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Fri, May. 28th, 2010, 09:27 pm
Florence - Friday, May 28, 2010, part II

Have I flooded your livejournal page yet? My laptop clock tells me it's after 9pm and I have a big day visiting Pisa and Lucca tomorrow. Going through the rest of the week should be a short exercise.

Tuesday 5/25/10 - This morning I shadow an introduction to art class. We spend three hours wandering around Florence while the instructor points out major sights and discusses the nuances of art and architecture. We stroll across the Arno River and finish the trip with a rigorous walk up a steep hill to lookout. Bearing the sweat and heat was worth it, the view of the city and the surrounding hilltops is delightful. The river below gingerly slices the city in two. I snap pictures and attempt to absorb it all with my mind's eye. Here I am in Florence enjoying the skyline, my only concern is whether to grab a gelato or not before I walk home.

Wednesday 5/26/10 - The morning is consumed by a class trip to a shipping company. We hear from company managers about various rules and regulations related to their industry. After the lecture we visit a warehouse. Coincidentally, many of the piled boxes contain good of high fashion -- Jimmy Choo and Gucci to name a few. The female students find this part of the course most worthwhile. The male students find some semi-nude pin ups that capture their interest. In between the boxes and distractions, I do my best to slip in learning moments.

In the evening, I climb to the top of Florence's Duomo. The 463-step climb is an adventure in itself. And the top of the dome offers startling views. This is best described in pictures, and will post those when I get my laptop back in order.

Thursday 5/27/10 - The highlight of this day is a trip to the Duomo's art museum, where our professor describes sculptures that are connected in some way to Florence's beautiful cathedral. The highlight is Michaelangelo's Pieta, a sculpture of the newly-dead Christ which was to be used to mark Michaelangelo's own tomb. Imagine carving a monunment for where you would be laid to rest. Imagine completing a major work like this in old age. Pictures to follow.

Friday 5/28/10 - A trip to Siena and San Gimignano. I'm running out of steam and will return to this later. Bottom line - Siena is gorgeous, and pound for pound just as pretty as Florence, maybe more so. San Gimignano is a quaint village. It's pretty and ... that's about it.

Fri, May. 28th, 2010, 09:04 pm
Florence - Friday, May 28, 2010

My visit to Italy continues. Classes have begun in earnest. The routine of life takes over. Although I have pulled the plug on Connecticut for six weeks, life at my employer goes on. There are editorial board obligations, emails to answer, a book review to write, and a host of other minutae that consume hours of my time. I dare not overprotest, however. I like my work and actually don't mind the time spent clicking away at my laptop. This leaves less time for touring, and more adventures await.

And so I scribe the day-to-day, corresponding by date, in a summary fashion. This is as much for my few but appreciated readers (Hi Becky, Larry, and Dad!) as it is for me to set down the memories before they fade way.

Monday, 5/24/10 - the day begins with a visit to the police. No, I haven't done something bad. In fact, all the student and I travel together. Apparently each of us has to register with the local caribineri. We queue up in a chaotic mass of a line. A bureaucrat calls our name, glances at our passport, checks it with an application form we submitted earlier, and we are on our way. No questions. No fuss. The obligation seems more like a government relic than a measure of national security. I walk to the institute to present my class.

My course is legal and ethical issues of doing business in Italy. The morning is mostly an introduction and covering basic material about international business. The class ends at 12:30 and I trot off through a maze narrow cobblestone streets to a local eatery. A visual menu of hot lunch choices greet me behind glass. I grab whatever looks interesting (today, Lasagna) and carry it back to the institute to accompany an afternoon of emails and academic writing.

So now might be a good time to talk about food. So tell us, how good is the food in Italy, really? Can you find bad food in Florence? Sure, you can find your McDonalds or some bland grub if you really try. Recall my close encounter with mediocre gelato a few nights ago. But this is a challenge. The worst food I've eaten so far came from a cafeteria in the city center. This place made no pretentions to greatness. Tucked away on a second floor. Florescent lights and linoleum floors greet a patron who grabs a plastic tray and slides it down a metal serving line plucking choices from shelves. Picture your high school cafeteria. No frills. Just cheap food (my entire meal was 6 euros, and I ate too much). Snarfing down spaghetti with meat sauce, I realize that this institutional pasta from this el-cheapo cafeteria is not bad at all. It could pass for fine at any local generic Italian resturant in the states. From what I vaguely remember about Olive Garden, it tastes better than that. And remember this is the low low end stuff.

I could go on about the cuisine, but my assessment is essentially this. Food in Italy is one notch-higher quality than what you would get in equivalent type eatery in the US. Food from cheap-o cafeteria is as good as any local Italian restaurant in the United States in your hometown. Food in a local Italian eatery or luncheon place is as good as the semi-fancy Italian restaurants nearby where you live. Food at slightly more expensive Italian restaurants is as good or better than the real fancy stuff at home. And finally, if you choose to dine at a really reputable Italian resturant, it is simply higher quality and more delightful than anything back home.

One example sticks out. On a busy day I grab a small sandwich, prosuitto and cheese on a baguette roll for about 3-4 Euro. This is their quick food from a local place. Get it and go. The bread tastes fresh and doughy. The meat is full-flavored. The cheese is robust and flavorful. It tastes about as good as the reputable local deli in town at home. And to the Italians its a generic sandwich.

If Subway every tried to serve their food here, the franchise would implode and shatter the food-culture continuum. Only Americans would dare keep the place alive. The bottom line: food is better here. Not everywhere (near touristy spots with a captured clientele), and not always (basic grub spots), but food is better overall. The ingredients are fresh. The products are not shipped a thousand miles and frozen. Small shops, not mega-corporations, pervade the industry. Italians, 1. United States, 0.

Returning from my detour, the rest of the day proves uneventful. The afternoon is consumed by emails and journal article editing. The evening begins with an 'apertivo' (pre-dinner social) for the faculty here. I meet a wide array of interesting people. A few are business faculty, most are solidly in the humanities. These latter folks interest me. I learn that there is a whole sub-discipline on archiving and old manuscripts. I weasel invitations to class activities when I can. If I consider myself a student of life, then what better place to get an education than in Italy with local faculty. A dinner with the institute director completes the evening and I return home full and happy.

Sat, May. 22nd, 2010, 10:24 pm
Florence - Saturday 5/22

I'm on a blogging tear tonight. I have no distractions. No video games. No one to talk with. The memories of Italy are fresh in my mind. What a beter time than to get all this down before it quickly fades behind the next experience.

It is now nearly 10pm. As predicted, the student noise has blossomed into a din. Their excited conversations echo across the courtyard. It is not quiet a racket, but might soon graduate to such. This is their first weekend night here, so I can only guess how late they will stay at home. Hopefully they will go out and enjoy themselves, leaving the silent peace of this drab but quiet Italian courtyard to me.

So I write about today, Saturday, May 22, 2010. I wake up around 9am. My body requests rest. The siren call of my Connecticut sleep rhythms is still there, but less strongly than before. I pull myself out of bed, munch on Cheerios, and plan my day.

First stop is the Institute, where I want to check emails and catch up on work. I stumble into a flood of students crammed into the small space that houses the study abroad offices. They are registering for courses and signing up for special events.

I should mention for a moment the office digs. This ain't no Office Space. The institute is housed in a former palace. A centuries old powerful Italian family, which is still around, rents the building to the Institute. Each room has double doors, high ceilings, and frescoes all over. It does not take much imagination to realize that this was a real friggin palace back in the day. No, not quite the opulence of the powerful Medicis but impressive nonetheless. Today, it is filled with desks and chairs. Yet the history, so exciting for us newish Americans and so common for Europeans, remains.

I peek into a particularly noisy room. There is absolute pandemonium. Dozens of students wait in line and crowd a frazzled young staff member who is accepting applications for external trips. The staffer, barely older than a college student herself, is a warm person whom I have gotten to know. She seems me and immediately asks for help with the student throng.

This is no really my job and definately not my responsibility. No matter. I do not hestitate. I gladly accept and get to work, fielding questions from students, handing out forms, and managing the ever growing line.

I like undergraduates, and even ignoring the noise pentrating my Villa as I write this, I know that these as a whole are friendly and kind. Yet the behavior of some perplexes me. They have the opportunity to visit Siena, Lucca, San Gimigiano, and Pisa on two separate bus trips complete with professor guide for fifty euros a piece. Siena is a gorgeous Italian town that some say is more beautiful than Florence. Lucca is a hidden gem where few tourists dare to venture. Pisa as the leaning tower. San Gimigano is a splendid little village on a hill with breathtaking views. To get in on this you don't have to do a thing except get on a bus and enjoy. What would be your reaction? Mine too. Hell, yeah! I am so all over these trips. I sign up for both without a moment's hesitation.

Not these young people. While many sign right up, an appreciable number hem, haw, and hesitate. What days are they? Can I go on one or not the other? Is it really on Saturday? How much is it? Can I go with my friends? I quickly become frustrated and start to sell these bus trips. It's the Leaning Tower of Freakin Pisa, people, when are you gonna see this again? Lucca is totally awesome! All you have to do is get your butt on a bus? Some students look at me like I'm selling them a trip to nowhere. Others behave like such a trip would distract them from other liquid-focused activites. Most are happy to go and I remind myself of this often.

The crowds fade and my beleagured friend is grateful. She buys me a quick thank you coffee (I choose hot chocolate instead, thick and delicious), and back to emails and adminisratium I go. The Director comes by and thanks me for helping out. My good deed did not go unnoticed. An unexpected benny.

Late afternoon comes, and I am off to the Pitti Palace. The Pitti family built this castle like monstrosity, but ran out of dough and sold it to the famous Medici's, who took it as their home. The palace is now a museum filled with paintings. Unlike more recent museums, this one displays the works in a chaotic fashion. Artists and genres are mixed up almost at random. Rooms with minor works are punctuated by the occasional masterpiece. I drift from room to room, using my guidebook to tell me which paints are worth a closer look. The small museum takes me nearly two hours to finish. I leave the museum, stroll across the Ponte Vecchio, stop for a moment to enjoy the Arno river at sunset, and make the fifteen to twenty minute walk across the city home. These walks are no mere trifles. Much people watching occurs and a simple stroll is like watching a foreign film where I move the camera whereever the heck I want.

I pass by a small restaurant nestled into a quiet street off the beaten path. Prices are low, tourists absent, and it comes recommended by a Florence veteran. Yet, I am alone, and social cold feet get the best of me, so I take a rain check and walk home. I promise myself I will return again, companion in tow or not, for some fine cuisine and relaxation.

So that brings me to ... right now. It is well after 10pm. The students still chatter. The florescent light above me casts harsh cold shadows on my antiseptic kitchen. Tomorrow is Sunday. Not much is open. I have more work to do. I'll probably sit in the courtyard with my laptop. I dream of a old library somewhere, full of dusty books in beauiful bookcases, where I can make a home. I'll pester my hosts when I see them again. For now it looks like just me and a table near home. Then Monday classes begin in earnest and *that* will be a whole new chapter to this exciting adventure.

Sat, May. 22nd, 2010, 09:44 pm
Florence - Friday 5/21

Yikes, Ive written a whole bunch and have barely covered a few days. I keep posting so as not to lose it all through some freak crashing of windows or Internet Explorer. My laptop is frazzled and the smallest quirk from my loaned machine makes me nervous.

Friday is student orientation. We are bussed up to a restaurant in the village of Friesole, the location of a Etruscan fort long long ago. The orientation is at a restaurant closed for the day. The seats sport a breathtaking view of the city of Florence below. This view is right out of a move script. Sculpted hills backdrop the bustling city. Over it all sports the famous Duomo dome. A colleague and I pick out buildings from the skyline. The weather is warming up, the sun shining through the leaves of trees which grow through the eating area of this restaurant. I have no responsibilites. No obligations. This is what I came to Italy for. This is where I will take *you* if anyone reading this comes to Florence and I happen to be teaching here again.

The orientation is a series of speeches from study abroad administrators. They talk about housing, keys, expenses, classes, registration, and special events. Jet lag is back with a vengenace (with its newfound ally two hours of sleep) and I long to put my head down on the table and slumber in front of two hundred students.

The highlight of the orientation is a hour talk by a police inspector, who warns the students about the risks of going out and getting drunk late at night in Florence. This is no keystone cop, the officer in front of us is a muscular, broad shouldered, dark-haired with a hint of gray, square jawed Italian. One does not need to perfer the masculine gender to know this man is very good looking. The word is when he spoke last year, the co-ed's swooned. Now I see why.

His lecture, however, is all business. He speaks with much force and clarity about the risks of fooling around in Florence. Only five girls were raped last year in Florence, he tells us, as this is a safe city for its size. All five were drunk American students. He repeats this again, more slowly and with greater volume, for effect. No girls swoon now. This isn't a place to mess around. There are those that prey on American college students for a living. There are those that target American girls. He says this. He knows his business. We believe every word. His mantra, repeated over and over again, is "they will recognize you, but you won't be able to recognize them." One hour later we are forewarned of the risks and forearmed with measures to stay safe. Thinking too much makes me want to not leave my apartment for the next six weeks.

Lunch arrives, which in true huskyprof form immediately distracts me from any thoughts of street crime, or anything else for that matter. Lunch is delightful. The restaurant did not bring out the cheap stuff for this group. No doubt the study abroad people are well connected in Italian society and expect the best service. The pasta is cooked al dente with a hint, just a hint, of a rich sauce. Vegetables and side dishes are similarly delectable. The flavor of the food is amplified and robust. This is real food. It has not been on a truck for three thousand miles or freeze dried for two days. The lunch is fresh and good just like mama proverbially made.

The highlight, predictably for me, is the pizza. All it has is bread, a little bit of cheese, and a small covering of sauce. It looks like that crappy institutional pizza that dorms will serve to late night students or you find at the low end of the frozen food aisle. It tastes like culinary heaven. The sauce is brimming with tomato taste. The cheese is a separate rich flavor all its own. And the bread, the bread!, is doughy and fresh. When was the last time you ever went gaga over a pizza crust? No, I can't remember either, but this crust was a meal in itself. Predictably I eat too much, and sit back on my chair plump and satisfied.

Too fast, the orientation meal ends and the bus takes us home. On the way there and back, I befriend a fellow instructor. His topic is watercolor. Hearing about a topic so completely different from my own is interesting, hearing about where he is taking the students is divine. Apparently the students will be traveling throughout Italy to paint. Want to paint in Rome? He'll be there. Want to paint in the Vatican's private gardens? Oh yeah, you are painting there too. Venice? Yup, we'll visit there and watercolor the heck out of it. Want to visit Bramasole, the house featured in Under the Tuscan Sun? He knowns the author, and oh yeah, you'll be going there too. Sitting on the friggin' grounds painting the friggin' Under the Tuscan Sun house. By now my mind is just racing with excitment and I blurt out that I wanna come too. I'll pay, I'll sweep the bus, I'll do anything, gaah! Taaake me!

Phew. Well, I had the presence of mind enough to be more subtle than that. His response, however, was what my little voice told me he'd say (I should listen more to that voice). His response was if you want to buy the paints and materials than watercolor for hours at a time than anyone is welcome. He also mentions a colleague at his home university who begged to join him and how he mentioned these same rules. We are not tourists, he says, and I told this person this is a serious course. He's right, and he just said 'no' in the most diplomatic way possible. Yeah, yeah, I wanna go. Maybe next time.

The bus returns and I head home for the early end of the day. Hand plunged in my pocket, firmly grabbing my wallet, I walk the cobble stone streets and watch the fading sun reflect off centuries-old walls and shuttered windows that have greeted many thousands of sunsets before today. I reach my apartment, eat, wax poetic for that pizza, and fall asleep in my cold and vacant bedroom with no trouble whatsoever.

Sat, May. 22nd, 2010, 09:04 pm
Florence and the half day

So here I am. It's 2pm and Ive just eaten breakfast. Some sights have already closed. I know there is much preparation to do. I stroll past the Duomo, the fashion district, and reach the foreign study institute to check mail and catch up.

By the time I am done, it's early evening. Museums and such are out. Yet there are two exhibits that have a late showing, open until 11pm. And, remarkably, they are free. I stroll the two blocks to the Palazzo Strozzi (http://www.palazzostrozzi.org) and find no lines whatsoever to get the free tickets and walk around. Free day usually means packed day, so I smile, check my backpack, pay the nominal fee for the audioguide and dive right in.

There are two exhibits. One is called As Soon As Possible, a modern art exhibit that focuses on the ever compressing view of time in modern life. Highlights include a stream of water droplets that fall from the ceiling and form words for an instant and then disappear. The water is connected to Google News and 'prints' words that people to use to search. I watch for a minute or two, hoping for some scandalous entertainment as a bad word or two streams into view. No such luck and I watch as nothing more exciting than 'News', '2010', and 'London' form and disappear. I drift through the remaining exhibits and climb the stairs to a modern art exhibit on De Chirico.

De Chirico is an early twentieth century modern artist who believed that reality was to be found inward and through the mystery of forms and not outward through an understanding of reality. His works apparently influenced a generation of modern painters. By strange coincidence I actually know something about the guy. He peaked in the 1920s during the surrealist movement, then in the 30s somewhere became a baroque painter. People thought this later work was so-so, and he got ticked off, attacking his earlier work as inferior. Predictably, the exhibit only focuses on this earlier period. De Chirico would not have approved.

So I walk slowly through, audioguide in hand. I like to take my time on the rare opportunitites I have to visit art museums, and being able to stroll from painting to painting is a real treat. I absorb the painting, listen the the guide, and try to get a sense of the context of the work. Some I understand, some confuse me, some look better on cereal box. I leave by late evening quite satisfied with my little artsy self.

I step out into the narrow Florentine streets. Florence at night, something I have never seen before (yes, I was in those museums for a long time). The sidewalks are as active as ever. Well-dressed couples stroll aimlessly. A soprano with a pure and sensual voice belts out songs to wisful Italian. A crowd gathers and applauds.

A square unfolds in front of me. A ferris wheel with lights ablazing turns with a few happy children and parents. Tourists sit on terraces sipping coffee. Young people stand around with no particular place to go.

On a whim I stop a gelato shop and head right towards it. There are two dozen flavors heaped into gigantic luscious piles. Florence is known for gelato. I am not especially hungry, and inspite of a quiet voice telling me to pass for now, I drift in for a scoop.

My first unheeded sign was that the attendant asks me, in English, what I would like. I ask for some Cherry flavor in choppy Italian. She stuffs the gelato into a tiny cup, hands it to me, and pronounces the five euro price.

Five Euros! For a pathetically small cup of gelato? Is she serious? Too stunned to quibble, I hand over my money and scuttle away.

Strolling home, the noisy square fading in the distance and flanked by picturesque European apartments I barely notice, I try some of my pricey treat. I scoop and swallow. I look down at the pink stuff with disappointment. It is colorful and sweet, but not really gelato. Theres no richness to the flavor. Finally I put two and two together and hear what my little voice was trying to tell me all along. Don't buy gelato in touristy squares. You'll pay much for crappy stuff. Next time will be the real thing, I promise myself that.

I go home, snack, and continue my read of Under the Tuscan Sun. I plow through a whole bunch of it because I am up most of the night. I have been awake less than twelve hours and now is the time to pay the price. I finally drift to bed around 4am and rise a few hours later. Thursday awaits me and my first required-ish event, a student orientation at a restaurant in a village above Florence. Excitement awaits.

Sat, May. 22nd, 2010, 08:32 pm
Florence Day 4

Today is Friday, May 22, 2010. I sit in a cheap plastic fold up chair next to a small white kitchen table scarred with black scratches. As I finish my explorations for the day, the students are intent on starting theirs. I know this because my apartment is a stone's through away where about fifteen of them live. The audible but indiscernible mix of voices travels through the courtyard that we share. Their chatter gets gradually louder as the evening progresses, and then peaks at around 10pm. They are likely gearing up for an evening of drinks and nightlife. Soon after, the noise disappaers. This quiet is, of course, most welcome. But I won't enjoy the peace and quiet yet. The sun still shines and noisy birds squeak outside my ground floor window. Night has yet to fall and the pre-drink socializing has yet to commence.

Already the days blur and I am pressed to remember where the time went. I recall going to bed Tuesday soundly beating jet lag. For the first time, I did not crave sleep in the middle of the day just after flying to Europe. Perhaps it was a mix of drinking lots of water on the plane and keeping myself busy that following day. I close the windows, lock the thick shutters, and fall quickly to sleep at the perfectly decent hour of midnight.

I awake in what seems like a moment and flick my eyes towards the alarm clock. Tapping the light button, I am greeted with a blinding green LED that says 1:45. I'm immediately frustrated and envision a long night of sleepnessness, twisting and turning on the hard mattress and shivering under the barely sufficient covers. The weather has been downright cold in Florence recently, a truly unusual event in mid-May in a city known for its scorching temperature. I grab blankets from the closest and steal others from the currently unused guest room. The marble floor and high ceilings grant me no relief.

Notice how I failed to mention the heat. Yes, the apartment has heat. Italy is not primitive state. However, the heat does not work. This is not due to a cheap landlord but because of Italian law that prohibits residences from using heat in their homes for approximately five months out of the year. May is a no heat month. So the landlords just turn the systems off, lest they are inspected and fined. So I pull the covers over my head and curl up to stay warm.

But its 1:45, and I don't feel especially tired. I hear cars drive by in the distance. Voices echo from the street. The light, as it were, of recognition dawns on me as rays of sun peek through the shutters. The clock reads 1:45pm. That post-meridian people, and I have just slept nearly fourteen hours.

Fourteen hours! I leap out of bed and open the windows, desperate to get my body back on an Italian rhythm. I know it is too late for that, as my body has managed to keep its anchor sleep time from the United States. Jet lag just came back with a vengenace and there is no way in Hades that tonight will be an easy rest. I grumble expletives at the wall as I shave, shower, and prepare for what's left of the day.

More to come.

Wed, May. 19th, 2010, 10:48 am
Florence Day 1

As many of you know, I am teaching an undergraduate for six weeks in Florence. The undergradutes are able to enjoy themselves in Europe and said instructor creates a new course from scratch and takes some time here and there to see the proverbial sights.

I've only been here for twenty-four hours so I am still in the getting-settled mode. The eight hour flight from New York was uneventful. The time passed watching shows on the ipod. One show = one hour = one-eighth the way to Italy. After arriving in Pisa, taking an hour shuttle to Florence and then a taxi to my apartment I am finally able to see the digs I've been told so much about.

Yep, this is a two bedroom apartment. Living room and kitchen are on the first floor and with two bedrooms on the second. The rooms are high-celinged and spacious. Windows complete with shutters and bars look out onto a quiet little courtyard. The din of the city life is muted in my Villa, and when I close the shutters completely the noise of scooters, cars, and the occasional rooster (!) fade nearly away.

Sounds majestic doesn't it? Well, the ambiance leaves something to be desired. The walls are white. The cabinets are white. The shelves are white. The table is white. The walls are of course ... white. Everything is an industrially pale white. The best single word to describe this "Villino", as the Italians call it, is -- cold. There's nothing on the walls. The marble floor looks like it belongs in a commercial kitchen or basement. The backsplash in the kitchen is pukey green. And not that Pottery Barn green either. Every step echoes hollow throughout the apartment. The double bed is two old mattresses wrapped by a single sheet. There are of course no photos or decorations. Bed, chair, stove, table, are all present yes, but this is not a place that gives off a warm fuzzy feeling. The place reminds me of what Fairfield Hills Hospital must have looked like back in the day. Italian charm is absolute zero. Clocktor's living room it ain't.

Yeah but, dude, who cares right? I'm living in Florence. Firenze man! And if I want serious visual sights I just have to walk outside. Step through the gate to the apartment complex, turn left, and the Duomo peeks above low-rise buildings. It's right there. The place that tourists flock to from around the world is right. friggin. there. It's so close, so convenient, I'm almost blase' about it. Twenty-three hours in Italy and I'm already a grizzled local.

The walls, churches, stores, streets, and cars are assuredly Italian. The people are decidedly not. Well, yeah, there are Italians wandering about. They zip by in scooters and strut about in latest fashion. They chat on street corners with cigarettes dangling from stained fingertips. Still, the place is rife with tourists. Heck, the place is rife with Americans. I hear English constantly. Husband and wife with camera in two. Families bent over street maps. The most visible are the college students. Gaggles of them stroll about. There are 20,000 US students doing study abroad in Florence every year. Think about that. Twenty thousand.

I was told that during the summer there are more foreigners than locals in Florence. This was hard to believe until now. As one travel guide author wrote, too many locals and Florence risks turning into a Renaissance theme park - a Florentine Six Flags if you will. Fortunately, the enormous history and beauty of the place dwarfs even the most voluminous of American sightseeing hordes. Yet, the influence of all these visitors is real. Part of the fun visiting a new place is being able to slip into the stream of ordinary European life. The closer one travels to the molten core of the historical center, the less that is possible. Wander away from the Duomo and modern Europe appears again in it's chaotic and mundane splendor.

It's 10:45, and time to visit the institute where I will teach. The building is a short walk away by Italian standards, a hike for us car-loving Americans. Time for administratium that must accompany any class.

For now, I will walk purposefully by some of the most beautiful buildings in Europe. I'm a local, you know. I have places to go. People to see. Too busy for all that.

So when can I play tourist? Not yet, but maybe soon.

Fri, Apr. 16th, 2010, 11:51 pm
Our visitor

For one glorious week a year, huskywife's parents go to Rhode Island for a week to vacation at a time share. During that week, we have the honor of hosting their little white Lhasa Apso named FuFu.

I wrote about FuFu on Facebook. Let's not mince words, shall we? This dog is a misbehaving, insolent little shit of an animal.

The thing does not listen to commands. It stinks to high hell. It chews anything it wants. It does not care about anyone or anything. Well, there is one person. That would be my mother-in-law, who feeds the grimy white pooch a unwavering diet of table scraps, German cuisine, and McDonald's hamburgers.

The crowing achievement of this god-awful creature is its willingness to piss and poop wherever and whenever it wants. This week, I guarantee you the dog will shit on the kitchen floor, the carpet, in our son's playroom, and in some hard to reach place that we will only discover after the mongrel is gone.

He's been here for six hours now. He has already chewed on clothing, ignored huskywife's entreaties, and pissed a ginormous lake of urine on our upstairs hardwood floor. When I call the dog for any reason other than mealtime, he hides under a nearby couch or bed.

The dog cannot be trusted. We have to leash the dog constantly and tie him up to a table leg whenever we leave the house. The area must be free of chewable objects. We must expect that anything in the radius of the leash will be covered in piss and/or shit when we return.

I have not even mentioned nighttime. For fifty one weeks a year we sleep soundly, just the two of us, in our bedroom. Not with FuFu, whom must be in the very same room with us all night long, lest he obsessively bark and whine until his perverse wishes are granted. So, FuFu sleeps in our room, leashed loosely to a bed post. We lie in the dark and wait as the beast breaks the night silence with groans, mutters, huffs, twists and whines.

During brief pauses of this delightful canine orchestra, FuFu is ever testing his reach for something, anything, to chew to pieces. Occasionally we are not careful, and favored clothing is ruined. When we are lucky, he merely finds a loose tissue to shred into a hundred vile little wet pieces. As if the dog's very curse contaminates every object it touches, the shreds of doggie-drool drenched tissue defy easy cleanup. They must be hand swept or plucked with fingers reaching deep under our bed where the shreds find their home.

Mind you we do not torture this dog. We do not beat the dog. We do not yell at the dog. We do not feed the dog rat poison. We walk the dog very frequently. We pet the dog. We talk to the dog in pleasant tones. In spite of our mercy, the dog acts this way. The dog is not stupid. The dog is not suffering from illness. The dog acts this way because his heart is filled with a pure narcissistic evil. We dare not discipline. We cannot cure in seven days what a lifetime of wrongness has wrought.

This dog has one good quality. He is thirteen years old. Someday, FuFu's burger-filled destructive lifestyle will catch up him. When the dog dies, I will indeed mourn his loss. I will mourn his loss not because I care for the dog, but because others do. Other humans will feel loss. I will feel their loss. So I will miss the dog.

But that moment is far away. For now, seven days of poop-cleaning and frustration await me. During this week our own dog Farley, whose behavior deteriorates whenever our little guest visits, seems like a pure angel. I appreciate my dog more and more, and I count the days until the week of hell passes, FuFu returns to his rightful owners, and this awful experience fades into memory.

And yes, FuFu is short for exactly what you think it means.

Mon, Jan. 18th, 2010, 11:39 am
things seen out a study room window

A older man stopped his pickup in front of my house. He gets out, kicks some debris, and gets back in the truck. He drives about twenty feet more, gets out, and picks up a aluminum can from my forested yard. He takes the can, pours out whatever was left in it, and throws it in the back of his truck. He drives another twenty feet, stops, gets out, and picks up another can from my yard. He looks at the can for a moment. This can does not interest him. I know this because he flings it back into my front yard. He gets back into the pickup truck, a well-kept one with nice blue paint and of recent vintage, and drives away.

Why?

Thu, Dec. 24th, 2009, 10:32 am

The holiday marathon begins -- 36 straight hours of travelling and eating and gifting. Sure it's fun, but for that long? Maybe not so much.

I gotta go downstairs. As I type this, the family has gathered and is noshing on Egg Nog Donuts. Have you ever heard of such a thing? Talk about heart attack in a box.

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