January 1 - Monaco to Venice - I liked getting to our couchette
on the train at 9:30 PM instead of midnight. I was able to have a little
quiet reading time before sleep. Maggie, Duncan, and I stayed up for a
late night snack of chorizo. -- Monica
Though we turned off the heater in our compartment and had paper blankets,
we incinerated during the night. -- Duncan
Just before we left, Uncle Marc let each of us take a little circle of
slighly curled gold paper from a little blue jewelry box. On each of them,
someone had written "One Kiss." Uncle Marc explained that just
before Aunt Toni left for the United States for medical tests, she had
filled the little box with these paper "kisses." Marc could
take one out when he missed her and say to himself, "She'll be home
soon." Toni never returned; she died at the Mayo Clinic, far from
the box of kisses. -- Mark
January 2 - Venice - We chased pigeons today at Piazza San Marco.
I think it must be pigeon paradise. People pay vendors for corn to feed
the pigeons. After people throw their food to the pigeons, they don't
stop to watch the pigeons to finish eating, so the pigeons are still there
when we hit. Tote and I run about 6 feet apart while Maggie flanks us.
The pigeons can't run one way, and they can't run the other. They have
no choice to take to the air. Tote sometimes steps on them, because he
is running at full speed. I have a "pigeon full speed." Fast
enough to get the pigeons to fly and get their little hearts aflutter
but not fast enough to hit them. The vendors shout at us, but we're not
sure if they're asking us to buy their corn or to stop it. -- Duncan
We arrived in Venice by train to San Lucia Stazione. At 7:00 AM, we took
a vaporetto to La Giudecca, the island where the youth hostel is located.
Maggie and I sat outside in the stern. As the sky began to lighten, we
watched the city come alive. We stashed our stuff in lockers and took
another boat over to St. Mark's Square. We marveled, gaped, gawked, and
chased pigeons. Then we set out to feel the magic of Venice: the bridges
and canals; the smells of strong coffee; the colorful buildings with balconies
and ivy; women in fur coats and jewelry; tourist shops full of glittering
blown glass and carnival masks; rapidly spoken Italian, along with every
other language; young people with backpacks; old people walking their
tiny dogs; Christmas decorations and confetti scattered about; the cool,
moist air; gondolas; and kissing on every bridge - Mark taught me that
last time we were here, 20 years ago. -- Monica
I wonder whether English is becoming the universal language of tourism.
It is certainly common around here. Most of the hostel signs are in English.
When I stumble through "Where are the soft drinks?" in Italian,
the clerk points and says in English, "Over there." If there
is a second language on an Italian sign, it is almost always English.
(This might be because English is becoming the most common second tongue
or it might be that Italians think that English-speaking tourists are
particularly dumb.) Even in Spain and Morocco, where there seemed to be
little English spoken, a Japanese fellow we met got by communicating with
everyone in English. At dinner in the hostel, we overheard a group of
three girls and two guys speaking English. We learned today that they
are from Venezuela, India, France, South Africa, and Peru. They met studying
in Switzerland. The only language they have in common is English. I also
routinely hear Germans talking to waiters (and arguing with them) in English.
The buses we go on in Venice have tires, but they're on the sides as
bumpers. That's because the buses are boats. Dad, Tote, and I walked out
of the train station to get cash. When we were on our way back, we stopped
at the bus stop and got tickets. The bus stop is a floating bridge into
a little floating room where you wait for the bus-boat. It's really scary
to stand at the edge because it goes up and down, and you think you're
going to fall in. I tried to trick Mom by telling her we were going to
take the bus, but I didn't tell her it was a boat. -- Maggie
January 3- Venice - Today we went to a museum. The museum had
a lot of rooms of stuff for weapons. One of Daddy's riddles was a prayer
book with a tiny gun in it. I think if you were just going to get your
head cut off in a castle, you would take out your little prayer book and
say "Let me just say one little prayer before I get my head cut off."
And then you take your gun out of the book and shoot the guy. Another
one of the riddles was a suit of armor that was missing its hands. It
looked like a fat guy would have worn that armor in battle, because the
stomach plate was huge. One of Mommy's riddles was "It looks like
rock candy with lollipops." It was a glass chandelier with flowers
on it. -- Maggie
We went to a museum that was made of two museums. One was an archeological
museum and the other the museum of the city. When we got there we took
an English tour of the archeological part. I learned alot about Greek
and Roman funeral artifacts, but their section on Assyrian and Egyptian
artifacts needed some work. In the museum of the city, we split up and
looked through all the rooms to find a favorite artifact and made up a
riddle about the artifact for the others to guess. My favorite was a battle
hammer. We had never seen a battle hammer before. My riddle was "It
is like the other but not. It pierces but does not hurt. When it stings,
it kills." The answer is a strange key that has a concealed dart
shooter. I thought it could be a perfect assassination thing, if you stuck
it in a keyhole and shot someone inside the room. -- Tote
Three times today I was so stunned by the beauty of what I was seeing
that I couldn't move for a second or two - St. Mark's from across the
Piazza, the view of San Giorgio through the Piazzetta San Marco, and the
rosy faces of the kids as we crossed Canale della Giudecca on the vaporetto.
This really is another world. -- Mark
We sat in Piazza San Marco for a couple hours. The children ran and ran,
chasing pigeons. They ran until their faces were flushed. We sat on the
planks that will make a boardwalk when there's flooding. -- Monica
January 4 - Venice -I like that there aren't any roads to get
whacked by a car. If you're swimming you could get whacked by a boat though.
Duncan: You can kinda tell what language people are speaking by the sort
of sounds they make without hearing any words. Arabic you can tell, because
it always sounds like they are yelling at each other.
Tote: What's a cover charge?
Mark: Well, in the United States you might get charged to get in if a
place has live music or something special like that.
Maggie: What was special in that restaurant?
Mark: A lot of tourists come here.
We are now staying in our third spot in Venice. We have stayed at a clean,
dry family room at the assembly line youth hostel. (It could only accomodate
us for one night.) Last night we slept at a lovely one-star hotel -- perhaps
the nicest hotel room of the entire trip. Those places were fine, but
today, we hit the jackpot.
Today, we moved into a magnificent "house." Our house is four
or five or six stories tall -- exactly how you count the last two floors
is a bit unclear since they ramble a bit. The first floor consists of
a marble hallway and stairs. (I suspect the marble and absence of much
of anything in the stairwell is preparation for the floods.) The next
three floors have hardwood floors, Persian carpets, tall windows, exposed
beams, and the kind of simple furnishings that cost a fortune.
The amazing thing about all of these places is that they all cost about
the same amount. Booking the hostel took only a phone call. The price
was fixed. Kids pay the same as adults. The hotel required some bargaining
but ended up costing $10 more than the hostel and was in a much better
spot. In addition to bargaining, getting into the apartment took yelling
and screaming. It was worth it though. The apartment costs the same as
the one star hotel and is undoubtedly better for us than any hotel could
be. The children are making an ungodly amount of noise running around
upstairs. Monica is in the kitchen doing one of the things she loves best,
cooking. I am listening to Bach and watching people pass in the narrow
streets. -- Mark
As we walked around Venice, I despaired of capturing Venice in words.
I couldn't satisfactorily describe to Mark what I was seeing and feeling
and wondering about. At least I am able to capture some of this with my
camera: the little bridges, some decorated and some plain; the "new"
Rialto Bridge from 1592; and the sometimes colorful and sometimes peeling
edifices lining the canals. It's winter so the air is damp and cool, sometimes
cold. The alleys are dark and, when it drizzles, the lights reflect off
the stone walkways. -- Monica
January 5 - Venice -
Tote: This place is more like a city in Dinotopia than anywhere else.
It's just so different!
Mark: But Dinotopia was a fantasy. It's not real.
Tote: That's what I mean.
Maggie: I liked Versailles better than the Doge's Palace. I liked the
different colored rooms. It also has a bunch of windows to look out at
the gardens. And when you looked out the windows of the other palace all
you could see was a little bit of land and water.
Mark: I thought Versailles looked sort of chintzy compared to the Doge's
Palace. Versailles looked like a movie set. This place just looked richer
and real and authentic. There was also real art everywhere.
Monica: It was older, too. Versailles made me feel like I would be at
a big party. Here, I felt like it was really the seat of a government
where important things happened.
Duncan: I could imagine being an assasin here, working for the Council
of Ten, roaming the corridors looking for traitors, and using my dart
key. At Versailles, I couldn't imagine myself doing anything, especially
wearing a wig and tight pants.
Monica: I couldn't live in either of them. The place I could live was
the Alcazar. There I could sit in the sun and enjoy the garden.
Maggie: Versailles was better.
Mark: I thought it was interesting to read about a government that lasted
about a thousand years. Americans are so cocky about our government. This
place kind of puts it in perspective.
In 828, the body of St. Mark was brought to Venice from Egypt. Mark was
martyred in Alexandria. Two Venetian merchants, Buono and Rustico, swiped
the remains. They stuffed the bones in a basket, and knowing that the
Egyptians who were Muslims would not have anything to do with pork, topped
the basket up with pork meat and sailed for Venice. The Venetians were
so happy to have a first rate saint that they forgot about their former
patron, St. Theodore, and gave St. Mark top billing.
Mark appears to be comfortable in Venice. So comfortable that
he enjoys playing Hide and Seek with the Venetians. In 1063, the Venetians
were doing restoration work on the church. To protect Mark, they put him
in a safe spot. Unfortunately, they hid the guy so well that nobody could
find him again. The Venetians tried everything to refresh someone's recollection
- prayers, services, fasts, and feasts. Nothing worked. Saints are very
patient. It wasn't until June 25, 1094 that Mark got tired of the game
and stuck his arm out of the pilaster in which he was hiding, spoiling
the marble decoration. The Venetians reburied Mark in the crypt. Unfortunately,
the crypt kept flooding, and the Venetians closed it sometime in the 16th
century. Out of sight; out of mind. Everyone eventually forgot where they
had buried Mark -- once again Mark had slipped away. This time the Venetians
didn't find him until 1811. They stuffed Mark below the main altar which
is where he supposedly is today, though no one will admit looking recently.
January 6 - Venice - I liked the witch race. I hated the big cathedral
concert. It's so cold. It's like they have an air conditioner. After hearing
the organ in Notre Dame, these organs sounded so hollow and weak. They
didn't have the same type of voice. -- Duncan
Tote: That's a siren!
Mark: Duncan, Turn down the radio. Turn down the radio!
Tote: It's a siren. It's a flood!
Monica: But it's not raining!
Tote: Sirens mean a flood, Mom!
Monica: But, it can't be, it's not raining.
Mark: It's tides and wind. Last night the water was close. Those low spots
in St. Mark's were wet. Maybe tonight it's there.
Duncan: Let's go check.
Mark: Finish dinner first.
Monica: It's not raining.
Duncan: Let's go now.
Mark: The sirens mean a couple hours, so we have time.
The kids and I have been trying to find the hotel Monica and I stayed
in 20 years ago. We haven't told Monica what we're doing on our long morning
and evening walks or why we sometimes take such weird detours. Fortunately,
she is so wrapped up in Venice that she hasn't noticed. The main thing
I remember about our visit 20 years ago is that I was madly in love with
Monica. That's probably the reason that the details are a bit hazy. I
don't remember the name of the place or precisely where it was. I know
we had a tiny, warm room in an attic, that the old lady who ran the place
was surly, and that it was more a hostel than a hotel. I also know it
was around the corner from a deadend that had a Post Office at the end
of it. In Venice, if you don't know exactly where to find something, your
chances of finding it aren't very good. As far as I can discern, the people
at the main Post Office either think I'm a lunatic or have no idea where
they've left their branch offices. We've looked in all the places that
I thought I "remembered." We have looked in so many places that
I now "remember" nearly every street, alley, and bridge. It
has gotten so bad that when I make a wrong turn, the kids say, "Thought
you saw a Post Office, huh Dad?" -- Mark
We went out and the water came just under our knees. We never felt it,
because we just walked on the board walks. It was amazing, because I had
never seen a flood and even though it was night, the sky was so cool.
It was blue clouds with patches of dark blue sky. -- Tote
January 7 - Venice - Today we went into Saint Mark's cathedral
for the first time. All the ceiling was gold mosaics with glass colors.
They tell the stories from the bible, because it was easier for people
in medieval times to see a legend like a comic book than to read it. I
liked the mosaics showing the world's creation, Adam and Eve, Noah's ark,
and the Tower of Babel. The floors were really cool, too. No one would
guess stone could have such colors or could be put in such mind-boggling
or complex pictures. -- Duncan
January 8 - Venice -
Maggie: We have had three floods here in Venice. We didn't have to
walk in the water because they have metal and wood sidewalks.
Tote: The water rose from canals but mostly came out of sewers. You can
get really sick from getting the water on you. If you don't want to walk
on the bridges, you need to wear these tall rubber boots.
Monica: We have the boots in our apartment. They're part of the furnishings.
Tote: The deepest we ever saw was 2 and a half feet, near St. Mark's.
Duncan: It was almost to the top of our boots. Maggie couldn't walk in
it because it was at the top of her boots.
Tote: She couldn't walk in the water next to St. Marco. She could walk
almost everywhere else. San Marco is cool because it's made from pieces
that they took from everywhere else. Wasn't it made to store their loot?
Monica: Not really. It was a chapel for the doge.
Tote: Well, it's sort of a storage place since it's made up of all of
those parts that they stole.
Maggie:There are no cars where we are right now, so it's really easy to
walk around. Except very easy to get lost, cause there are so many tiny
alleys that look like you've gone down already. So that sort of tricks
you into thinking that you should go down them to go home.
Tote: I think it would be just as hard to have a boat.
Monica: We've only been lost once.
Duncan: The city is really maze-like. It has dead ends. There's lots of
different ways to get to a place. You'd never guess that little plazas
are back in the middle of blocks with little tunnels to get you there.
On a long walk this morning, Maggie and I found the hotel we've been searching
for! The one Monica and I stayed in 20 years ago. The fellow who owns
our apartment was born in Venice. He pointed out that lots of things can
change in 20 years but recalled one Post Office at the end of an alley.
He didn't get the location exactly right, but he was close enough that
we found it by asking in a couple nearby stores. Once we found the Post
Office, it was easy to find "our" hotel. It's now a 3-star place
with a bath and mini-bar in every room. It still has an attic room though.
Unfortunately, it closed for the season, yesterday. -- Mark
January 9 - Venice - We went to Murano island today. We saw a
church where there were dragon bones, because the church is for a saint
that killed the dragon. Tote found them hanging behind the altar. I didn't
like them that much. They weren't as cool as I though they would be. The
glass museum wasn't that good. It didn't have alot of the old glass, and
the museum wasn't very big. It had four rooms including the bathroom.
I liked the cemetery island we passed. I liked my Mom eating the fish
and squid and cleaning them. -- Maggie
Mark: Maggie, are you still going to learn Arabic?
Maggie: No. Italian.
Mark: You're going to do Italian instead of Arabic?
Monica: Who's going to do Arabic?
Maggie: I'll do it after I learn Italian.
January 10 - Venice - We sketched near San Marco. The interesting
thing is that no one drew San Marco. Everyone drew things across the basin
or a lamp post. As I was drawing, I looked for shapes and then found more
shapes and related those to the original. That would help me get the size
of the parts right. If you think your drawing is bad, keep drawing because
alot of times they turn out good. After drawing, everywhere we went I
noticed the shape I had drawn. -- Tote
Mark and I went out on our first date tonight . . . our "first date"
on the Big Trip. I baked lasagne for the children, told them our "expectations,"
and told them what to do in case of an emergency. The emergency part sufficiently
scared Mark (he said, "Maybe we shouldn't go until we get them in
bed asleep.") I got dressed up, and off we went!!! After a walk around
Venice we chose a wine bar. We sampled various local wines, ate osso bucco,
sliced pork, sardines in vinegar with peppercorns and onions, cooked sausage
with a salsa of "green stuff" - we weren't sure what vinegary
concoction it was, and a bland lasagna. Before coming home, we thought
we'd try a couple of grappas. Whew! First of all, we got more in each
glass than our small "thimble-full" glasses of local wines,
and secondly . . . they're a distilled version of the grape. It took us
awhile to sip them, but we did, and we made it home. -- Monica
Monica and I went out alone to try the local wines. I discovered there
are many, many, many local wines. From what I remember, we had a very
good time. -- Mark
Monica: Does my face look as red here as it did in the bathroom?
Monica: Right answer.
. . .
Monica: I actually think I could get us home from here.
Mark: Which way would you go?
Monica: Where are we?
. . .
Monica: How about down here?
Mark: Into the canal?
Monica: No, that can't be right.
January 11 - Venice -
Maggie: Duncan! Tote! We get to have eel for lunch!
Tote: Dad you really should go up and look out from St. Mark's like we
Duncan: Yeah. It was the best.
Maggie: I got to go for free, and it was great!
Mark: What was so cool?
Duncan: From up there the pigeons all look like rats.
Monica: And how about that picture? Tote said "If I were you, I wouldn't
back up anymore."
Mark: Why'd he say that?
Monica: Because I would have tumbled over backwards into the square.
Mark: Why do I let you out of my sight?
Today we went on our last visit to San Marco. We went up to where the
horses are. They are fake. The real ones are inside, because of pollution.
The fake ones were made in 1978 but were in worse condition than the real
ones. The four real ones were gold with a tint of green. Duncan and I
found out that the gold tiles in the mosaics are not pure gold but glass
with gold leaf. This was a disappointment, because the basilica did not
seem so rich. Like "gold necklaces" that are bronze with gold
leaf. When the cathedral is not lit up like it was on Sunday, it looks
so different. It was lit with red candles and looked real good. -- Tote
This morning we went to the market with Dad to get fish, bread, and wine.
It was fun. The first thing we got at the fish market were three boring
silver fish - not bugs, fish. After that we went deeper in the market.
We saw eels, rays, crustaceans, flatfish, and a whole lot of others. The
next fish we bought was a slab of ray, because Tote wanted to try it.
Dad was running out of cash, but as we walked back, Maggie convinced him
to buy an eel, because she is reading a book about them. When Dad asked
the guy to clean it, the guy threw the eel on a board and stuck a screwdriver
through its tail and pounded it in. Then he cut off its head and started
slicing up the length of it with his knife. Then he scraped out the insides
with his knife. He dumped those into a big bucket of fish guts. When Dad
was getting his change, one of the notes fell into a bucket of some kind
of aquatic innards. On the way back we bought bread and wine. At the wine
store, they didn't just give you bottles of wine. The guy poured the wine
from big containers into cleaned out water bottles. Dad had to go back
into the store to make sure he remembered the name of the wine to tell
Mom. -- Duncan
Monica: I really want to go to St. Mark's today. I need to feel holy.
Mark: You really are hungover, aren't you?
January 12 - Venice to Florence - One of the trains to get to
Florence was very full. I could not even stand up. There were seats that
folded out of the walls. Luckily, one of the seats was behind me, but
the seats were not very comfortable -- Maggie
Mark: What's the verdict on the seafood?
Tote: Boooya. Boooya. Boooya!
Monica: I'm not sure what "Boooya" means, but I think it's something
Tote: The eel was good. It wasn't as good as dinner. Dinner was great.
Maggie: Dinner was okay. Not very. I liked the eel the best. I'm counting
. . . I have to count again. . . There are twelve.
Mark: Twelve what?
Maggie: Bones in this part of the ray.
Tote: I think it's cartilage, Mags. That's the reason the guy could cut
it so easily.
Maggie: Quiet. I'm trying to count.
Tote: The ray was so different. It had its own taste.
Monica: I agree, Tote.
Duncan: It just has a sheet of bones. They weren't all through it like
in the fish.
Tote: No guts or anything. It was sort of weird to eat my favorite animal
January 13 - Florence - Florence is a lot more modernized than
I thought. Today our mission was to find a hotel, because we just arrived
yesterday on the train. On the bus ride from the hostel, I got my first
look at Duomo. It was amazing. What was different: A. it has green and
white marble; B. the whole church was detailed; C. The clock tower was
interestingly square. On the top of the church was a large dome. From
down at the bottom it did not seem so big, but Dad says it's huge. I can't
wait to go inside. After walking around, we came back to Duomo. Today
was not so interesting. -- Tote
This morning we got up from our inch-thick mattresses to the sound of
slamming doors, loud teenagers, and a very noisy little sister. We then
groggily swaggered down to breakfast on a piece of bread and a cup of
hot - no, lukewarm - chocolate. We proceeded to charge outside to have
an exciting game of Jedis in the campsite area and the tent terraces.
Later we paraded around Florence. Half the time we were freezing. Half
the time we were starving. We came home on the bus. After missing our
bus stop and being delayed at a store, we ate passable pizza and coke
for dinner at the hostel. Later we played Star Wars RPG in a room with
a red air pollution advisory. We retreated to the second floor landing
followed by billowing clouds of cigarette smoke. -- Duncan
I again received the wrong change today. This is the fourth time this
trip. Every single time it has been in our favor. -- Mark
The hostel insides are very ugly, but the outside is okay because the
outside has a good garden. -- Maggie
January 14 - Florence - Michelangelo's David was horrible. It
was unrealistic. First, David would be wearing clothes. Second, if he
hadn't shot yet, he would be getting his sling ready, or if he had already
shot he would be more energetic and happy. Third, his foot was right up
against this log in a place where he wouldn't have it. Seemed like the
log grew around his leg instead of putting his foot there. Finally, his
hand that was holding the rocks was in a bad pose. The finger of the joint
wouldn't be straight, if you were holding pebbles. I can't even make my
hand get in that pose. As a statue of a man, I thought it was ugly, too.
The guy wasn't handsome. His head was ugly. His hair helped make it uglier.
It was just chiseled in big clumps that were sort of curly. -- Tote
I don't think David was good either, because they said a kid killed the
guy, but that wasn't a kid. That was a man. -- Maggie
I liked the Rodin sculptures better. They showed more movement. Like you
could see inside the people.You could see all the energy bound up inside.
Michelangelo's David is realistic in style, though out of proportion.
Rodin seemed more like he was showing the nature of the person. Like the
soul of the human being rather than its physical form. Or it's both put
together and kind of twisted up. -- Duncan
The big "artistic" hit of the day wasn't at the Galleria dell'Accademia,
a gallery which houses the original "David." The big excitement
was the discovery, upon our return, that the hostel was showing "Return
of the Jedi."
I confess Accademia left me cold, too. David looks better outside, where
its obvious flaws are less noticeable. And the copy standing in front
of Pallazo Vecchio, where the original stood for centuries, is more interesting
and beautiful. The rest of the collection is the cartoonish stuff apparently
produced nonstop by the studios Medieval and Renaissance painters. I have
tried to like this stuff. Aesthetically, most of it fails to move me.
I skip these galleries in the Louvre. In the Prado, I like to stop and
admire the size of the canvases, shrug at how much wall space is devoted
to stuff that is so ugly and move on. In Venetian churches, rather than
the ballyhooed Titian or Tintoretto or Tiepolo over the altar, I end up
looking at the sculptures on the tombs. (An exception is Titian's "Assumption.")
I have also tried to get engaged intellectually. Many popular descriptions
of Renaissance painting begin by gushing over how Renaissance artists
discovered "realism" and "nature." Give me a break.
Sure, the background has changed - the gold paint of the Medieval altarpieces
is often replaced by weird architectural concoctions. The strange collections
of saints typically sport less clothing in the Renaissance paintings than
in the Gothic, and the bodies aren't as flat. Yet, so much of this stuff
is formulaic, cartoonish dreck. At its best, this art is beautiful though
not particularly realistic or natural. At its worst, it's in the Accademia.
January 15 - Florence - As we walked home to the youth hostel
from the bus stop, we needed to walk up two dirt paths. On the second
of these paths, toward the end, just before a muddy patch, I saw an inspiring
sight, particular to that exact place, time of day, season, and year.
I've notice how Titian and several other painters have managed to make
light in their paintings really glow. Sunlight that backs their figures
melds into a blue sky. I think the blue amplifies the shades of gold,
orange, and yellow that create that "holy" light. What I saw
on the path could easily be painted in such a style and if I had acrylics,
I would give it a go. I saw the brown path, brown leaves, unnaturally
green grass, and the goldest light possible coming through the trees in
broad stripes, throwing all the rest into an angelic light. -- Duncan
Tote and I did algebra in the public library on Piazzetta Guelf. The building,
now used as a library, existed as a church in 1036. The piazzetta was
named for a political faction that was around in the 1200's. (Dante's
family supported it.)
The "cold," tourist-battered people in Florence have been great
to us. The fellow at the checkout of the self-serve place at which we
lunched, told me I had "a beautiful family." The owner of a
wine shop went on for five minutes, entirely in Italian, about the height
progression of the children and the heights of his own grandchildren.
When I went to pay for our first three days at the hostel, the folks running
the place discussed things in Italian for several minutes, I heard the
word bambini several times, and then spontaneously reduced our charge
by $42. This gift was in addition to a rubber band Maggie used to make
a slingshot from a y-shaped stick she found behind the hostel. Later,
they lent Maggie scissors and tape and gave the kids discounted dinners.
On our first night, when we were trying to find the correct place to hop
off the bus, two people made sure we got off in the right spot, and an
older couple pointed us in the direction of the hostel once we were off.
Yesterday, an older woman showed us how to stamp our bus tickets. Twice
today I have inadvertantly given a shopkeeper too much money. They both
simply gave the extra back and then made change. Everywhere we've been,
we've gotten cheerful answers to questions and good-natured help. -- Mark
January 16 - Florence - Today we went to the Uffizi gallery.
The gallery was up on the top floor of the Medici's palace (the main rulers
of Florence.) Inside the paintings were horrible, all centered on people
and not a lot of details. Before we looked around in the museum, Dad gave
us a mini-lesson on perspective. He told us to find a good piece of perspective
and draw it flat and to find a flat piece and make it have perspective.
I did mine of some columns and arches.
The famous paintings were not very good. The Birth of Venice
(a lady standing on half a clam shell) was boring - a normal naked lady
with people looking at her and an older lady saying "Behold"
with a blanket. The only one I rated good was a painting of a village
in the middle ground there were some pinnacles of rock. On one there was
a castle, but on another was a little cottage. This painting was detailed
and not centered on a person.
Over all, the Uffizi gallery is cool. I liked walking around in it. I
liked doing the drawing. I liked the building. I didn't like the art.
The Uffizi is wonderful. What a relief. I cannot describe how beautiful
Botticelli's "Birth of Venus" is in person. Everything is wrong
with it - composition, theme, and style - but Venus is really stunningly
beautiful. The Uffizi has a large number of secular works by the artists
who produced so much of the innocuous wallpaper that fills the Accademia
galleries in Venice and Florence. Tintoretto and Titian were remarkable
portrait painters. The portraits seem to give a sense of their subject
and carry suprising emotional weight. -- Mark
January 17 - Florence - Today, Tote, Duncan, and I went to the
top of the dome. Dad and Mom did not want to go to the top, because it
was $25 or 50,000 lire for all of us to go to the top. We saw all the
machines used to build the dome. From the top you can see a whole bunch
of the city, but what I liked the very most, was the three castles. --
Mark: Monica, I am afraid people are going to thing I am some sort of
art thug, because I don't like all of this stuff. First Versailles, now
this Italian stuff.
Tote: People don't like it if you don't like the stuff in Italy, because
Italy is known for art. If you don't like the stuff in Asia, they wouldn't
Duncan: My dad the art thug. That's pretty good.
Tote: Wait and see. When we get to Asia all people will want to know about
is the Great Wall and the Taj Mahal and whether there were monkeys.
January 18 - Florence to Perugia - I like Perugia. It's sort of an
advertisment for the virtues of enthusiasm and credulity. Maggie and I
go to buy bus tickets at the kiosk in front of the train station. When
I ask how to find Piazza Italia, the woman at the counter smiles and says,
"Don't worry." I ask her ask again, and she smiles again, as
if delighted, and says, "You'll like it." She's charming and
doing the best she can with English, so I can't bring myself to pester
her anymore. I think to myself, "We've figured these things out before,
and I'm sure we can do it again." Not exactly. The bus ride from
the train station up the hill and through the walls of the old city is
like a bobsled run in reverse. Imagine sitting on a bucking bronco while
wearing a backpack and trying to keep track of the signs bouncing up and
down and whizzing past the windows. It was hopeless. It was also pointless:
when we reached the last stop, it was Piazza Italia, the bus stopped anyway,
and we did like it.
We found a little hotel called (what else?) the Hotel Piccolo.
The landlady doesn't speak a word of English but speaks Italian very slowly
and believes we understand everything she says. Her slow pace and confidence
work a miracle - somehow we do understand most of what she says. The tiny
street running past our hotel spills out into a large, carless square
where groups of young people chat and laugh in the cold. They're beautiful,
rosy-cheeked, enthusiastic, and happy. I can't help catching their good
January 19 - Perugia - Lasagna is better than any other pasta, but
spaghetti is almost as good as lasagna, because you can eat the long noodles
even if they aren't cooked. But I do like eating the tube noodles, because
I like slurping the sauce out of the holes. Macaroni and cheese is good
because you can stick the fork through the holes in the pasta, but I usually
do not get four noodles on my fork even though my fork has four prongs.
The cathedral that forms one side of the square has a unique relic: Mary's
"wedding" ring. It cannot be real. (As Duncan said one day about
all the pieces of the "true cross" we've run across, "If
all the pieces of true cross were put together, you'd have a cross the
size of a Sequoia tree!") Yet, based on the number of gold and silver
hearts thanking Mary for various things, if the ring isn't for real, lots
of people believe that it is. Real or not, these folks believe Mary has
decided to care for them. And what's the harm in believing the ring is
real? Perugia has made me so mellow, I can't even argue with myself about
it. (The ring is displayed only twice a year, and tomorrow is one of those
days. Can't wait to see it.) -- Mark
January 20 - Perugia to Casacastalda - We mostly hung out inside
the old part of Perugia, so we didn't realize just how spread-out and big
Perugia is until we were on our way up the hills to Casacastalda (although
it is a smaller city than Venice or Florence...it is known mainly as a university
town.) Getting here, family of five with all our stuff and LOTS of groceries,
was painless. We hired a cab, because it was cheaper than renting a car
and the bus would have been impossible with all of our bags and the groceries.
What showed up was the world famous Digicab which features a fax machine,
VCR, internet connection, Playstation, bar, and super stereo. It cost the
same as the regular cabs and everything fit in it, so we drove out into
the hills in our Mercedes listening to classical music and enjoying the
late afternoon, sun-lit landscapes. We were deposited in front of the Bank,
and as we waited for Marco (the landlord who lives in a town 9 km from here)
to arrive, we took turns walking up and down the streets to discover Casacastalda.
It didn't take long. -- Monica
When we first arrived, we had no idea where to go. Dad called Marco, the
person in charge of the house. After 30 minutes, Marco came with a car and
drove us to the house. We had to make two trips, because we had so many
groceries. The house was cold, so we turned on the heaters. Later in the
evening we set a fire in the fireplace and cuddled up in blankets. -- Tote
Tote and I played in the fire until Mom made us go to bed, and she put out
the fire. After about 20 minutes, we saw flickering light on the wall. Tote
went to tell Mom the fire had started again. The huge piece of wood was
grey ashes by morning. -- Duncan
January 21 - Casacastalda - Today was a long day in a good way.
I had time to do anything I wanted and still have time for work. I did
tons of stuff. I played with Duncan's Star Wars pieces, did journaling,
looked through some picture books in the house about different people
around the world, played on the bed, played in the park, went to the shop,
went on a couple exploring walks in town, and did my math. -- Tote
Mark and I went for a run this morning....well, we did a lot of running
down and briskly walking up some pretty steep hill roads. It was absolutely
lovely. It was a sunny day today, a good Welcome-to-Casacastalda day.
We even got to enjoy our caffe outside on the terrace. And at sunset,
we took a family walk through a cemetery. -- Monica
January 22 - Casacastalda -
Monica: Maggie did you find cartoons on there?
Mark: Isn't it sort of weird that they're all speaking in Italian?
Monica: Why? Did you think that mice and cats only spoke English?
Mark: Mags was it hard to go shopping down there? You don't speak the
Maggie: No. It was easy. She knew we didn't speak the language, so she
spoke slowly and pointed to things. I like going shopping. We got everything
except pepper flakes and rosemary.
January 23 - Casacastalda - I saw the kids playing. I didn't know
whether I should go down or not. So I waited at the balcony, and they
kept on looking at me. So, I went down and opened the gate, and they talked
to me. First we played soccer, and then we played tag. It was fun. Diego
lives across the street - he's 9. There are two Anns, but I don't know
where they live. -- Maggie
January 24 - Casacastalda - The postman brought Maggie a letter
from her friend William. There were photos and an origami x-wing fighter!
Today we walked to the top of a hill and had an art picnic....which means
we ate a delicious lunch of sandwiches, chips, cookies, apples, nuts,
wine, and water, and sketched, drew with charcoals, and painted with watercolors.
Later, Maggie, Tote and Mark made arches with small flat rocks....experimenting
with some of the math and architectural concepts we've been learning about.
Mark: I think in one way it's easier here on the language front. I know
I can't speak Italian, so I don't really try. In France it was an effort
to try and embarrassing when I muffed it.
Monica: But you thought that was fun.
Mark: Yeah. I did. I think it was one of the best things so far.
Duncan: Like when you told the guy his feet were really stinky and heard
all those words that weren't in your French book.
Tote: I don't think the language classes they give you in school help.
I think they just have them so the school can say that they teach the
kids a foreign language but they really don't.
Monica: You might be right.
Duncan: They don't really teach you anything you need to know. What good
is knowing that the word for cow is "vache."
Maggie: They should teach you things like how to talk with people, like
"Hello" and "What are you doing."
Monica: How do you talk to the kids you play with?
Maggie: They just point and stuff.
Mark: Do you understand them?
Maggie: Yeah. I'm still going to learn Italian though.
January 25 - Casacastalda - I made some friends the first day
we came. I was a little nervous, but when I came down all the kids gathered
around me, then I was really scared. They were all talking and yelling
at the same time. I felt like I wanted to run to Mom. Then we played soccer,
and I was not scared at all. -- Maggie
January 26 - Casacastalda - Down the road and through two arches
is a little shop. We go there every day to buy food. When we were in Perugia,
we were told to stock up, because the shop was small. On arrival, we found
out that the shop was not so small. (In fact, there's two shops.) In the
shop, they sell fruits and vegetables, pasta, cheese, drinks, meat, toiletries,
cookies, and yogurt. Usually Maggie and I go by ourselves with a little
list from Mom. Maggie and I also get a piece of candy to go with it. The
people in the shop are nice and don't get frustrated. Just yesterday we
discovered that the man who works there speaks a little English. He asked
us whether we wanted to borrow an umbrella and bring it back tomorrow.
January 27 - Casacastalda - It is a nice switch to hang out in
one place with no touristy things to do. We've been hiking, picnicking,
taking runs, cooking and eating, learning math, reading and writing, and
smiling and greeting folks. -- Monica
The store, newstand, barbershop, appliance store, church, bakery, and
who knows what else do not have any signs on the outside. Some we have
walked past again and again before discovering they are actually businesses.
I wonder what else might be here. -- Mark
January 28 - Casacastalda - The sky here is so cool. Today, when
we went on a hike, the sky started with billowy white clouds on a blue
sky, then it turned different shades of grey. It looked like canyons and
mountains from a satellite video of Venus. The clouds move so fast they
look like ships entering hyperspace. -- Duncan
January 29 - Casacastalda - Rain, rain, rain in Casacastalda.
I wish the weather would fold itself up and put this rain away. This rain
discourages me from my run this morning. I think I'll cook up some eggs
and fried potatoes first. -- Monica
January 30 - Casacastalda - When Duncan and I walked through the
door of the barber shop, there was one fellow in the chair and another
examining the soccer standings. When we left, two hours later, the barber
had completed three haircuts: the original fellow in the chair, Duncan,
and me. In the interim, we talked to and were talked at by six other men
who passed through. The soccer fan left before the first haircut was finished.
Another arrived, grabbed a pair of scissors from the "sterlizer,"
trimmed his own eyebrows and ears, and left. The only things we understood
were the greetings, the word "good," that somebody was concerned
about a Mandarin something or other, that the other fellows thought his
Mandarin comments were very funny, that the barber had had his photo taken
with Ms. Finland, and a debate about whether we spoke English, German,
or Portuguese. (Portuguese?!) -- Mark
January 31 - Casacastalda - No heat or hot water this morning.
The inside temperature at 10 AM is 60 degrees. We consider burning the
furniture in the middle of the kitchen for warmth, but only briefly and
not very seriously, since there is a fireplace. Our landlord tells me
he willl be over at 3:30 to fix things. He actually arrives at 3, immediately
repairs things, and volunteers to have the pros come check everything
out later. By 7 PM, the inside temperature has risen to a balmy 62 degrees.
Fortunately, there is hot water, and we know the house will be warm by
morning. (It's not a good time for houses. In Denver, the basement in
our house just flooded with sewage.) -- Mark
February 1 - Casacastalda - During our hike today, the snow was
coming down so hard you could actually see the flakes land on your eyeballs.
For fun we stood under trees and shook snow on our heads. Mom thought
we were crazy. When we got home, Dad had cleverly managed to lock us out
while trying to help the heating men. He said they all had a good laugh
together but that didn't help him get in. Fortunately, we kicked slush
from the terrace and watched it splatter while a new key was on its way.
Today, we hiked to the Castle Giamici again, but this time we walked a
couple of kilometers farther. The swirling snowflake or two turned into
a windy snowfall coming at us horizontally. We decided it would be wise
to turn back. It was beginning to darken as we arrived home. It took me
longer than the kids, in bed with tea and my book, to thaw out. This is
our first snow on the trip. -- Monica
February 2 - Casacastalda - When I went to the bakery this morning,
there were two other guys buying pies. I waited for three or four minutes
and when it was my turn I bought three sweets. The lady said a bunch of
stuff, but I didn't know what she said. I could tell she thought is was
funny I was buying three sweets, because I was there by myself. I like
going there, because everybody I passed was really nice. When I made a
wrong turn, someone came up to me and said "Pane?" I said "Si,"
and then she pointed to the place, and I said "Grazie." On the
way home, an old lady patted me on the head and said "Bella."
That means beautiful. -- Maggie
My little running route each morning passes a farm which has lots of barking
dogs, two dark brown ponies, five little black pigs which run up and down
along the hill of a driveway, and three emus - my friends I talk to each
day. I'm certain they're females, and I miss female company. It's hard
not to speak the language. -- Monica
February 3 - Casacastalda -
Duncan: Wow Mom! This is a feast!
Monica: Well, I flipped on Italian TV this morning and caught part of
a cooking show and got inspired.
Mark: You also watched some of the news, didn't you?
Monica: I can't believe they covered a lingerie show and a striptease
on the news. They'd never show that in the States.
Mark: Except maybe on a soap opera. Did the news get you inspired, too?
Monica: I am not going to do a strip tease, if that's what you mean.
Duncan: Were those cooking guys in their underwear, too?
February 4 - Casacastalda - The kids and I took a walk in the
hushed hours. No one was out. It was gray, cloudy, but mild. We saw two
people in two hours. It made me wonder what people were doing inside their
homes . . . Sunday visits, meals, homework, TV?
The bell on the town clock chimes every 15 minutes. The clock bells chang,
chang, chang the number of the hour and then chink, chink, chink each
quarter hour. A half hour before mass begins and again, maybe five minutes
before, the church bells clang profusely. At that point, a few of the
town's dogs start howling like crazy. -- Monica
February 5 - Casacastalda - I am very grateful to the Casacastalda
shop lady who came running out of her grocery store to prevent me from
loading us all onto a school bus, which in a momentary lapse, I thought
was the bus to Perugia. How was I supposed to know it was a school bus?
It was blue and a bus. It had no signs, of course, but neither does anything
else we've needed to find around here. The bus schedule itself seems to
exist only in the consciousness of the people of Casacastalda, who all
know it by heart. After a couple days of trying to find a schedule, someone
finally wrote down the times for the Perugia buses for us. There are only
four a day. Just part of the ongoing comedy routine we are performing
for the citizens of Casacastalda, despite their best efforts to look after
We took the bus to Perugia to fetch a rental car, because my mother is
coming to visit. She claims I have twice left her standing at an airport
gate after promising to pick her up. This is untrue, but it does raise
the stakes for this particular rendezvous. (Once I had to take Monica
to the hospital because she was in labor, and mom assured me she would
have no trouble taking the airport bus. The other time, it was indisputably
Ted's responsibility; I was at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.) We plan
to pick her up at the Florence airport tomorrow and drive her back here.
Then we'll use the car to visit some of the hill towns around here that
are accessible, but inconvenient, to visit by bus. -- Mark
We are going to trick Grandma when she comes. We are going to try to trick
her by flash cards. I will race her, and here's how it's going to work.
My dad is going to say, "Well, Maggie has not been working on her
flash cards, so if you can, please work on them with Maggie." Then
Duncan will say, "How about you race her?" Then I will beat
her, because I know my flashcards really fast. -- Maggie
February 6- Casacastalda -
Mark: Monica, this map isn't great, but I think this is the turn up here.
You need to go right.
Monica: Mark, it says left. That sign says left.
Mark: Oh no. That's right, you need to go left.
Grandma Hughes (from the backseat): Do you have a map up there or are
you just guessing?
Mark: That's it. Great! We're doing great now.
Grandma Hughes: Wouldn't it be better to have a map? I at least would
have a map.
Mark: We're really glad you're here, Mom.
February 7 - Casacastalda -
Grandma Hughes: Do you have an Italian talk book around here?
Mark: You mean a phrase book?
Grandma Hughes: Yeah.
Maggie: Grandma wants to know how to say Grazie instead of Gracias. Grandma
really needs a Spanish to Italian book!
. . .
Grandma Hughes: How do you say my package is stuck in customs in Genova?
It's not in here.
Mark: Just give him the notice and a questioning look.
Grandma Hughes: No. I really want to try it.
Mark: Well, I guess we haven't entertained him recently. He'll get his
Maggie: He'll go home at lunchtime and tell them "We had an old lady
in speaking Spanish, today!"
At the art picnic, we played "thief." The thief has a long stick
and gets a three-second headstart. The other people have to track the
thief down and capture the stick. We were painting on a hill that goes
down to a very steep part that had potholes in it. The thief always went
down there, which was fun, because you trip and fall and it doesn't hurt.
I beat Grandma. I got four more flashcards than her. Our trick worked.
I wasn't nervous, because I got some that went to her first and then to
me. -- Maggie
February 8- Casacastalda - In Valfabricca, the "big city"
around here (it actually appears on some maps!), we were sitting in a
bar drinking cokes and sodas and waiting for the laundry to open. We are
never inconspicuous and today was worse than usual, since we walked up
and down the streets asking for directions and then promptly heading off
in the wrong direction in our search for the laundry. (Though there is
no sign on the laundry the sign on the pizzeria inexplicably proclaims
"Welcome to Navajo Country!")
While we were sitting there, a fellow came in bearing a postcard. He showed
the postcard to the other men. A long discussion ensued during which they
kept glancing at us. Finally, the bar man came over - the rest of the
crew hovering in the background - to show us the card and ask whether
it was addressed to us. It said something indecipherable and then Familigia
on it. It turns out the fellow bearing the letter was actually the postman,
and he was trying to deliver the postcard to us - the only unknown famiglia
in sight. Amazing. Everyone, including me, was disappointed that we could
not accept the delivery. -- Mark
February 9- Casacastalda - There are two St. Francis cathedrals
in Assisi, because the people had an argument about which one would best
represent St. Francis, so they built both. One is under the other one.
The one on the bottom was my favorite even though I didn't think it best
represented St. Francis. St. Francis tried to have a really simple life,
and the bottom one seemed really complicated. It was dark and it seemed
as if there were a lot more frescoes, because it wasn't as big. Under
the bottom cathedral there was a tomb for St. Francis. It looked sort
of like a Mexican restaurant. The walls were stone and plain - no frescoes.
The lighting was indirect and it had an orangey glow. I really enjoyed
looking at the frescoes and figuring out what they meant. It was really
cool. In the bottom cathedral, above the altar there were four paintings
showing the virtues - obedience, chastity, and poverty. The fourth one
showed St. Francis in glory in heaven. The poverty one showed him marrying
a woman who was poverty. At the bottom there were two small people throwing
things at poverty. These little people were merchants, and they were small
because they were unimportant. The upper cathedral had very high walls,
so it was lighter and it just seemed a lot simpler. It didn't seem as
detailed. -- Tote
February 10 - Perugia -
Our room in the youth hostel has bunkbeds and lockers, but the bathroom
has a bidet. There are limits to how much Italians are willing to rough
it. -- Mark
February 11 - Rome - The fountain was cool, because it was like
a waterfall. We played griffins there. Griffins are big birds. Our nests
were in the big carved rocks. -- Maggie
The best part about the fight in the pizzeria was the son's concern for
us. The son yelled at his father to stop yelling, because the father's
yelling was scaring "the family." When that didn't work he threatened
one of the antagonists with his big, sharp, pizza-cutting knife. -- Mark
After we found our apartment, we just put down our stuff and went outside
to do an overview tour of Rome, just to sort of see what there was, and
we would go more in-depth in the next 9 days. First, we walked to the
Colosseum which is two blocks away. Then we walked up a big street that
would normally have tons of cars on it. It didn't, because today is Sunday,
and there are no cars allowed in the historic center. Then we walked up
the road and there were tons and tons of pedestrians and bikers, most
of them had yellow balloons. We found out that it was an environmental
group passing out balloons. There were also lots of kids in costumes throwing
confetti; maybe it was some sort of holiday. We passed by the Roman Forum,
and I thought we should stop there, but we kept going on the overview,
much to my dismay. At the end of that road there is a big white marble
monument that has fountains, statues, and lots of steps. Dad said it is
a monument to Victor Emmanuel, the first king of united Italy. (Italy
has only been united since 1870.) After walking through lots of little
streets, we came to a big Neptune fountain, called the Trevi Fountain.
There were tons of people all around it. Tote and Maggie and I climbed
around until some guy told us to get off the rocks. We ate peanuts and
jerky in our own little niche on the side. I liked the fountain itself,
because it looks like a rocky beach after it's hit by a big wave, because
there's water getting sucked out of the little pools. Then we did some
other stuff, ate pizza, and went home. -- Duncan
There are arches everywhere! -- Tote
February 12 - Rome - Today we went to Palatine Hill, the hill
that Rome was founded on. It's now covered in ruins of great palaces.
I really liked the fact that although the ruins are really old, people
today still know what they are. Duncan and I had alot of previous knowledge
about the Romans, so we knew some things about the ruins. All that I had
seen was in books, so I really enjoyed seeing the real things. My favorite
part was the edge of the palace that overlooked the Circus Maximus. The
Circus was bigger than I expected, and the palace was higher and larger
than I expected. The idea of being able to be in your palace and watch
chariot races from high above was cool. Chariot races didn't have many
rules so there would be lots of crashes and smashes and lots of action.
February 13 - Rome - One of the oddest things about St. Peter's
is the enormous size of the place and the efforts the architects made
to disguise the size - sort of an intentional, architectural oxymoron.
From one end of the nave to the other is about three football fields long
-- markers on the floor show how small other great cathedrals are compared
to St. Peter's. The top of the dome is 390 feet above the floor. The canopy
above the main altar is the height of a seven-story building. The enormous
canopy can fit into the lantern - the "tiny" crowning nub on
top of the dome. In one mosaic, St. Mark's pen is nine feet long. At ground
level, there are six or seven foot tall cherubs holding basins for holy
water. (Imagine a chubby, seven-foot cherub with a blank, stupid look
on its face and a head swollen to three times as large as an adult human's.
Yet having built such an enormous church, the architects took
great pains to disguise the size. For example, embedded in each of the
huge "marble" pillars lining the nave (the pillars are painted
to look like marble) are two enormous statues - one near the ground and
the other near the ceiling. To the eye they appear equal in height and
design. Yet, the architects have made the top statue about 21 feet tall
while the lower statue is only 15 feet tall. This gives one the impression
that the top statue is much closer to the ground than it really is. The
lettering around the top of the whole church is in letters 6-feet tall.
One doesn't typically encounter letters this big, unless you are in Hollywood.
The kids and I didn't really believe the letters were that big until we
did some rough measuring. This makes the ceiling appear much closer to
the ground than it really is.
St. Peter's seems more a curiosity than a place for meditation or prayer.
It is oddly bright. All the windows, save the one behind the altar, are
clear. This and lots of electric lighting make the church brighter than
every other church we have visited. The clear windows also let in bright
beams that visibly cut through the air and create bright spots on walls
and occasionally on statues. St. Peter's also has a nearly uniform interior
design scheme. In many other old churches the walls and chapels are littered
with mismatched memorials and frescoes and devotional paraphernalia. The
buildings show the marks of human interaction. You can tell they've been
used and loved. They may not be pure, but they are cozy. St. Peter's shows
only a small bit of this interaction, including a bit of truly ugly modern
art, but in the main the church has preserved the purity of its baroque
gilt and marble. (If floating cherubs carrying papal tiaras put you in
a spiritual mood, this is the place for you). This uniformity and light
give St. Peter's a clean, bright look, but they also make it feel sterile.
According to our tour guide, Bernini, the interior decorator, was trying
to create a place that looked like heaven. If so, the saved will be mere
spectators amidst the ornate glories of heaven. I couldn't escape the
feeling that I was wandering around in an unnaturally clean train station.
February 14 - Rome -
Duncan: Those Swiss guards are really from Switzerland, right?
Duncan: And they're the Pope's army, right?
Duncan: Does that mean they have Swiss Army knives?
(We asked. They don't.)
The most amazing thing is that we got to see the Pope up close. I never
thought I would get so close to the Pope. I thought the only time I would
see him would be with him high in a window and me like an ant in the plaza.
I could see his humor and animation. It was wonderful to see that he was
glad to be there and that he liked the people. I also liked our tourguide
Penny. She's from England. She gave her information in such an interesting
way. Even the things we had read in the books sounded better coming from
her. I also liked the way she was dressed. She had on a nicely tailored
pink jacket, dark skirt - slit to midthigh, pink tights, and a pink scarf.
It was easy to keep her in sight. Walking home, I enjoyed seeing the vestment
stores. I could imagine priests going in, trying on vestments, and checking
out how they look in front of the mirrors. These shops were like the Armani
and Diors of vestment fashion. -- Grandma Hughes
Duncan: St. Peter's was so undetailed. Compare the floor. The floor is
a big part. In St. Peter's it was . . . .
Maggie: In San Marco . . .
Duncan: It was just big ugly blobs.
Maggie: In San Marco . . .
Duncan: In San Marco, they had really cool floors. And in the dragon bones
Tote: I've reached the conclusion, that Venice churches had the best floors.
Grandma: They're sanding the floors downstairs here. It looks nice.
Saint Peter's was really cool in some ways but pretty bad in others. The
whole basilica was full of optical illusions to make it look smaller.
The bad parts were: the front of the pillars were painted to look like
marble. Saint Peter's had a gold ceiling like in all those ugly palaces.
It really seemed like it was made for tourists, not a place of prayer.
I really disliked the statues, they were too normal and ugly. We also
went to a large auditorium and got the Pope's blessing. He work a white
robe with a small skull cap. The Pope was really old, and he was a very
slow walker, but he had really cool guards - the Swiss guards. The auditorium
was huge and way too modern. -- Tote
February 15 - Rome - I loved just running around in the ruins
of the Roman Forum. Tote and Mags and I chased each other around between
parts of different ruins for three hours. We took a tour from a guy that
reminded me of Cookie on the You Don't Know Jack computer game. I learned
that the Roman basilicas were government places but weren't restricted
to law courts. I also learned that the Romans made themselves puke by
pushing a little bone in their ear, so they could eat some more. They
had special rooms for it. One of the times they did it was during the
Festival of Saturn - a big festival where everyone got gifts and everyone
was treated equally. The slaves got served by their masters and got the
day off work. Christmas has its roots in the Festival of Saturn. -- Duncan
What! Come closer while I tell you something about the Roman Forum. But,
what is a Forum? Well, I only went to one. What was it like?. Well, the
ground was higher than a temple had its door that you need a ladder right
now to reach. But did you need a ladder then? No. I already made it clear
that the ground was higher then. Go on, go on. I want to hear more about
the Forum. I don't remember anything more about the Forum. -- Maggie
February 16 - Rome -
Mark: Mom, you've got some catsup on your face.
Grandma: Did I get it?
Mark: No, it's still there.
Grandma: How about now?
Mark: Do you have a napkin? Thanks. I'll just get it for you.
Grandma: What are you doing? Did you just spit on that? That's not healthy!
Mark: Who says it's not healthy?
Grandma: Who said it is?
Mark: You did, when I was a kid.
Grandma: Don't you know when someone is kidding? Get that thing away from
We went to the Pantheon. The Pantheon was made for a temple to all gods.
Later in its history, the Pantheon unfortunately got turned into a church
and all the bronze got carted away for St. Peter's. In the top of the
dome was a hole where light came through. Mom said that's how the smoke
from the sacrifices went out. Duncan pointed out that the light coming
through the hole would make a good sundial. Dad pointed out that even
though the Catholics weren't always happy with astronomers, they sometimes
made parts of their cathedrals into sundials so they could find when Easter
comes. A little away from the Pantheon was a square where there was an
elephant with a large obelisk on its back. I was really mad when I saw
that the Pantheon was made into a church, but in some ways it was good,
like that it preserved it. -- Tote
Mark: "Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art . . ."
Duncan: Dad, stop it!
Mark: "Not in lone splendor hung . . . "
Duncan: What are you doing?
Mark: "aloft the night . . ." reciting Keats' last sonnet .
. . "and watching with. . ."
Duncan: Why are you doing that?
Mark: "eternal lids apart . . ." Because Keats died here . .
"like Nature's patient . . ."
Duncan: So, you're going to kill us, too!?
If you stand at the center of the Vittorio Emmanuel II monument, all of
northern Rome is spread out before you. You can see everything. Actually
you can see nearly everything. From the center, a single column
completely blocks the view of St. Peter's dome. If the column were moved
a few feet forward or backward, the great dome would be part of the skyline.
Is the obliteration of St. Peter's a coincidence or intentional?
The Italian government completed the monument in 1911 to celebrate the
unfication of Italy - something the Vatican had strenuously fought. Pius
IX, protected by Napoleon III's troops, was able to keep Rome out of Italy
until Napoleon III lost the Franco-Prussian War. When Italian troops finally
entered Rome after the symbolic resistance of papal forces. Pius refused
to accept that Rome was part of Italy and not a papal kingdom. He also
refused to accept the result of a plebiscite in which the overwhelming
majority of votes cast were for the incorporation of Rome into Italy.
Instead, he withdrew to the Vatican and declared himself a prisoner. The
papacy also forbade Catholics from participating in Italian governmental
elections. The papacy did not make peace with Italy until 1922, after
the facists had replaced the democrats and Italy's constitutional government.
Pius IX was a curious character with an eventful papacy. He promulgated
the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, wangled the declaration of
papal infallibility out of Vatican I, fought the unification of Italy
and managed, through his absolute determination to maintain the papacy's
secular authority, to lose it entirely. -- Mark
Marilyn: I'll have the spaghetti americano.
Marilyn: Am-eri-something. Whatever.
February 17 - Pompeii and Rome - From the outside, looking in
at Pompeii, all you could see was a big wall. It didn't look at all like
a Roman town. But when we went through the gate, it looked totally like
a Roman town. There were shops on both sides of the street. I really liked
the wine sellers, because they had little dips in the countertops for
the amphora. As we were walking down the road with the shops, we saw big
rocks that were the height of the sidewalks. This was so people could
cross the street when there was flooding, but when there wasn't the carts
could go between the spaces. -- Tote
We went to Pompeii with Marilyn and Grandma. It was funny listening to
Marilyn when we were on the way home. She didn't have time to select postcards,
so she just grabbed a whole bunch. When Grandma got to the register, the
guy said, "How many?" and Grandma said, "Three." When
the guy asked Marilyn she said, "I don't know," because she
had so many she didn't even count them.
My favorite thing in Pompeii was a giant stone pot, three feet wide. It
was bulb-shaped - like the bulbs you plant in your garden. I can't imagine
what it was used for, since they had amphorae for wine and other stuff.
We saw the wine places and the bakeries. I liked the hole in the rich
peoples' house, because when it rained the water just went out through
a ditch and out in a lead pipe. They already had a courtyard, so I don't
know why they had a hole in their roof. Maybe for fresh air. -- Maggie
Monica and I wandered around Rome, stopping here and there for a beer
or a glass of wine. At Campo de' Fiori, we watched the commemoration of
the burning of Girodano Bruno. He was burned alive 401 years ago at the
Campo by the Inquisition for believing that the Earth revolved around
the Sun and other outlandish things and arguing that his ideas were not
in conflict with the Church's teachings. It was odd to find ourselves
sampling roast pork within sight of his statue. -- Mark
February 18 - Rome - On Sunday, we went back to the Vatican to
see the Pope give his weekly blessing to the crowd in St. Peter's Square.
Marilyn, Grandma, and Maggie all remembered to bring religious somethings
to get blessed. The Pope's voice was very shaky. He appeared weary, weak,
and old; as if he had aged since Wednesday. Maybe he needs a vacation.
On the metro, I felt a hand reaching into my pocket. When I looked down,
sure enough, there was someone's hand in my pocket. I grabbed it and yanked
a bit. I genuinely couldn't tell to whom it belonged. Finally I identified
the culprit. He had draped his coat over his shoulders in an odd way.
The coat disguised whose hand was whose. There was also woman standing
close behind him and glaring at me rather than him. I had safety pinned
my pocket closed, so he didn't get my wallet. He looked baffled, but didn't
yell or complain. Though the metro was really crowded, there was suddenly
a space around the two of us. Then, I didn't really know what to do. The
standard wisdom is to let them go, because pickpockets and thieves can
harm you trying to escape. So, after checking that my wallet was safe,
I let him go.
I felt pretty cocky. Then after I left the subway, I realized that my
other pocket, which had contained about $3.50 was empty. I think the guy
may have been a decoy, while the woman got me. Why would he have let himself
be caught with his hand in my pocket? I don't think pickpockets are that
dumb. Nonetheless, it was a minor loss and an interesting experience,
though it temporarily spoiled my feelings about Italy. -- Mark
February 19 - Rome - The Vatican Museum seemed to have a collection
more like the Accademia in Venice than like the British Museum. As usual,
I liked the cuneiform stuff the best. The museum seemed small until we
got in line for the Sistine Chapel. On the way to the Chapel we went through
many more rooms that are used mainly for people to wait in line. I think
they put the less popular stuff enroute to the Chapel, because no one
would be stupid enough to fight through the crowd to see those things.
The slightly more popular things, they put into the places where everyone
was just waiting and shoving, so they would have some paintings to glance
at. --- Duncan
St. Peter's dome wasn't as cool as the one in Florence, because in Florence
you walked up the dome. You were walking straight up the dome like a bridge.
This one, the dome was just curved on both sides of you. In Florence,
we walked out of the dome onto a little balcony on the top of it. I think
it was a bit taller and had a nicer view than St. Peter's. I counted the
stairs going down with Grandma going down St. Peter's. Grandma and I got
505 steps. Tote got 503. Duncan got 510. We might have lost count where
they were doing construction work on the steps. -- Maggie
The Sistine Chapel was alot more colorful than the last time I saw it,
because it had been cleaned since I was there. The colors made it easier
to see the stories, the paintings, and Michelangelo's art, but the Chapel
as a whole made a different impression. The first time, when it was darker
and less crowded, it made a quieter, richer impression. This time it was
very crowded, like a tourist zoo, but the Last Judgment painting is stunning.
I could tell that Michelangelo was older when he painted the Last Judgment
than when he painted the ceiling. It has a much harsher view of man. Even
Jesus looks very stern and harsh, not at all compassionate or spiritual.
When we descended from the dome, I had just enough time to get to the
little chapel in the basilica that is set aside for those who have come
to pray at St. Peter's. At 4:30 each afternoon, a priest leads Benediction,
putting away the host, which has been displayed throughout the day. Several
old nuns in blue habits led the Ave Maria off-key. I enjoyed the solitude
and incense. (Mark was outside pacing off the dimensions of the elliptical
square. The boys waited to compare stair counts with Grandma and Maggie.
Marilyn wrote postcards in the Vatican Post Office.) -- Monica
Literally hundreds of tourists were jammed elbow to elbow into the Sistine
Chapel, jabbering and exclaiming. Yet, regularly, a stern, recorded, voice
asked the crowd to do the impossible and be quiet. I couldn't really see
the point. -- Mark
February 20 - Rome - The Colosseum wasn't as amazing as I thought,
fewer seats, construction, and less info. But I still liked it. I liked
the size, what was left, and many other things. Inside the Colosseum,
there were tons of walls. These were the remains of underground rooms.
(The bottom of the Colosseum was no longer there.) There was something
that was not clear to me. When a gladiator had someone helpless, if was
told to kill him, did he kill him? In some of the books I read there was
someone with a hammer who killed the person. There were people who sprayed
perfume to hide the stench of blood! -- Tote
The Colosseum wasn't as cool inside as I thought it would be from the
outside. I thought there would be more to see. Gladiator fights happened
here. Animals like lions and tigers and bears were kept in the bottom
and lifted through trap doors by elevators, so they could pop out and
scare the gladiators. Some of the animals were kept in deep, dark places
with no food, so when they lifted them out, they charged for the people.
Italians, with the exception of one group, have been wonderful to our
children (and to us!) Some Italian museum directors have apparently decided
to balance their books by gouging kids. European kids are free at the
Colosseum, Palatine Hill, the Accademia in Florence, and the Accademia
in Venice, but non-European kids must pay full adult price. This gets
expensive (and infuriating) quickly. -- Mark
February 21 - Rome to Brindisi to the Adriatic - We took a
Eurostar train from Rome to Brindisi. We hugged our good-byes with Grandma
and Marilyn Sheahan in the dawn, outside the Colosseum. Grandma left soon
after by taxi to the airport. Marilyn is staying one more day. -- Monica
Outside the train there are bright yellow flowers, ancient olive trees
with trunks that I wouldn't be able to get my arms around, and fifty yards
away, a deep blue sea. Across the aisle, the kids are clustered around
Monica, trying to learn the Greek alphabet from a phrase book. In Brindisi
we catch a ferry to Patras, Greece and then figure out how to get to Athens.
February 22 - Athens - Greek food seems to have lots of spices
and additions to make different flavors. But the flavors don't all hit
at once. One hits and then another comes later. The second flavor seems
to be the strongest. -- Duncan
Our guidebook describes our hotel as "newly renovated," with
"welcoming owners," and awards it the book's highest rating.
We literally have trouble finding it amidst scaffolding and huge construction
sites. One enormous project, something having to do with the new subway,
is right across the street. The work is dirty and noisy. When I ask to
look at the room, the owner scowls at me, and she doesn't stop even after
we decide to stay at least one night. "Newly renovated" apparently
has a different meaning in a city where the major attractions were built
2500 years ago. The hotel has contact paper instead of linoleum on the
landing, or perhaps it is just very thin linoleum, since it moves underfoot.
The stairwell is dark and the renovation did not include painting any
wall a single color or filling any of the holes in the walls. Our rooms
do have balconies and a view of the Acropolis, though there is sometimes
a crane in the way, and our room is clean.
We spend part of the afternoon, trying to find a better hotel. In the
process we look at about seven other hotels. All of them are either dumpier
or in the $90 to $100 range. Lunch costs $40. So much for "inexpensive"
Athens. We decide to stay (and eat more sandwiches.) -- Mark
Hotel owner: How are you?
Mark: Well. Thank you.
Owner: How did you sleep?
Mark: Do they work all night across the street?
Owner: Yes. They say they are in a hurry to finish. After three years.
Mark: The room is okay, but you should have mentioned the construction
when I called.
Owner: But if I mentioned it, you wouldn't come here.
For lunch, we decide to have a picnic on the balconies and watch the construction.
It is rather interesting. As far as the kids are concerned, the construction
site is a good thing. -- Mark
In Rome, I saw roaming cats . . . here it's dogs . . . big ones . . .
but they appear well-fed and non-threatening. -- Monica
At first, when Duncan and Maggie came home and said "We got you a
gyros with chicken with onions, tomatoes, onions, and sauce," I thought
I would just take off the stuff I didn't like, but I didn't see how I
could take off the sauce. But when I tried it, I really liked it. -- Tote
February 23 - Athens - This morning I ducked into the Mitropoli
Cathedral across the street. I watched as people, old and young, traditional
older folks, and youngish student-types, made the sign of the cross three
times and then kissed the glass in front of each shrine, relic case, or
metal plaque. There were lipstick marks, lip marks, and finger prints
on each glass pane. It was dark but hushed. Finally, I too gave it a whirl.
I stepped up to a Madonna and Child shrine and almost touched my lips
to the glass, as I made the Greek Orthodox sign of the cross three times,
then brought my fingers up to my mouth. -- Monica
It's Carnival time. Lent begins on Monday. Many people are walking around
in costumes. For the most part, kids wear packaged Halloween-style costumes
of cowboys and superheroes, and adults wear the sort of goofy, multi-colored
hats we associate with snowboarders, though the hats are made of plush,
velvety stuff and not fleece. Both groups carry brightly colored plastic
clubs or hammers and gleefully whack any similarly-armed passersby whether
they know them or not. -- Mark
February 24 - Apollonia, Sifnos - After I took Mom's seasick remedy,
I was fine for a half hour. Then, I started to feel sick, and I said to
myself, "I better try to fall asleep." But I couldn't sleep
well, so I just got queasy and felt like I was going to throw up. I went
upstairs to play with Tote and Maggie. That helped. The best part was
just staring off into blackness. You couldn't distinguish sea from land.
When Tote and I were talking, we sounded so poetic without trying. I said,
"The wake stretches back into interminable darkness," and Tote
said, "into the inky black it runs." Then suddenly, the lighthouse
on Sifnos flashed on. Then it disappeared, and the whole world was black
again. -- Duncan
Tote: This is the cleanest subway station.
Monica: It's beautiful. There's no graffiti.
Tote: And there won't be any graffiti as long as those guys with machine
guns are guarding the place.
My estimation of Athens fluctuates like a teenager's hormones, and I feel
about as rational. When our hotel turned out to be in the middle of a
construction site, I cringe. When the man in the sandwich store tentatively
speaks a bit of English, I am happy. When I convert the lunch bill to
dollars, I despair. When the restaurant owner next door calls the kids
over to give them Carnival streamers, I am happy. The sunlight and the
Acropolis and the lovely little squares are stunning. Yet, Athens is more
crowded, more English-speaking, and more challenging than it was 20 years
ago. Nonetheless, I feel comfortable here. Part is familiarity with travel.
Part is the sunshine. Part is Greece. -- Mark
February 25 - Apollonia, Sifnos - I do not believe it is possible
for a Greek to cook a bad meal. -- Monica
I made my first friend. His name is Kryspin. He's Polish. He has a sister
named Natalia. She's only one year old. She does not cry much, and she
plays with her shoes. -- Maggie
February 26 - Apollonia, Sifnos - Monica and I walked to Kastro,
a tiny town atop a fortuitous hill near a small, but very sheltered harbor.
Saving the churches, which are always open, everything in the entire town
was shuttered and closed. We walked up and down and back and forth through
the town for 45 minutes without seeing any signs that anyone else was
there. No people and only the sound of the wind. Then, just as we turned
to head out of town, a kite appeared and then the head and shoulders of
a boy trying to get it airborne. He paid no attention to us, not even
glancing in our direction. The only sound was the rattling of the paper
kite in the wind. When we reached home, we saw a kite just above the crest
of the hill; its tail dancing furiously in the breeze. I watched it, half-hoping
and half-believing that I would see the boy rising into the air at the
end of the kite string and floating, disappearing, off across the horizon.
Mark and the kids have gone off to the couple of shops that are open here
in Apollonia with my list of food items to look for. We must be like robins
to these folks, very early arriving foreigners. All the shops, caffes,
restaurants, etc. which normally cater to tourists and travellers are
closed up until the season begins again. Kastro seems a ghost town. Here
in Apollonia, the largest little town on the island, there are two small
food shops, a wonderful bakery, and a tiny fruit and veggie shop. We've
heard there's a meat shop (I put goat meat on my list, so I'll see if
the intrepid shoppers find it), a pharmacy, 2 cafe/bars, a library (which
Duncan has checked on three times already this morning - the sign we've
decoded says it should be opened from 10 -2, and then again 4 - 8....only
it's not open) and many, many Greek Orthodox churches. There are many
other small shops, restaurants, and cafes which I imagine will be lively,
tourist spots come summer, but at the moment are simply more blank storefronts.
February 27 - Apollonia, Sifnos - It's a bright sunshiny morning.
I'm in bed with the computer and a cup of tea. The house is quiet; Mark
is beside me with "Women in Love," which we have been making fun of because
the characters are so intense and the word "loins" is used several times
on each page. The birds are singing outside, and I can see the sea and
neighboring islands in the hazy distance. -- Monica
February 28 - Apollonia, Sifnos - Dad gave us a quest. First we
were featured in one of Mom's dreams (made up by Dad.) We were the creators
of a world called Lyric. I was Earth; Tote, Air; and Maggie, Water. We
first needed to go to the library to get a clue from Dad. Then we asked
the librarian for our map. We had to ask in Greek. When we had the map,
we went down to find a bottle of Fanta - the water prize. Tote found it
behind a rock down on the trail to Kastro. It took us forever to find
the air prize. It was night when Maggie finally found it. The following
day, Tote and I quickly found the earth prize - a bag with three chocolate
bars in it. After our saving of Lyric, Dad is thinking of making a new
quest. He's been looking for chalk to make hints that will wash away.
Everyone here seems to greet everyone else that they meet. If we're walking
we say "Good morning" or "Hello" in our fractured
Greek and always get a greeting in return and most often a broad grin.
When we wave to people in cars or on motorcycles, they beep. Even the
bus driver gives a loud diesel honk, when we nod or wave. -- Mark
March 1 - Apollonia, Sifnos - All over Sifnos, there are little
churches. Inside, they have a little wooden wall between the main church
and a little back room. Sometimes there's swinging doors and sometime
curtains and sometimes both that separate the main church from the little
room. On the wall are tons of pictures and some religious icons. Also,
usually on a window sill, is an oil lamp with all the stuff for it - wicks
and matches and oil and water. There's also a little cup in front of the
wooden wall where you burn your incense. Dad tried to burn some incense
and instead burned his finger. There's also usually a pedestal filled
with sand, and you light candles and put them in the sand. -- Tote
March 2 - Apollonia, Sifnos - Duncan offered me a dollar to pull
a rope we found inside a church. When I looked outside, I realized it
was connected to one of the church bells. I didn't pull it. -- Tote
One of the things Monica enjoys most is sampling local food and wine.
Today, we walked into Kamares for lunch, and she ordered a local retsina
wine. Retsina has a strong taste of pine sap that often provokes gags
and allusions to turpentine among the uninitiated. This version combined
the unique taste of retsina with a distinct yeasty smell, reminiscent
of African palm wine. The cloudy cast indicated either that the wine was
spoiled or that it was truly authentic. We pronounced it authentic and
enjoyed it. -- Mark
March 3 - Apollonia, Sifnos - I venture to say I have been in
25 churches here on Sifnos. I have never yet met another person in any
of them. One guidebook says there are 365 churches and 2500 residents.
Come Easter, the tourist season begins. According to one of the island's
three doctors, there may be 21,000 people here during the summer. -- Monica
March 4- Apollonia, Sifnos - I played with my friend Crispin,
today. Crispin is a four-year-old boy who lives here. We play a bunch
of games, and they change every day. He speaks in Greek and says in English
"Good Morning!," when he kicks the soccer ball. -- Maggie
March 5 - Apollonia, Sifnos - Yesterday, we went to Artemonas.
Artemonas is practically the same city as Apollonia. We walked up the
main stairs which is the old road. They lead past a lot of churches. On
the way we passed a huge wall of a succulent bush. Maggie has been using
the same kind of bush to make pretend "fishes." Duncan attempted
to climb the bush, but slid down, because they were succulent. When we
got to the cafe, we ordered a soft drink and Cheetos. -- Tote
From the semi-whitewashed monastery atop the highest hill on the island,
we could see the white towns of Sifnos sprawled below us on the terraced
hills. Beyond the island, we could see other isles nearby in the low,
distant, sea-shrouding clouds. -- Duncan.
This morning we climbed up to the highest point on the island . . . the
deserted monastery and Profit Elias church. After the hot climb, the dark,
cool inside of the church was very welcome. We ran into a couple of local
young men and their two friendly dogs. They told us locals go up there
in the summer, on weekends, and do restoration work.
I truly enjoyed our hike down. I like to hang back in the quiet
of an afternoon hike. . . Mark and Maggie telling "Gaba Stories";
Tote and Duncan deep in plans, ideas, and conversations. I get to revel
in the birdsongs and wildflowers. Right now, there are many spring wildflowers
. . . purple, yellow, blue, white, and pink. -- Monica
There is a wall around the monastery, and in the wall, there are rooms
for monks to stay overnight. There is a kitchen where you are invited
to make coffee. In the middle is a church. Inside, the church is like
all the other churches but is a little bigger. On either side of the church
are stairs so you can get on the roof of the walls. Mom cut apples and
drank coffee up there, while we learned it was okay to ring the bells.
So, we rang them hard. -- Tote
March 6- Apollonia, Sifnos - Today we went to the beach. The
public bus is also a school bus, so the driver arranged some of the troublemaking
kids in seats up front. He also waved a stick at one of them, but he was
smiling. The water was really cool, it was blue with black lines moving
on it. The black was the shadows of small waves. When we were ready to
go, Dad and I skipped rocks. I had one that skipped really far. Then we
smashed my sand buildings and went home. -- Tote
March 7- Apollonia, Sifnos - Today was unusual because it was
overcast and cooler. In the evening we walked up to Artemonas to play
hearts in a taverna. -- Monica
Tote and I go to the bakery every day to buy cookies and bread and sometimes
baklava. I like the cookies the best. They are chocolate chip cookies
with holes in the middle. The chocolate chips are on the top. Today we
are going to get 10 cookies of one kind, ten of another, and bread. Tote
talks in Greek. He says "ten" and points to the cookies. He
doesn't say "thank you" all the time but I do it. He also says
"good morning" or "hello." -- Maggie
March 8 - Apollonia, Sifnos - As we walked along the ancient stone
pathways of Kastro in the late afternoon, the syrupy, sweet smell of baklava
alerted us to a nearby bakery. It was the only open door we'd seen. The
few times I've been to Kastro were eerie reminders that the island has
few permanent residents and, until the tourists return, people generally
remain shuttered in their houses. Inside the bakery we startled the young
man listening to his radio . . . the children bought delicious cookies
(including a local specialty, amigdalota . . . an almond cookie . . .
almonds are so much more flavorful here than I've ever tasted before),
different from the ones they buy daily at our local bakery in Apollonia.
After hiking hillside paths along the cliffs north of Kastro
in the strong winds and overcast skies, we stopped again at the cafe in
Artemonas for a "special drink" and a chance to play hearts
together. Then we traipsed home in the dark, illuminated by the almost
full moon. -- Monica
Try this in front of a mirror. Nod to yourself. Now, tilt your head about
30 degrees toward one shoulder and nod again. Didn't the second way look
friendlier than the first? That's the way people greet us around here.
March 9 - Apollonia, Sifnos - The milk is white and creamy and
makes a milk mustache. When I look out the window, I see olive trees.
I see the water and the waves crashing against the rocks. I can feel bumpy
brick and soft leaves on my fingers. I smell sea water. I can smell flowers.
I can smell mud and dirt that I want to play in. I can hear birds chirping,
and I can hear motors from the road. I hear goats and roosters, and I
can hear goat bells. -- Maggie
We went to the beach. Tote and Mom and I ran. Maggie and Dad took the
taxi to meet us and bring food. When we got there we walked along the
beach, because Mom insisted that we check out what the town was like before
we played. Of course Mom had to stop to check out the church on the shore
right in front of the clump of buildings that are the town. On the way
to check out the town, we passed the coolest silver sand, like it had
mica in it. When we got it on our hands and looked at it in the right
light some pieces of it were clear. The beach had the clearest water ever.
It was so clear it didn't even make sense how clear it was. When you looked
at the water from far above, the water was just really light blue. There
were also patches of seaweed that made these dark splotches in odd shapes.
They looked kind of like ripped up clouds. We took the bus home. He was
a little early so he waited in case anyone else was coming. -- Duncan
Maggie and I took the taxi to Vathi. Neither the driver nor I had the
correct change, so the driver said "Pay tomorrow," as if it
is the most natural thing in the world and drove off with a smile. --
March 10 - Apollonia, Sifnos - The past two weeks have sped by.
Tomorrow is our last day on Sifnos. I've loved it here. . . the bright
sunshine, white clouds, blue sky and water; whitewashed houses with lemon
trees, terraced hillsides with small flocks of goats or sheep amidst olive
trees . . . tiny orthodox churches, larger blue-domed churches, and deserted
monasteries on hilltops or cliffs overlooking the sea. The sounds of goat
bells, braying donkeys, church bells, the greeting honks of buses and
cars. -- Monica
Today we went to Christopigi, a monastery right at the end of a peninsula.
Actually, it's an island but a bridge connects it to the mainland. The
first thing we did was go down to the swimming area. We felt the water,
and it was really cold, but Dad didn't hesitate and jumped in. His face
totally changed and he swam back to the platform really fast. Then we
said "1,2,3" and Dad and I jumped in, but Duncan didn't. Later
Duncan and I jumped in together and claimed an island for ourselves. --
March 11 - Athens - We took the "Flying Cat 4" back
to Athens. The Flying Cat is a catamaran. It has two hulls. It goes superfast.
When we went to Sifnos, the ferry took us five and a half hours to get
there, but coming back it was only two and a half. Despite its speed the
Flying Cat was one of my least favorite ships. It had nothing but seats
on board, and the only entertainment was slapstick comedy and soap operas
in Greek on TV. I read my book Kim by Rudyard Kipling. It is very
good and well-written. -- Duncan
Back at our hotel near the construction site, the only question is whether
the linoleum, sheets, or walls are thinnner. The kids have a beautiful
terrace with a really nice view of the Acropolis, though as Tote points
out, when the crane passes overhead the giant cement counterweights swing
lightly to and fro. It is now after midnight. I am hoping the fellow next
door, who sounds like he is from Alabama, will get his personal life in
order and get off the phone. -- Mark
March 12 - Athens - One of the places that I end up meeting
locals is at internet cafes. Most of the "cafes" are not cafes
at all. They don't serve tea or coffee or anything else. They are usually
just collections of computers in a room or two, though some, like some
in Barcelona, are huge collections of flat screens with the computers
tucked away in some clumsy looking, but supposedly more secure, cabinet.
(With one or two exceptions, it seemed like Barcelona's cafes were set
up by some paranoid who believes Netscape is the only program worth running
on a computer.) The room is typically relatively new, just like the cafe
itself. The places are also used by locals, not just by tourists. In bigger
cities, tourists wander in, check their e-mail, and wander out but usually
don't stay long.
The people in internet cafes and the people who run them are
interesting to talk with. They are usually young, ambitious, and speak
English. They also tend to be a bit bored. The patrons, too, generally
speak English. In fact, internet cafes are one of those places where you
routinely find non-native English speakers, usually students, chatting
in English. Here in Greece, I can overhear a conversation between two
Greeks and an Italian student about the relative merits of girls from
France, Italy, and Greece.
March 13 - Athens - On the way home from dinner, we began passing
rows of police in riot gear. As we continued along embassy row toward the
parliament building, the police presence increased, as did the tension in
the air. We asked a couple of policemen what was going on and whether we
could walk toward Syndagma Square toward our hotel. Two guys were so tight-lipped
and tense, we just walked on. One guy told us to go right and avoid the
Square. The number of police was amazing. They pretty well had the demonstrators
surrounded. -- Monica
Another nice thing about internet places is that the people in them can
often give good advice to a tourist. They rarely have a "brother,"
"cousin," or "friend" who is a guide or runs tours,
a restaurant, a hotel, or a souvenir stand. They come from a different
background, and as students or recent students, they are cheap and assume
everybody else is too. -- Mark
Man: Albanians! Phew!
Man: Albanians! We give them freedom and everything else, now they want
At the War Museum, I liked the models of the boats. One had smoke coming
from it. The boat was on fire. The other boat had people leaning off the
sides using Greek flame throwers, called Greek fire. -- Maggie
It is amazing that Athens will host the 2004 Olympics. Athens is a wonderful
place, but I cannot comprehend how it will ever be ready. Simply to patch
the dangerous holes in the squares and sidewalks might take years. Syndagma
Square, the one in front of the Parliament Building and arguably the center
of the city has chunks of missing marble and at least a few narrow, foot-deep
holes randomly scattered about. Some blocks in the modern part of town might
have sidewalks of six different vintages, all in tatters. Some of the buses
are new, but some - like the one we took from the bus terminal - are of
50s or 60s vintage. The hotel rooms we saw are the sort that people write
home about. Once the Olympic prize gouging starts, there will be world records
set for highest price ever paid for a crummy hotel room. But the biggest
puzzle is the air. Air is something athletes cannot do without, and Athens
is rather short on it. This evening we climbed a big hill in the center
of Athens. The whole city spread out around us, and all of it was covered
by a ghastly yellowish-brown haze. The airborne muck obscured buildings
only a few kilometers away. Although the sea is close, it was invisible
behind a grey-blue cloud. It wouldn't surprise me if some athletes decide
not to compete in Athens just to avoid the air. -- Mark
March 14 - Athens - I'm sitting at a cafe drinking my good orange
juice. It's fresh orange juice, and it's all pulpy and not sweet. I know
a lot of people in my class would not like this juice . . . they like
sweet orange juice with no pulp. There must be a rule here about how to
drink orange juice. It has to be in a tall glass with a rounded bottom.
And you drink it with a black, plastic straw. I'm wondering how many oranges
were squeezed for my drink. I saw a lady make my drink with three oranges
the first time I ordered it. I think when I'm finished, I will go over
and play on the square. -- Maggie
Mark: How are you doing?
Restaurant Owner Near Entrance to Our Hotel: Tired.
Mark: Isn't that what coffee is for?
Owner: Have you tried one of these?
Mark: It's a frappé, isn't it?
Mark: No. But I've seen people drinking them everywhere. It's Nescafe
and some other things, right?
Owner: Yes, with sugar and cream or ice cream and sugar. It's very, very
popular now. It's for lazy people.
Mark: Lazy people?
Owner: Yes. A guy orders one of these and he can read the paper for an
hour or so. A greek coffee . . . five minutes and it's gone. So, it's
for people who aren't in a hurry to get to work.
March 15 - Athens to Cairo - We arrived in Cairo at sunset.
Maggie saw the pyramids out the plane's window at dusk. Disembarking at
the airport, getting our visas, and going through customs was totally
painless. Then we went outside to find a bus to downtown Cairo. There
was a bit of confusion, but we were soon on our way. And what a way it
was! I went through a range of emotions. First, I was excited: "Oh
my goodness I'm in Egypt! Cairo! This is so fun. The kids are tired, but
we've got our hotel reservation at the famous Windsor Hotel . . . this
is great!" The driver drove the big, air-conditioned bus like a taxi
driver. We drove fast, the horn constantly alerting all other drivers
and pedestrians, braked suddenly, almost hit all the other cars and buses,
and almost hit all the people trying to cross the roads. I watched, sometimes
I laughed in disbelief . . . then I found it sobering . . . the throngs
of people, the noise, the pollution, the number of vehicles, the pace,
the stimulation. We saw two kids riding outside on the back of a commuter
train, smiling from ear to ear, while two older kids sprinted to catch
the train and then jumped inside the open door. Finally we arrived. We
hopped out, as well as one can hop with a full, heavy backpack on one's
back carrying a full, bulging daypack up front. We trudged a few blocks
from the bus stop to the Windsor. I thought the Windsor would be old and
charming like the Continental in Tangiers. Instead it was just tattered
and frayed. We had to dicker over the price for our rooms - a matter we
thought we had settled on the phone. -- Monica
Every time we leave Athens, Maggie gets a gift. This time she it was a
set of worry beads and a foil flower (folded from cigarette wrappers)
from the owner of the restaurant next to our hotel. -- Mark