to let me know everything would be alright and went off to find some more cups. When he returned, having solved the second problem, we both agreed to just ignore the first problem, as the policeman had wandered away.

So I stood in the townsquare near the fire, enjoying both it's warmth and the smell of the mixture of burning wood and crisp November sea air. I had never had roasted chestnuts before, despite how good Nat King Cole makes them sound in "The Christmas Song." They are delicious.

Someone had added Viking horns to the man on a nearby "Men At Work" sign. I finished my wine, saved some chestnuts for the next day's hike, and wandered off to find something more substantial for dinner. I ended up eating a very good fusilli dish on the large balcony of a nearby restaurant. About halfway through my meal, I heard the sound of a large group of drunk men "singing." Sure enough, the men from the festival marched by, carrying signs and banners. I later saw them comandeering a large table at a local restaurant, still in their Viking helmets.

Sometimes not knowing the language adds to fun.

Cinque Terre

Thank you to Gretchen Egolf, who first suggested I go to Cinque Terre.

I should try to make this fast. I notice when I do get online, I spend more time responding to people's comments and answering emails than I do posting entries on this journal. I also have to catch a train in about half an hour, and once I start writing an entry, it's hard to know when to stop. "Give an Irishman a chance to talk and you'll never shut him up" as it said in Mad magazine many years ago.

I spent the weekend in Cinque Terre, a group of five small villages along the coast of the Ligurian Sea. If Italy is a boot, they'd be close to the kneecap. The villages are linked by train, and even better, a series of trials you can hike. The trails run the gamut from an easy walk on a sidewalk alongside the water to a rather challenging trek through the mountains alongside vineyards. The trails aren't difficult in that they are on crumbly ground, but the journey up the mountain can feel mighty steep. At one point, I found myself breathing heavily. Normally, I try to hide this, but as I was alone, I let the loud breath come freely. If someone had heard me, I'm sure they would have wondered who got an iron lung so high up on the mountain.

But the views on the hikes are incredible. The good trails take about an hour and a half. I took about two hours on each one, simply because I kept turning around to enjoy the view. When you do reach one of the towns, it is a thrill to walk from wilderness into a little community, where people are kind, and you can have a nice lunch of olives, a sandwich and a beer for less than five euros.

to be continued

Thursday, November 10, 2005


D'oh! I used up all my internet time responding to emails and comments on this webpage. Let me be brief:

I'm in Siena right now, which I love. A medieval town that has not changed that much in its architecture or layout. Florence has the great museums, which Siena does not (its main museum still has a huge sign outside for an exhibition that ended October 18th), but Siena has the charm. Just wandering the streets, especially in the early evening, is a pure pleasure. There's a cafe/bar that has a tiny terrace on their second floor. From there, you have a perfect view of the main square. I've been having my morning cappucino and my afternoon beer on this terrace, watching the show as people mix on the square. I'm completely at peace here.

Tomorrow I am off to Cinque Terre, a series of five small towns on Italy's west coast. Sunday I'm back to Rome, then Tuesday it's Amsterdam again, and, one week from today, I fly back to the States.


In any case, I may not get a chance to post again until I get to Rome, so I just wanted to give everyone a heads up.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Invisible Cities

When I was in Venice, I found myself thinking about a book I had read many years ago, "Invisible Cities" by the Italian author Italo Calvino. In the book, Marco Polo describes to Kubla Khan the various cities he has seen in his travels. It isn't a novel so much as it is a collection of poetic prose pieces, a catalogue of imaginary places. There was something about the eerie, misty beauty of Venice, especially at night, that made me think of Calvino's book. I had to keep reminding myself that I was in Italy. I knew I was in Venice, but it didn't feel like part of Italy. I figured this feeling made sense, given the old line about how Italians are loyal to their town first, their country second. For much of its history, Italy was a series of city/states, feuding with each other and anything but united. Venice is different from Rome which is different from Naples which is different from Sorrento. It made sense that an Italian would right a book about various towns.

On Saturday morning I am killing time, waiting for the Uffizi museum to open. I walk around a plaza, turn a corner and what do I see? A sign advertising an art exhibit based on..."Invisible Cities" by Italo Calvino. "That's an interesting coincidence" I think. Later that day, I stop in a bookstore that stocks English language books. I stop in every bookstore I pass anyway. It's how I know I'm more bibliophile than reader. I like to look at books, even if I can't read them. In any case, I find a copy of "Invisible Cities." On the back cover, a critic is describing the book and says "but Calvino is really only writing about one city: Venice." Another coincidence, although I chalk this up to Calvino's evocative skill as a writer and my lucky guess as a reader.

Today while wandering around, I pass the "Invisible Cities" exhibit and decide to stop in. The artist, Pedro Cano, has created a different watercolor painting for each city described in the book. As I walk along, one of the paintings looks like Morocoo. Interesting. Another is of a fortress that resembles the castle ruins I hiked along in Sintra, Portugal. Okay. But one picture stops me dead. It is exactly like a photograph I had taken while climbing the stairs in the Guadi Cathedral in Barcelona. Not similar, but exact. The same composition, as if the painting was done from my photograph. I notice more Arabesque-style buildings, the type that I saw in Morocco. But I'm used to, and enjoy, odd coincidences, so I shrug it off.

When I see the painting of the Nazarenes, I get a little freaked out. (See my entry of October 15th, in which I discuss my fascination/obsession with the Nazarenes). It doesn't say "Nazarenes" but the two eyes, peering through holes surrounded by white, with a white triangular figure in the background, make it obvious that that's what they are. Next to it is a watercolor that features the head of a baby doll. When I was in Rome, there was a secondhand shop that had filled their window with the parts of babydolls. Some arms and legs, but mostly heads. I took a picture of that.

I was beginning to feel like I had wandered, by chance and odd coincidence, into a gallery that depicted pictures of my travels for the last two months. It felt seriously weird. Yes, many of the paintings had no connection with my trip, but the ones that did were very close.

There is (thank God) a rational explaination for this. I discovered the artist was Spanish and had travelled a great deal, doing the pictures from his travels. So he might know about Nazarenes, and Moorish architecture and Moroccan culture. But the sequence of chance events that led me to this gallery were too eerie. The similarities were too close. The way that it seemed to sum up my trip, at a time that I am also summing up my trip, was too unsettling. This dissolving of the line between the inside and the outside, between what I am thinking about and what exists outside of me, was just a little too much.

I've had similar experiences in the past, and I've learned to live with them and enjoy them. There is something about a pattern in your life that transcends your own control that's...interesting? Something to contemplate? But while it is happening, it is creepy beyond compare.

I'd like to point out at this point that no, I am not insane. Yes, walking into a gallery with pictures that depicted what I've been seeing for the last two months did happen to me.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Venice's Water

The canals in Venice reflect the sky, and imitate whatever color the sky is. No surprise there. On overcast days, you see waves of white that calm and vanish on the horizon to meet the white sky. If it was any brighter, it would hurt to look at, but as it is, it is beautiful in its blankness and motion. It is like watching undulating snowbanks.

But when it is sunny and clear, the water has a pale azure cast. It doesn't quite glow and isn't as brilliant as the water in the Blue Grotto, but it is still like a jewel to behold. The advantage is the canals are all around you. You don't have to take a bus, pay a fee, then take a rowboat to see the color for a few minutes.

It's a question of whether you want to have to journey and make a special effort to have a peak experience for a few minutes, or whether you want the less intense beauty integrated into your daily life.

Another Religious Motif Up For Discussion

While not as prevalent or as interesting, I've noticed several depictions of Mary Magdelen as being covered in hair, almost as if she's wearing a dress made of hair. She looks like Lady Godiva. Can anyone chime in on what this means? Is this part of Catholic legend that Mary's hair grew and grew after Christ's ascension and she stopped wearing clothes? It's not just medieval images. There's a portrait by Titian that shows Mary M. draped in only her hair.

Granted, it's not the Virgin Mary's Magic Milk, but I'm interested in how the Church depicts the few women it deigns to notice. Interested in a healthy, scholarly way.


I'm at the Bargello today, home of Donatello's statue of David (a fey little giant-killer). There is a tour guide who speaks English with a very heavy Italian accent leading a group of middle-aged ladies along. She, her group and I are in a room with lots of small decorative sculptures, the products of workshops and schools from the Medici era.

By one case, she announces that it holds "the twelve lovers." This strikes me as odd, considering the statues inside are of men wrestling with each other, animals or monsters. She says it several times, and I finally realize she is saying "the twelve labors," as in Hercules. Got it. That changes everything.

Sunday, November 06, 2005


I stop in an English-style pub in Florence. There is a sign saying they offer wireless internet to their customers, and I see several unattended laptops. Great. I'll have a beer an go online.

So I'm sipping a John Smith and answering my email, when a voice behind me says "Excuse me." I turn and ask "Oh, were you on this?" "Well," he replies "it's my computer." I literally hit my forehead and apologized. He was nice enough to let me finish the email I was typing.

Yes. Free wireless internet, provided you have a laptop.


Arrived in Florence on Friday, and while there certainly is nothing wrong with the town, it seems to mainly be a support system for its museums that honor Florence as the hub of the Renaissance.

One nice thing about traveling during the off-season is that sites that are normally packed are more managable. There is a reservation system in Florence where you can call ahead and reserve a time to enter their more popular museums, and thus bypass long lines to buy tickets. Which is a good idea, but they charge you 3 euros for the service. When it is crowded, 3 euros is a bargain, but otherwise, forget it. I called and made reservations, but when I got to the Uffizi and the Accademy, I saw that there wasn't any line and just bought a normal ticket.

So I saw Botticelli's "Birth of Venus." Similar to seeing Da Vinci's Mona Lisa, you realize that it's a good painting, but not so good to explain its status as an icon. I really think such status rests on the fact that both paintings are fairly simple and can be appreciated immediately as images rather than as works of art. In other words, there's not much more to be gained by seeing the actual artworks that you won't get from a good photo in an artbook. So they are infinitely reproducable in addition to being immediately accessible. You "get" them instantly. You don't need to spend any time contemplating them, Mona Lisa's famous enigmatic smile notwithstanding.

Not so with Michaelangelo's statue of David. My mother has metioned in this journal that when she saw it, she cried. While the statue didn't move me to tears, it is moving. We all know what it looks like. But the one thing that is never reproduced is the uncertain look in David's eyes. Seen from the front, David is looking to his left and seems to have either a calm or blank expression. But when you walk to his left and see him face forward, the expression changes. It is one (to my eyes) of doubt, of sadness. Granted, this might be my born in the late 20th century/interest in psychological complexity reading, but I spent time studying the face, and I can't see it any other way. It is not the face beautified by being God's instrument in slaying Goliath, it is not the expression of Renaissance humanstic pride in Man, but the face of uncertainty. The contrast between the ideal male form and the sadness in his expression makes this statue heartbreaking.

But perhaps I'm projecting.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Memories of Paris: Le Rock et Roll

As per Michele's request

It's a Sunday night in Paris and I'm at the Locomotive Club next door to the Moulin Rouge. A number of bands playing, and Nicola, a friend of my friends Bob and Michele, has invited me out to see the show. He's dj-ing between sets, which means I get to hang out in the dj stand above the stage. It has the best view of the entire club. Standing there, surveying everything that's going on below me, I can't help but think that I'm sure at one point on that fateful morning, Lee Harvey Oswald thought "You know, if nothing else, this really is a nice view."

When I heard the club was next to the Moulin Rouge, I thought the area would be touristy. It is, but not the sort of tourists I expected. That area of Paris is mainly strip clubs, sex shops, and the like. You have to maneuver around the guys standing in the sidewalk, trying to cajole you into their club as opposed to all the others. Fairly seedy, no pun intended, but nothing worse than parts of old New York.

But the club itself is cool. Nicola is explaining to me that there hasn't really been any rock and roll in Paris in the last ten years, and that the kids playing have had to invent it for themselves. Second Sex, Nicola's favorite band, is playing. They look like skinny French schoolboys playing at a high school assembly, but sound like the Ramones. It sounds good. I mention the sound and Nicola responds enthusiastically "That's what I mean! They've downloaded a couple of tracks, but most of this they've made up for themselves."

He also mentions a more disconcerting fact: No-one in Second Sex is much beyond 16. "Oh wait, the drummer just turned 17." I mention (actually, I yell above the sound of the band) that that makes me feel old. "No, no, it should make you feel young!"

At one point during their set, the guitarist has problems with his guitar. Instead of sneering or ignoring him, the other members of the band hurry over to help him out. Like I said, they were young.

Something else about the show that seemed odd: it began on time and stayed on schedule. Nicola had told me the show would start at 8:00, so naturally I should up around 9:30, only to find that I had missed the first three bands. I've lived in New York ten years now (my anniversary was this week - November 1st) and I don't think I've ever been to a rock show that began on time.

Another band takes the stage. They are the grand old men of the burgeoning French rock scene. They are around 22. Like I said, old. They are also serious, not as much fun to watch, and rather full of themselves. They end their set by throwing their instruments on the floor and knocking over some of the drum kit, leaving the audience to stare at the inert instruments while listening to the feedback created. Nicola is disgusted.

"Come on. I mean...now someone has to clean that up."

Between sets, Nicola plays old rock and roll, choice cuts from the 60s and 70s. At one point, he puts on a song and I see French kids do something I previously thought was impossible. They dance to Bob Dylan. More than that, they dance well and with style.

Lightning in a Bottle

I booked a B&B to stay at in Venice online. It was the same service (www.cross-pollinate.com) that I had used in Rome and had great results.

The B&B in Venice was nice, for what it was, but it was no B&B. For one thing, when I got there, Roberto, who ran the B&B, informed me that the woman who normally came in the morning to cook had been running late, so there would be no breakfast. He knocked 5 euros off of each day's charge, which was responible. So it was a "B, no B."

Actually, what it really was was a bed set up in an extra room in their apartment. This didn't really sink in until I was lying in bed and realized what the deal was. It's not that I'm dumb, but you need to understand that the train from Naples was eight hours, ran a little slow, then I had to catch a train to the central Venice train station, then catch a boat, then find my way along the streets. When I booked online, it said to contact the B&B owner if you were going to be more than two hours late from your appointed time. I got there about an hour late and was happy to be there. Venice doesn't really have a nightlife. The city shuts down around 8:30pm, apart from restaurants and bars in some touristy areas.

So I was sleeping in the library of this family's apartment. The walls were lined with bookshelves full of books: Pasolini, Pirindello, Malmaux, etc. There was also a Jean Paul Sartre poster on the wall (no lie, and not hyperbole). I was pretty happy to be sleeping in a library, and went to bed.

Still it felt a little odd. As I may have mentioned before, I don't really hang around wherever it is I'm staying. I'm out sightseeing during the day, I catch a bite to eat at a restaurant or bar, and only return to the hotel or whatever at night to go to bed. When I returned the second night, I heard the family's child ask who it was at the door before the mother hushed them in to their room. Had the mother and father been running a B, not B out of their home and somehow kept it from the kid? In any case, I sat in my room listening to music on my iPod (Beta Band, Neko Case) until I heard the family retire. This took about an hour or so.

Except they didn't fully retire. The kid, who sounded 12 or 13, decided to take an hour long shower, beginning at 11:30 at night. Now, I heard the shower starting, and even though I had to go to the bathroom, I figured it was late enough that the kid would be done soon and go to bed. He was still showering at ten to twelve, and now I really had to use the bathroom. I decided to be polite and wait. He was still in there, water still running (the sound of which didn't help matters any) at 12:15. I could no longer wait. My stomache was bloated, round like a basketball. I was in serious pain and starting to worry that I was going to actually wet myself. I figured I had two choices: I could either go down to the street and piss in the canal, or find something other vessel nearby.

I had an empty 1.5 liter bottle of water that I had drunk, and periodically refilled at one of Venice's many water fountains. Yeah, no wonder I had to go so bad. Holding the bottle up to "little John" and aiming very carefully, I pissed into the empty water bottle. The sense of relief once I began was incredible and immediate. However, as the bottle began to fill and I showed no sign of slowing down, I began to worry what I would do if I had more piss than bottle. Empty it out the window and start again? March into the bathroom and dump it on the kid's head? Happily, I finished with a little bit of space to spare in the bottle.

Another ten minutes after that (there's no way I could have lasted that short amount of time) I heard the bathroom door open. I waited a few minutes to make sure that no-one in the family would be lurking around to catch me with my bottle o'piss, then dumped it in the toilet.

I am happy to report that the B&B I am staying at in Florence is a legit B&B. Although I have noticed that it's billed as a "Bed & Bed." It doesn't provide breakfast either, but there are two twin beds in my room, so I guess they are telling the truth.