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Erik's Book!! - "An Austere Christmas"

Matsumoto
Hi all! Erik's book is out! "A book that cuts to the heart of the draconian budget cuts currently being rolled out under the guise of balancing federal and state budgets." It's listed on CreateSpace, on Amazon.com and you can also buy it for Nook and Kindle right now. More information at http://esviviano.com - WOOT!

Erik's final impressions of Italy

Matsumoto
Before we head off on the second part of our epic trip, I wanted to record a few more of my random thoughts on Italy. I should mention that I'm a bit on the drunk side, so these babblings might be less cohesive than normal - which is really saying something. Alright, here goes...

To begin with, Rome is much, much cleaner than I expected. Before coming to Italy, I had heard mixed reviews on the Eternal City, especially from the Florence-is-best crowd. As a result, I had extremely low expectations for Rome. I imagined narrow, winding alleyways that led you in circles like some Minoan labyrinth; a city filled with dirt and decay, buildings constantly one step away from crumbling; pickpockets on every corner throwing babies and swiping your backpack before you had a chance to blink; taxi drivers that weaved through traffic with less concern for human life than an al-Quada operative; cars and vespas furiously honking in standstill traffic resulting from yet another strike that closed off every road in the city and left drivers to rot for days before resuming work; men whistling and groping every American woman within sight; jostling chaos on the sidewalks that would push any polite pedestrian into the streets where they truly took their life into their own hands. In short, I imagined, well, Naples.

Rome couldn't be more different. This city is ridiculously clean. Maybe not Seattle or Vancouver BC clean, but certainly close. Cleaner than San Francisco by a long shot, and Paris by leaps and bounds. The taxis here move very slow, and stop for peds in crosswalks. I actually found this discerning when we used a taxi upon first getting into the city. "I'm not paying you to obey the laws of traffic. Now run that nun down and get me to my destination or no tips for you!" And while modern Italians have veered dramatically from their Roman ancestors, and prefer roads that run in semi-circles or weave in strange patterns, Rome is a very easy city to navigate. Further, it's really rare to hear someone honk, and when they do it's actually in warning rather than just to be an ass (NYC, I'm talking to you). We've seen one would-be-pickpocket make a weak attempt to see if Galen was a decent target, but we basically watched as he decided it wasn't worth it. As with everywhere, it's always good to be careful, but I think theft in Rome has let up a bit. Before coming to Rome I had heard from many people. "Watch out. If your wife goes out alone, they'll fondle her. Oh, they're so disrespectful to women. They're all pigs. I actually saw a guy go buy on a moped, and grab some girl's ass while he drove by. They catcall everything that isn't a paraplegic donkey with facial deformation!" My ass they do (Pun! Get it? Donkey? Ass? Moving on...). Maybe this is how Rome used to be, but I haven't seen anything even remotely resembling piggish behavior. I've seen a couple guys turn as a particularly hot woman walked by, but only in my periphery, as Galen and I were busy drooling over said woman as well. In almost every way, Rome has exceeded my expectations, and has not failed to impress.

Of babies and dogs. I don't know if it's the low birthrate, or the cramped spaces in which many Italians have to live, but whenever people here see babies or dogs, they flip their shit. Sure in Seattle you might get a few "ooohs" and "ahhhs" if you bring your kid into the office. And yeah, at Greenlake someone might make a comment about how cute your dog is. But here, it's a whole new game. Someone in the middle of the work day? Ain't no thang. They're going to coo over your baby as long as you're in the store. Angry, disenfranchised Italians working menial jobs and largely catering to belligerant tourists in the middle or nowhere. That don't mean shit. You bring a dog up in that place, and their voices are going to rise at least one octave.

Italian trains arrive on time. If they're late, it's like, six minutes late. Seattle buses are worse than that. By far. I don't know if Italy heard all of the comments about its trains and actually took things to heart, or if it's just natural progress, but things move in a pretty timely manner here. Okay, I haven't really been to the south, where it's supposed to be really bad, but the north and center of the country are doing just fine. Maybe not the same as Japan's-set-your-watch-to-our-trains style, but certainly much better than I anticipated. Maybe this is what happens when you don't spend one sixth of your nation's tax dollars on the military.

Homogenous food can be a drag. Galen and I just finished eating our last dinner in Italy. What did we have? Spanish tapas. And they fucking rocked. The first three days in Italy, that pizza and pasta is pretty good. But after that, the charm starts to fade a bit day by day. After two weeks, you'd kill to eat a vegetable that wasn't eggplant or bell pepper. You'd kidnap someone's child and face the wrath or Denzel Washington just to get some decent fiber. Or at least you'd want to. But after two weeks of carb on carb action, it's a feat just to fit in your pants. Yes, walking 5 - 10 miles a day helps, but only to a point. After that, you start to settle in, order dessert, and ask for someone to please bring you Han Solo and the wookie. So while I really have found some great food in Italy, the people who write books about it and wax poetic about the right kind of ingredients or the perfection of cheese either have some seriously elastic pants, or a metabolism that makes Germany seem inefficient. That said, we did have a night where a cheese plate almost moved me to tears.

When do Italians sleep? Can anyone shed some light on this. If you're out till 11PM with your friends, have a marching band go by at 1AM, have some crazy ass nuns ring church bells like the fucking sky is falling at 7AM, and have construction projects begin at 7:30AM...when the hell do you sleep?

Helmets people, helmets. As an over-the-top safety-first Seattle bicyclist, I've been a little alarmed to see brazen people on their bikes at night without any lights, helmets, or reflective gear. (Note to self: Open bike store and high-end pet store in Rome. Make killing. But not the kind someone would make if they hit one of these risk-taking bicyclists).

What the hell, Saints? I've been to a lot of museums before, and seen a pretty fair amount of art. So it must be that I'm completely unaware of what I'm actually viewing, because it's shocking to only be noticing this now. Anyway, what gives with saints carrying around objects used to either grievously wound them, or kill them? I've asked a couple people, and the best answer I've received so far is that it makes it easy to identify the saints in the many, many portrayals you see of them. This seems fair, especially in some early art work from say the 13th or 14th century, when people were limited to pretty much painting an image of a couple people with a gold background. At that point, reminders of the saints are pretty helpful. But in later artwork, when perspective and background is added, the tokens of each saint become a bit comical. Especially when said saints are in heaven. Did they decide to hold onto the objects of their torture and take them to the afterlife? Are they conversation starters?

"Hey Saint Sebastian. How are those arrows treating you?"

"Not too bad, St. Bartholomew. Hey, did anyone ever tell you that the face on your flayed skin looks a lot like Michelangelo?"

"Har har, Saint-of-pedophiles-and-closeted-Christians-everywhere. Maybe I should stick another arrow in your neck and shut you the hell up!"

"Bring it Saint Flabbyskins! Once a Roman soldier, always a Roman soldier. Let me show you what we used to do to the Persians!!"

"What you used to do to Persian boys, you mean."

"Oh that does it old man. I hope you're ready to see how much my fist weighs. WaaaCHAIIII."

"KiiiiYAAAAHHHH."

Shit, I'm still drunk. Alright, and that wraps up my impressions of Italy. See you in Greece.

Naples, I am NOT amused.

Matsumoto
I don't know what it was... the dirty streets, the pan handlers and street schleppers or the lack of street signs on 75% of the streets and 75% of the map (making it freaking impossible to get anywhere)... or maybe the fact that it was Sunday and everything was closed... but I just was not impressed. I'm feeling incredibly happy that our original plane to Greece was cancelled, causing us to ditch the 2 nights in Naples that we'd planned and instead extending our Rome leg of the trip. Rome, I have a much greater appreciation of you than I did this morning - not that it wasn't fantastic to start with.

Naples was so bad, in fact, that we purchased entirely new train tickets back to Rome so that we didn't have to either explore more or sit at the train station for 3.25 hours. To be fair, the knock off purses sold on every corner are pretty impressive, but not enough to base a trip on.

Further, it occured to us that we'd never really reevaluated our trip to the National Museum in Naples after that initial plane cancellation. The financial cost, the waste of time both directions (over 3 hours RT) and the stress of getting entirely lost in a new city with no where to turn (lest we get pick pocketed, which at least one guy was scoping us out for) may not have been worth it....

EXCEPT that...

This is the museum that all of the treasures from Pompei are stored. Yes, INDEEDY. 2,000 year old mosaics, frescoes and statues rescued from Pompei (and other Vesuvian ciities, but mostly Pompei). Holy Fawn. I was almost in tears the entire time - such works of art crafted beautifully to be cherished and lost to the ages instead - possibly days after the crafting, maybe years. Also, so many technologies were lost 2,000 years ago that the Renaissance rediscovered mere centuries ago... what would the world have been like if the dark ages hadn't existed? It blows the mind.

Annyhow, time for some book lovin'. Night, y'all.

Erik's ponderings on Italy: Part Two

Matsumoto
Two words for you Italy. You ready? Here is goes: Iced Americano. I know what you're thinking. Maybe I sound a bit Imperialistic trying to push my drink of choice onto your country. Maybe it's too radical to conceive of an iced coffee drink without mountains of sugar or milk in it. But I think it's time. Your culture does so many other things almost to perfection. Clearly, you know how to dress well, you have an abundance ridiculously hot women, to make cheese that can bring conversation to a stand still, to weave effortlessly through traffic on Vespas, to rally for work after staying out until 1AM. There's really nothing you deny yourself, except. for simple, unsweetened, iced coffee. But I think it's time to embrace it. You don't need to martyr yourself with scorching hot espresso on 85 degree days. I know that this was once the country of the Pope, but the Vatican has receded behind its walls and allowed you to thrive in the consumerist "me-centric" era the rest of the west is living in. So come down from your final cross, and embrace the iced americano. You'll be amazed at how good it feels.

So when I last left off with my ramblings on this vacation, our train was pulling into Florence. So much grafitti! I'm actually a little astounded by the amount of grafitti I've seen here. Even for European standards, it's a little aggressive. I know that there are some very vocal defenders of grafitti: it's street art; it's a way for the disenfranchised to express themselves, to make their mark on a materialistic world that has left them behind and placed happiness beyond their reach; it's truly democratic art, in a constant, beautiful flux where nothing is sacred or beyond revision - a stark contrast to the unchanging and untouchable classic art now hidden away in museums and preserved from the ravages of time behind bullet proof glass. I truly wish I could see tagging in this way. But to me, it's always been dogs pissing on trees. That said (jumping a bit out of the chronological order of my trip), I really did enjoy seeing some of the grafitti left behind by the germanic (and largely Lutheren) mercenaries when they sacked the Vatican. "Here's your 96th thesis biyotch". Okay, probably none of the grafitti says this directly, but you get the idea.

Back to Florence...beyond the graffitti, I immediately felt more comfortable in Florence than I did in Venice. As we settled into our apartment, I felt my body physically loosen up. Part of it was just having more space - our Venice hotel made Japanese hotels seem spacious. But part of it was just that the culture of Florence was much more too my liking than Venice. Bicycles everywhere! Little picturesque alleyways everywhere. Far less tourists (at least where we were staying, which was a little ways south of the main part of town). I could easily see how someone from the States could fall in love with Italy living in Florence, as several of my friends have.

On our last day in Florence, Galen and I met a historian who showed us around and definately enriched our visit. I knew a bit about the Republic, and how the Medici came to control the city, but I never knew that there was an order issued to topple the vast majority of towers in the city. Apparently, wealthy families used to use these towers as basis for informal wars against each other. They could store enough food and water to hold up for months if the city's guard got involved. So eventually, the city got sick of the nobles' bullshit and toppled their towers. This goes hand-in-hand with Florence's anti-aristocratic Republic. But the Medicis were the most fascinating for me. Since the historian we met was studying at the Medici library, she had a lot to say on the family, but I'll break it down in a nutshell. Cosimo Medici funded/started the Renaissance to impress foreign dignitaries. There's a lot of background about the Medicis only being bankers and not having royal connections, and needing to prove themselves. But basically, it's another one of those cases where the world benefited from an unintended consequence. Much like me benefiting from WWI American soldiers who couldn't drink straight French coffee, and needed water to break down the bitter taste - hence, Americano.

So yes, Florence was great, but I think Rome has moved me more. Rome is actually a bit ridiculous with how rich it is in history. Today, for example, I stumbled upon the Trevi fountain while on a walk. Just came around the corner and boom, there it was. There are so many landmarks in the center of the city that it's a bit overwhelming. But I still love it. It has this great, thriving energy of a city, but somehow without the franticness that you would find in a place like New York. Yes, people run around and everyone has somewhere to be, but there's still that slight measure of delay that makes it all a bit more humane. Maybe Italians have been trained into it, having to put up with strikes, construction delays, slow moving groups of tourists who fill up the entire sidewalk, etc. Is Rome the Eternal City because everything takes an eternity?

One thing you see a lot of in Rome is statues. Statues of emperors, statues of popes, statues of generals, and a whole lot of statues of angels. I really dig this, but there is one kind of statue that leaves me wondering "what the hell?" These are the statues of angels riding on chariots pulled by horses. Hey angel dude, you have wings. Can't you break those out and propel yourself? I get it if you have to lug some bags around, but angels don't really seem to carry a lot with them. Sometime a sword, sometimes a white lily, sometimes a cross. But by and large, you pack pretty light. Is there any reason why you're making these poor horses lug your heavenly ass around? As a tribute to these statues, I've come up with my own saying: In Italy, even the angels are lazy.

I think I'll wrap my post up here. Maybe I'll have more insights in Greece.

Erik's ponderings on Italy. Part one.

Matsumoto
Travelling through Venice, Florence, and Rome for the first time in my life has been incredible. The difficulty in making any extended post is that most of the people I know have travelled here. Some far more extensively than I have, having lived here for a year. For those of you who have been lucky enough to live here for any decent period of time, I'm envious of you. Be it Florence or Rome (the main centers of American ex-pat-osity), the experience probably was fantastic. You lucky few in particular really don't need to read this, since it's the ramblings of someone who has been here for a whopping 10 days. But you can, if you want to see how little about Italian culture I know...

Bieber bangs have made it to Germany! Yep, that was one of my first jet-lagged impressions in Venice, as I passed a German tour group trying to navigate the same water labrynth I was. And while this was slightly horrifying, it palled in comparison to the Italian mullets I have seen in the Tuscan countryside. Although the latter hair style made me wonder if there was an Italian saying for mullets, and if so, what it was. Any guesses? Business in the front, 17 year old Morrocan girls in the back? Ooooh - how do you like that cheap shot, Berlusconi? Well, if anyone has insight, let me know. Since I have no real hair left, I'm not sure if I have a right to insult those who do, but it just seems like such a waste.

Other thoughts on Venice. For over a thousand years, Venice was bad ass. I mean, bad ass diplomats, bad ass crossbowmen, bad ass ship builders. Now, it's little more than a tourist attraction. Sure, Rome, Paris, Tokyo, and New York receive throngs of tourists. But with populations in the millions, they can absorb the influx of visitors without really sacrificing their character too much. But Venice is different. It's too small, and the locals there seem more like refugees sticking to the back alleyways to avoid the hordes of visitors more than people who are at home in their city. Of all of the things that stuck with me in Venice though, the strangest was not seeing a single car, truck, moped, motorcycle, or bicycle for three days. I've never been in that position before. Even when I lived in Yosemite, or went on multiple day camping trips, it was always in the presence of cars. So when we returned to the "mainland" of Italy, vehicles (on land, anyway) seemed pretty surreal. Oh, and one touristy note - the Palazzo Ducale rocked. Also, if I for some reason ever got into some elite governing body for a city, I can only hope that it had a name as cool as 'The Council of Ten'. Doesn't that sound awesome?

Travelling from Venice to Florence sitting facing backwards and taking in the Italian countryside while listening to Four Tet on my iPod was kind of like watching some wierd art film. It was like the landscape was unfolding in reverse. Also, first class Italian trains are very plush. Hmmm - okay, more on Florence and Rome observations later. Right now I need to get some gelato!

Post number one... something like day 11??

Matsumoto
Yeah - I totally meant to be a good little blogger on this trip and just haven't. In thinking about why, it seems that most of the people that I know have been or plan to be in Italy. It's the consummate tourist destination. Why should I blog about something that practically everyone will experience in their lives? Japan was a different experience - most people are fascinated by the culture, but really have no plans to go. One thing that I heard over and over when we were planning our trip to Japan was: 'What about the language barrier?' ... so my response is... how is it different being in Italy? I still don't speak Italian. After almost 2 weeks here, I can say that the real difference is that there are SO MANY tourists visiting Venice, Rome and Florence that most Italians have to speak English (as well as various other languages) as part of their jobs. Not so in many of the places that we visited in Japan.

Back to it though... I do have a few thoughts on the matter... first up, it's interesting to watch all of the students on the trains and in the alleys running about with their art supplies. I feel deficient. If I were a painter, I think I'd paint various mounds of Gelato. That's pretty much the inspiration right now. If I sculpted, I might do naked forms. In Gelato. Why doesn't any Gelato shop have an in house sculpter?? Why, for that matter, does NO ONE market to the masses here? Maybe it's just the past few years at my job having altered the manner in which my poor brain is wired, but when I see a shirt selling for 150 Euro (Or about 230 USD) just laid out in a window or tacked to a board, it makes my skin crawl. WTF Italy? You have Milan and Rome as centers of fashion and you expect that selling high fashion to the public in this manner is acceptable? I may be a young woman and certainly not in the know as far as fashion, but even *I* know this.

We're staying in an apartment that's in a building that's 500 years old. There are certain laws about renovations in ancient buildings - one of the reasons that people don't like to buy property in the hopes of building something new... if the foundations disturb something ancient it can be months or years until the excavations prove that it's nothing or... in the worst cases, everything is preserved. Anyhow, our apartment is older than our country. Since most buildings are in the same state, grocery shopping is like a treasure hunt. You think you're at the end of the aisle when... Viola!! ... you see steps leading down into another vault where the oils, anchovies and cereals are stored, between which is another alley leading to the pasta. Eggs? Stored on the shelves instead of in the refrigerated cases. I'm not that brave yet.

How is it that everyone is so stunningly beautiful here? It's actually been a chore trying to find vegetables here. Last night we found a great Spanish Tapas place and ordered blanched spinach with pine nuts. GLORIOUS!!! Potatoes in Mint. OMGOMG! After weeks of trying to avoid carbs in droves by cooking in the apartments we've rented, I was thrilled to get some veggies that I didn't cook myself on the plate. And the mojitos were awesome. How is it that all of the women are olive skinned, bright eyed, zero percent body fat, Armani clad, stiletto wearing, Vespa driving goddesses? What demons do they owe their souls to? Yes, there's more walking to be done and a different culture to steep in, but everywhere I turn these women are drinking wine, smoking and stuffing their freaking faces. NOT FAIR, GENES. Take me back to the drawing board, please.

To be fair, it's not all roses (although the rose vendors that plague your dinner table at the sidewalk cafe would love it to be...). We've discovered that, even for it's flaws, Seattle is pretty hep. Space, for example... the room that we had in Venice was SMALLER (yeah, you read that right) than many of the rooms we occupied while in Japan. I honestly, from the bottom of my heart, didn't think that possible. We literally had just enough room to lay out a yoga mat... if all of our luggage was put away. There was a 4 inch space between the bed and the wall through which you could squeeze if you really wanted to get to the window and lean WAAAYYYY out to see the Grand Canal view that we were promised. The romanticized idea of being on the grand canal was certainly invented before motorized engines.... and American tourists drunk at 3 am. To sum it up - Venice was nice, but my desire to return = 0.

Florence was EXCELLENT. Again. Alana, you hit the nail on the head. I could live there (when the weather is humane, that is). On the last full day, we met Ada Palmer (http://adapalmer.com/historian/index.html and http://exurbe.com/), a Harvard Historian who focused on Florennce history... she joined us for the afternoon at the Uffizi and took us around Florence to some of the better places to eat, commenting constantly on the buildings (and their histories) around us. We found some of the most AMAZING food (think: pasta with truffles, gnocchi and gorgonzola, gelato to die for!), and really had a chance to dig into the political structure of Florence from before the Medicis. Further, she was just an interesting character - well educated and as geeky as both of us!

Erik hit the Accedemia, and will probably have more interesting things to say about the Uffizi, so I leave those topics for that brilliant man. Instead... I went wine tasting in Chianti. I can only describe the wine bar that I visited as a 'vault' with over 150 wines on tap for the choosing... and more to purchase. I don't seem to have saved any of the paraphernalia and was a little tipsy at the time, but when I figure out the exact spot, I'll post that as well.

So now we're in Rome and I'm going to make dinner... more thoughts on Rome, our trip to the Vatican, St. Peter's, Ostia Antica and various other spots later! xoxo G

Dearest LJ...

Matsumoto
It's been a few years. Sorry. We've been friends for 13 years now, and I feel terrible for ignoring you - but life's busy! You'll be happy to know that I'm going to blog our upcoming trip for a month, so hopefully you'll be satiated.

If you're watching, please come back in about 2 weeks for the first round of AWESOME!! xo G

Dear LJ

Matsumoto
I'm sorry I've been ignoring you - but the whole thing about being bought out and possibly closing down has turned me to anothr lover: Facebook. I know, I know, fickle me. I'll try to come home on weekends. xoxo Galen

Random Thoughts

Ninja
I was just remembering a club that I started in 5th grade - I can't remeber the "official" name of the club, but it was basically about planting trees and being good to the earth. I held fundraisers with a handful of friends (Read: selling lemonaide, bakesales, door to door sales of rocks with my wagon [no, I'm not kidding]). I made my parents take me to a nursery and bought a few small arbor vitae trees and got permission to plant them on the school grounds.

Some assholes pulled them out of the ground within a week. I'll bet said jerks work for exxon or something now.

I think it's pretty funny that I haven't changed in 19 years, though...

OMG!

Matsumoto
Obsessed! Into Rome and out of Venice on the same days for $883! WTF?!?!?!??!

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