There are two important things for full success in life: 1. Don't tell everything you know. ~Albert Einstein

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

A little night music for today

Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (A Little Night Music)
Dorothea Tanning, 1943, Tate Modern

1 Hour Sufi Music of Turkey | Hakan Mengüç

Gass's Invocation to the Muse

This quote from Biblioklept taken from William H. Gass, his book The Tunnel. It's fabulous and daunting and I'm afraid I have to add it to my already neglected reading list.

"An Invocation to the Muse
O brood O muse upon my mighty subject like a holy hen upon the nest of night.
O ponder the fascism of the heart.
Sing of disappointments more repeated than the batter of the sea, of lives embittered by resentments so ubiquitous the ocean’s salt seems thinly shaken, of let-downs local as the sofa where I copped my freshman’s feel, of failures as frequent as first love, first nights, last stands; do not warble of arms or adventurous deeds or shepherds playing on their private fifes, or of civil war or monarchies at swords; consider rather the slightly squinkered clerk, the soul which has become as shabby and soiled in its seat as worn-out underwear, a life lit like a lonely room and run like a laddered stocking.
Behold the sagging tit, the drudge-gray mopped-out cunt-corked wife, stale as yesterday’s soapy water or study the shiftless kind, seedy before any bloom, thin and mean as a weed in a walk;
Smell the grease that stands rancid in the pan like a second skin, the pan aslant on some fuel-farting stove, the stone in its corner contributing what it can to the brutal conviviality of close quarters,
Let depression like time-payments weigh you down; feel desperation and despair like dust thick in the rug and the ragged curtains, or carry puppy pee and plate-scrapings, wrapped in the colored pages of the Sunday paper, out to the loose and blowing, dog-jawed heap in the alley;
Spend your money on large cars, loud clothes, sofa-sized paintings, excursions to Hawaii, trinkets, knicknacks, fast food, golf clubs, call girls, slimming salons, booze;
Suffer shouting, heat rash, chilblains, beatings, betrayal, guilt, impotence, jail, jealousy, humiliation, VD, vermin, stink.
Sweat through a St. Louis summer and sing of that.
O muse, I cry, as loudly as I can, while still commanding a constricted scribble, hear me! help me! but my nasty echo answers: one muse for all the caterwauling you have called for! where none was in that low-life line of work before?
It’s true. I’ll need all nine for what I want to do—perhaps brand new—all nine whom Hesiod must have frigged to get his way, for he first spoke their secret names and hauled their history by the snout into his poem. For what I want to do …
Which is what—exactly? to deregulate Descartes like all the rest of the romancers? to philosophize while performing some middle-age adultery? basically enjoying your anxieties like raw lickker when it’s gotten to the belly? I know—you want to make the dull amazing, you want to Heidegger some wholesome thought, darken daytime for the TV, grind the world into a grain of Blake.
O, I deny it! On the contrary! I shall not abuse your gift. I pledge to you, if you should choose me, not to make a mere magician’s more of less, to bottle up a case of pop from a jigger of scotch. I have no wish to wine water or hand out loaves and fishes like tickets on a turkey. It is my ambition to pull a portent—not a rabbit but a raison d’être—from anything—a fish pond, top hat, fortune cookie—you just name it—a prophecy in Spengler’s fanciest manner, a prediction of a forlorn future for the world from—oh, the least thing, so long as it takes a Teutonic tone—a chewed-over, bubble-flat wad of baseball gum, say, now hard and sour in the street, with no suggestion of who the player’s picture was, impersonal despite its season in someone’s spit, like a gold tooth drawn from a Jew’s jaw.
Misfits, creeps, outcasts of every class; these are my constituents—the disappointed people—and if I could bring my fist down hard on the world they would knot together like a muscle, serve me, strike as hard as any knuckle.
Hey Kohler—hey Koh—whistle up a wind. Alone, have I the mouth for it? the sort of wind I want? Imagine me, bold Kohler, calling out for help—and to conclude, not to commence—to end, to bait, to 30, stop, leave off, to hush a bye forever … to untick tock."

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Squirrels, squirrels squirrels

Today is the Big Day
Squirrel Appreciation Day!

Of course, it's best not to feed wildlife but I'm sure that if you toss a few peanuts to a squirrel, she wouldn't mind. In any case, remember they were here before us so at least let them pass in peace.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Five days until National Squirrel Appreciation Day

Remember to pick up some UNSALTED peanuts at the store. National Squirrel Appreciation  Day is on Sunday.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Winter Solstice

The science

I started this post in the morning and now, hours after dark, I'm finally getting around to finishing it. Tonight is Winter Solstice so I must. Whether you ever read this or not, I want to wish you a serene end to the old cycle and at least one moment of deep peace sometime during this longest night.

It's also four days before Christmas. Neighborhood houses, trees, and bushes twinkle with lights and re-inflated santas and cartoon characters wobble in the dark. It's a nostalgic and, all too often, bitter time. In the last several years the solstice has been my personal winter sanctum and, as in years past, I'm re-posting this poem. It's my candle in the window after I turn out the light.

Winter Solstice illustrated

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Bird Park December update

It can be confusing first thing in the morning determining just which peanut is the biggest and best and, while sleep is still in your eyes, it's hard picking up two or three nuts at a time, especially when other birds are fussing all around but it can be done. Today is our fourth morning home and the Bird Park is in full swing.

We've been gone for six months but, as usual, Maggie the 7 o'clock Magpie, showed up the first morning we were back. She's always got half an eye on the place. The little birds, doves and quail appeared a couple of days later. They are out there now pecking away at apples and seed. Today was the first time a whole tiding of magpies came. Grackles showed up about 20 minutes in. I hope they stick around after breakfast and chat awhile. Their conversations are enchanting. Oh and seems Rosie the skunk is still here. She woke me up two nights ago fighting with someone. She sprayed the hell out of them. I believe she may have taken up residence under the house in what was BoB's old place. The horrible neighbor cats may have gotten him but, by the smell of things, they won't be getting Rosie anytime soon. This will be interesting. We'll have to relocate her at some point, just not today.

The only guys I haven't seen yet are the crows. They're always the last to arrive. Very careful, the crows. Smart. We might not see them before we leave for Oregon on Wednesday but we'll be here this winter so, I'm sure at some point, they'll make an appearance as well as a hawk or two. They come to the valley for calving season but that's another story. The tiding is gone now but Maggie is still here. How do I know it's her? She's my girl, the fat one . . . first to arrive, last to go.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Stewart Lee and good-bye

Leicester Square Theatre - London

Last night we saw Stewart Lee at Leicester Square Theatre. A wonderfully outrageous fellow, I've been wanting to see him perform live for a few years now so this was a real treat. Tomorrow we leave London for the US thus ending this odyssey which began in London last July.

Angels on Regent Street - London

Sunday, December 3, 2017

A Christmas reminder

🎄Pets aren't just for Christmas🎄

This one brought tears to my eyes. Luckily, it has a happy ending.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Junction of the ages

Back from Africa and in London for the next week. I woke up dreaming about the animals again. Seeing them in their wild state was life changing. After a week in the bush, I was grateful to not see a giraffe or elephant in the game reserve just outside Johannesburg. The 4m electric fence separating it from the freeway, separating the Holocene from the Anthropocene, made the rift between the ages sadly all too clear.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Moving on

Let's see. My last post was a month ago. Since then I tried writing something about our two weeks in Berlin but got bogged down so I'm moving on. After Germany, we spent a very cold week in very expensive Copenhagen then we stayed two weeks in Egypt. Like Berlin, it was a shock and overload but of a different order. Since childhood, I've been fascinated by the mystery of Egypt, its pyramids, mummies, camels and cats. Being there only deepened the mystery. I also tasted Egypt's bitters. Maybe more about that later. Maybe more about Berlin later. This post is just an ice breaker because I backed myself into a corner trying to write about Germany and stopped posting altogether.

We are currently in Cape Town, South Africa and today we're going out with the hope of seeing some whales and penguins. Tomorrow, we'll try to catch up with a few of the native baboons that live here. If we do see any, I'll try to avoid their tricky ways. Seeing as monkeys manage to snatch things from my hands, I'm sure I'm no match for baboons. Also, haven't seen much of the night sky yet but I hope to get a good look at it before we leave this continent. Being that we're now (finally) in the Southern Hemisphere and a good distance from the equator, there should be constellations I've never seen before.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Balkans good-bye

Brasov, Romania - Train to Budapest
Brasov, Romania -  train to Budapest

I didn't post much about our summer train tour of the Balkans while it was happening and now it's over. That's how life goes, isn't it? One day, you're just starting out and the next you're looking back. It all started last winter in Bangkok. M. Lee got the crazy idea we should check out Romania this summer by the most indirect, meandering, roundabout route he could devise and, well, that is what we did.

photo by M. Lee
Romania anytime in the last 1000 years
~photo by M. Lee~

We left London in July on the Eurostar and, to date, have taken 16 trains, one plane, one bus, lots of undergrounds and trams, rented one car, and walked hundreds of miles exploring some new-for-us old worlds in northern Italy, the Balkans, and now northern Europe. We're done with the train part of the journey now. It's hectic being so much on the move but it's been fun. Plus, we both love trains anyway, even Balkans trains which are pretty funky.

Swami viewing "Dracula's Castle" in Transylvania
Swami viewing "Dracula's castle" from afar

As M. put it, “comparing trains in the Balkans to the Eurostar is like comparing skateboards to rocket ships”. OK, an exaggeration but that's how it felt after being on a train averaging 25mph for 13 hours . . .  with no dining or café car, no vendor with water and snacks, and no toilet paper. However, experience has prepared us for days like this. We brought our own sandwiches, apples, cookies, water, and tissue.

The medieval town of Sighisoara - Romania
Vlad Dracul House, birthplace of Vlad the Impaler
in the medieval town of Sighisoara

But trains aside, seems M. really was inspired when he came up with this trip. Romania is a special place. Of course, Transylvania is in Romania so, yes, we drove out to the village of Bran to see "Dracula's Castle", a hot tourist spot in the Transylvania mountains. Its real name is Bran Castle and it was built by the Saxons at the end of the 13th century. Some claim it was Vlad the Impaler's (aka Vlad Dracul) castle during the 15th century and that Vlad Dracul was the inspiration for Bram Stoker's Dracula but the history is unclear. Whether Vlad Dracul ever lived at Bran Castle or Bram Stoker knew anything about him is up for debate.

Inside the walls of a medieval fortified church - Romania
Inside the 16 ft (5 m) walls of the fortified church in Prejmer
The town's people took refuge there when invaders attacked the village.

What is clear is that Vlad the Impaler was an all too real, brutal sadist, as well as a prince and wartime leader. For example, I read that when he was imprisoned he amused himself by torturing rats. And a Romanian fellow we met along the way was only too happy to tell us that, according to legend, knowing that the Ottoman army was approaching, Vlad Dracul personally impaled 1000 Ottoman soldiers and laid them out row by row as a way of greeting and that upon seeing the carnage, the army turned around and left. We only did a drive-by at "Dracula's Castle". The tour gets horrible reviews.

Outside the inner walls of Viscri,
a medieval church in Romania
~photo by M. Lee~

What we did do, and really loved, was exploring a few of Transylvania's amazing medieval fortified churches and villages. Romania has been an out of the way place for centuries which means many of its historical sites have survived intact to the present day.

Outer walls of a Viscri - a medieval fortified church - Romania
Outside the inner walls of Viscri,
a medieval church in Romania

Of its over 300+ fortified churches built between the 5th and 15th centuries, over 150 well-preserved sites remain and many are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. We rented a car just so we could visit a few. Also amazing is that we were free to wander around the 1000+ year-old churches on our own. Sometimes we even had the place to ourselves. That is positively as good as it gets.

Romania good-bye from the train

Balkans good-bye
~Horse, colt and wagon along the railroad tracks~

And Romania's countryside was the most pristine and beautiful I’ve ever seen. Shepherds and dogs still tend their flocks on the mostly open (no fences) gently rolling hills and horse and wagon are still a regular means of transportation. Now it has already been a month since we left Romania and the Balkans behind. I took this picture (Balkans good-bye") from the train the morning we left. As it has been since humans and horses first worked together, the colt is running along beside his mother as she and another horse pull the wagon. Romania, the land where time goes to get away from itself. 

Medieval Romanian castle in the countryside
Romanian countryside

So 15 cities and 12 countries later it's autumn. Though I haven't written much about it here, I took hundreds, maybe 1000s of photos along the way and even managed to post a few here, on Instagram and Flickr and will continue to. We've been in Berlin a week now and are leaving on the bus Saturday for Copenhagen and with that, this episode comes to an end. Next, Africa.

Asha in Vienna
Vienna, Austria

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Vagabond Lee's very good birthday in Romania

It's been about seven years since the vagabond guest blogger, M. Lee, contributed anything here but last week, after his birthday encounter with a Romanian cop, he agreed to share the story here.

M. Lee's very fine birthday in Romania
Peles Palace

I like Romania.  It likes me. Here is my birthday story.

Today was our last day with the car.  We're leaving tomorrow for Budapest.  I hate renting cars and I'm pretty sick of driving in general, but for here, it's a necessity.  So we had this car for six days.  On the first day, I dented it.  I have 3rd party insurance, but still, paperwork, anxiety, etc.  That was the first day.  Do you think I put it out of my mind?  No, of course not, each passing day it only got worse.

Asha hurt her knee so she can't walk much right now but we already took yesterday off, so I was at least going to take a road trip.  We headed out to visit Peles Palace on the main highway, a two lane road.  According to Google, it would take us an hour to go 20 miles.  I moved with the flow of traffic and about 20 minutes out I got flagged by a traffic cop who was parked by the side of the road.  I've been through this enough, it's the shake down and fuck it, Romania is cheap, but I've been saving the last of my Romanian money to fill up the gas tank on the way back.  It's a minor inconvenience, but I'm not really sweating it when the traffic cop comes over and starts talking to me in Romanian.

"Romeneshte no, inglese?" I say.

"I need to see identification and license please."

I hand over my passport and drivers license and he tells me to get out of the car and follow him back to his car.  There, he shows me a dashboard device displaying, presumably, my speed and the contrasting speed limit.  The angle is bad and I can't really see it but who cares, I know where this is going.

"You pay the ticket now.  145 lei.  You pay now."

"I need to see the ticket first, can you show me the ticket." I say.

He shows me the large ticket book but remains adamant, I must fork over the cash now, and he'll give me the "ticket" after.  I fork over the cash.

"You go back to your car now and wait."

I'm back in the car, waiting as instructed, about 50 US dollars poorer.  The other cop, the guy's partner, flags down a bus.  I don't feel so persecuted, so singled out.  If this is not a scam, they must have a remote radar somewhere on the road because otherwise, they are just two fat cops sitting in a car on the side of the road waiting for random victims.  As that guy passes me, heading toward the bus, he says "you go back there now".  So I go, back to the patrol car.

There, my cop has my passport open and points to the date and says "today is your birthday".  "Yeah" I reply, thinking, I don't know, maybe it's his birthday too?  "Happy birthday" he says, sticking his hand out to shake my hand.  I shake his hand and say thanks in Romanian and then he hands me back my money.  What?  "Happy birthday, you buy the missus with you some champagna, da?  You buy the champagna!"  Then he finishes writing the ticket, which takes about five more minutes because bureaucracy, and hands me my copy.  "Souvenir, you keep this for souvenir."

"Mooltzu mesk, la revederay" I say, showing off my scant Romanian, and skip back to the car.

And the dent later in the day at the car agency?  Fortunately, it's hard to see if you're tall, it's on the underside of the car below the door.  There's even a chance I didn't do it.  Amazingly, I get the tallest guy in the place to come look at the car, taller than me.  I wait inside.  He's back in a minute, rustling around, probably looking for accident forms while I act cool and pretend to be doing something on my phone.  He hands me a receipt showing the release of my deposit and I practically run out of the place before he can change his mind.

If the absence of pain is pleasure, then this has been a very good birthday.

Exploring the rafters of a medieval fortified church - Romania
In the rafters of a medieval church

Friday, September 22, 2017

Autumn Equinox

White boat - red boat at twilight - Venice, Italy
Vienna at twilight
Once again, the beginning of autumn. The equinox. I'm in Vienna. The equinox here is at 20:02 this evening then the night grows longer and the days grow cold. Be well wherever you are.

Friday, September 15, 2017


Homeless - street art - Athens, Greece
Exarchia neighborhood

In its own way, Athens is a something of a wreck. Greece has been in an economic tailspin for years now and, at least there, it shows. Of course, the fact that we stayed in Exarchia, (Aug 17/24) a neighborhood the US Embassy advises travelers avoid, amplified that reality. The streets are lined with olive trees but its otherwise post-apocalyptic look and feel is definitely not for everyone. We liked it. We had a quiet flat above a small grocery story and the area has a lot of excellent street art. I even liked the gutter to rooftop crust of weather-beaten posters and layers of graffiti.

Swami at Plato's Academy - Athen's Greece
Swami on the road to Plato's Academy

We stayed seven days so we bought the three day pass and walked to all the main sites, covering some 10 to 15 miles a day. One of my favorite places was the Kerameikos Cemetery. Its earliest tombs date back to 2700-2000 BC.  Even Plato had an Academy there, although there's nothing left of it but a sign and path leading to the face of a small hill upon which apartment buildings now stand. And we went to the Parthenon.

Swami at the Parthenon  - Athens, Greece
The second after I snapped this photo of Swami,
I was busted by a security guard.
He was nice enough but explained that,
in order to reduce traffic jams,
the rules strictly prohibit taking photos with mascotas.

As is so often the case at historical sites, it was roped off for renovation. The Parthenon has endured countless sackings during its 2455 years but the worst was by the Venetians in 1687. Thinking no one would fire upon a site of such historic importance, the Ottomans were using it as ammunition dump. Sadly, they overestimated the Venetian's cultural values and sense of history. Immediately upon hearing about the dump, they shelled the building. The damage was immense. The roof caved in, pillars collapsed, enormous sculptures were destroyed and 300 people were killed. The following year, now themselves facing attack by Ottomans, they fled. They considered blowing up the entire Acropolis before leaving but, lucky for us, didn't get around to it.

The Parthenon -  Athens, Greece
The Acropolis, Athens Greece

During high season, there's no beating the crowds. Five cruise ships were in port the day we visited. I'm glad we went but, really, I think the most inspiring views are from a distance.

Swami viewing the Acropolis - Athens, Greece
Swami viewing the Acropolis

To be continued....

Monday, September 4, 2017

And now the Balkans

We're currently in the Balkans. I know very little about this area. I'm not even certain which countries are in the Balkans. Opinions differ, plus it depends on which century you're referring to. The one thing people do seem to agree on is that they're in eastern and southeastern Europe.

In general, the Balkans

The history here is wildly complicated but one thing I have learned is that, from the 15th century, most of the Balkans were under Ottoman rule for about 500 years. By the mid-20th century Balkan countries, free of Ottoman influence began experimenting with socialism and communism. Today, the Balkan countries are all more or less democratic but still very raw. Romania, where we are now, only got rid of its strong man dictator in 1989.

But back to now. On August 9, we took the train from Venice to Slovenia, our first country in the Balkans. We stayed three days there, in Ljubljana - then five in Belgrade (Serbia) - six in Athens and five in Thessaloniki (Greece), and then five days in Sofia (Bulgaria). Now, after a ten hour train from Sofia to Bucharest, we're in Romania for 11 days . . . five in Bucharest then on to Brasov for six including, of course, Transylvania. It's hard to keep up with all this here. We're out every day and when I'm online, sadly, the current Trump and Republican shit show in America occupies a fair amount of my attention. Paltry as they be, the following notes are all I've got for now.

Our apartment in Ljubljana was a tiny quasi-fascist era flat, very basic but good internet, quiet, centrally located, with a very friendly host, an American fellow married to a Slovenian. And Ljubljana itself is a nice town built along a river in an area first settled about 2000 B.C. According to legend, it is guarded by dragons. It's a very livable place, with pedestrian streets, lively open air cafes and markets. There's even an anarchist neighborhood in Ljubljana famous for its graffiti, art projects and night life. Luckily, the world wars of the 20th century mostly bypassed Ljubljana though it was under fascist rule from WWII until 1991 which, predictably, left it somewhat bleak.

Reminder of war - Belgrade, Serbia
Sad reminder of the Kosovo War
Belgrade, Serbia

Belgrade was a different story. Its history dates back to at least 7000 BC and, because of its strategic location at the confluence of the Danube and Sava rivers, it has endured 115 wars and been razed to the ground 44 times, including by Attila the Hun in 471. Most recently, 1999, Belgrade was bombed again, this time for 78 days straight during the Kosovo War by both sides in the conflict.

Downtown Belgrade - Serbia
Downtown Belgrade with bombed out building

It was eerie being in a city my "own" country helped bomb. I could see the remains of a bombed out building from the window of our flat. And, as if that were not spectral enough, on what had been the fourth or fifth floor, a house nestled in the hollow of the building's skeleton. There were bombed out buildings in the center of town as well. I kept reminding myself that I am simply another bystander along the road as history marches by but, after hearing our tour guide's take on things, I have the distinct impression that poor Belgrade, hanging by its hinges, disagrees.

To be continued . . .

Friday, August 25, 2017

Thessaloniki church crawl

That's it for today. Will catch up later.

Friday, August 18, 2017


Sick and tired of bullshit GOP and Trump clown show? Princeton Professor Emeritus Harry Frankfurt runs it down. Don't miss it.

BULLSHIT! from Think Nice on Vimeo.

Harry Frankfurt is an American philosopher and author of the New York Times Best Seller "On Bullshit". Although first conceived as an essay over 30 years ago, his theory on bullshit is more relevant than ever before.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Venice, truth and illusion

Venice, Italy

Venice - one fish eating another?

What can I say that hasn't been said about Venice a million++ times? And, of the hundreds of photos I took of Venice, what can I post that isn't already a cliche? But we were there for the two weeks straddling July and August so, for my own record, I leave mention.

Merchant in Venice 1 - Venice shop, Italy
Merchant in Venice

For starters, I don't know which will destroy Venice first, sea rise due to human caused climate change or us humans tromping through it's crumbling maze. Beautiful, timeworn, sea-wrecked Venice.

Venice with cruise ship - Italy
Venice, Italy with cruise ship

It's listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site yet is "close to losing its hallowed status in exchange for a place on the "In-Danger" list - a category normally reserved for war-ravaged ruins and dilapidated historical sites in Third World countries".

Venitian wall -  Italy
Venetian wall

What hope is there for poor Venice? I think of myself as fairly savvy about these things but still that didn't stop me from touching a brick in one of its ancient walls then being "startled" when red silt gushed from it like blood from a wound.

Asha - Venezia 2017
I really am part of the problem.
photo by anonymous

Of course, like everyone else, we were put off by the hoards of other tourists. Some 70,000+ people pour into Venice daily even though it's more an apparition than a place. However, most are day trippers or cruise ship passengers there only for a few hours. The majority want to see the same things so, if you're willing to walk, you can explore Venice more or less on your own. That's what we did. It's what we always do.

Gondola tours - Venice Italy
Gondola jam

We did not take a gondola. It costs about €80 per boat ($95 US). At twilight, the price goes up to around €100. However, we did take the Grand Canal ferry. That cost us €7 each. Never mind we got on the wrong boat, an island hopper, and missed the canal altogether. We rode it to the end and hopped a return ferry which did go through the Grand Canal. I highly recommend it.

"Support" - 57th Venice Biennale, Italy
- Support -
Sculpture by Lorenzo Quinn
as seen from the ferry.
57th Venice Biennale

On our last two days there we attended the 57th Venice Biennale. Since it began in 1895, the venue has grown so huge, it is now more of an expedition into strange lands than anything resembling an "art show". The exhibits are organized by country and the two main locations alone house miles of art . . . installations, performance, cinema, music, spectacle from around the world.

Asha Venezia 2017 n
Roberto Cuoghi, The Imitation of Christ
photo: anonymous

Also, the grounds themselves are historic and fascinating. And, beyond the two main venues, small exhibitions are tucked into various buildings within the city maze. We stumbled onto a few but missed most.

Recorded in the Venice Arsenale.
I love the sound the old building makes.
video by anonymous

If you travel at all, are thinking of trying it out, are an artist, lover of art, lover of spectacle, a history buff or whatever, consider attending the next Biennale in 2019. I hope by then Venice will have established daily tourist caps. In any case, if you plan on going, plan ahead.

Gondola - Venice, Italy
Venice at twilight

More photos here.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Cimitero Monumentale

I didn't intend to but I spent all morning reading and commenting about Trump again. So irritating. It's such a flaming shit show. Everyday there's a new outrage. I'm glad Mueller has finally impaneled a grand jury. They've got to nail these bastards.

OK. Breathe. Breathe.

Kiss of Death
Kiss of Death

Now . . . back to Milan.

Monumental Cemetery (Cimitero Monumentale di Milano) Italy
One of the grander tombs

Of all that I saw in Milan, the Cimitero Monumentale (Monumental Cemetery) was the most remarkable. This cemetery, founded in 1866, houses acres of amazing works in marble . . . everything from ornately carved name plates, portraits, busts, and figures to entire scenes, obelisks, and sepulchers. The artistry rivals many, if not most, museum pieces I've ever seen.

Milan, Italy - Cimitero Monumentale

Some of the tombs depict the life, others betray the vanity, of the dearly departed. More importantly, most are extraordinarily expressive, making love, in life and in death, visceral.

The crypt of Zaira Brivio - Milan, 1896
The tomb of Zaira Brivio
B. 1876 -- D. 1896

For both of us, the most moving crypt in the entire cemetery was the tomb of Zaira Brivio, a 16 year-old girl who died in 1896. We lingered at her grave awhile, saddened by its beauty and the love expressed by her bereft family.

The crypt of Zaira Brivio - Milan, 1896
The tomb of Zaira Brivio
B. 1876 -- D. 1896

On another day, we visited Milan's Brera Art Gallery (Pinacoteca di Brera). The museum's collection was not the best but there were highlights. My favorite was Caravaggio's Supper at Emmaus,

Supper at Emmaus by Caravaggio - Milan, Italy
Supper at Emmaus by Caravaggio
Pinacoteca di Brera museum - Milan, Italy

M. Lee's was an early perspective painting by Jacopo Tintoretto - St Mark Working Many Miracles

Jacopo Tintoretto - St Mark Working Many Miracles
attribution: Tintoretto [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This summer we are moving around a lot more than usual. Since July 4, we've been in London a week, Basel Switzerland a week, Milan a week and now, many many photos later, we've been in Venice for almost two weeks. It's very hot. This Wednesday we leave for Ljubljana, Slovenia.

Saturday, July 29, 2017


The best part of Milan was having dinner on a warm July evening with new friends in a pleasantly crowded courtyard cafe. It all felt very Italian until I declined the after-dinner coffee although, to their credit, everyone graciously pretended they weren't dismayed by my response. I was sorry to drop out of the flow but I like to sleep at night.

It's certainly not that I don't like coffee. I drink coffee by the mugful. It's one of the few things most of us Americans still agree on, the mug, though it's not so important in the rest of the world. We've stayed in over 50 Airbnb apartments, mostly outside the US, and of those only a couple were stocked with American-sized mugs. And, if you're traveling outside the US, forget about refills. If you want more coffee you buy another cup, full price. Say what you will about the treasonous dimwit and crew currently infesting the White House, at least in America it's possible to find a diner that still pours the proverbial endless cup. Not to say Italians don't love coffee. It ranks not far below the hallowed wine itself, but no sloshing gallons for them. In Italy coffee is a ritual so, as M. Lee recently forwarded me the Ten Commandments of Coffee, I've included them here for your convenience, should you be planning a first trip to Italy.

Crypt of St. Ambrose - Milan
Skeletons of St. Ambrose and his two companions

Beyond that dinner, the Basilica of St. Ambrose (Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio) was one of my two favorite sites in Milan. The 1600 year-old basilica doesn't look that impressive from the outside. Its decorative plaster and bright frescoes are long gone leaving bare brick which makes it seem more like a garden house than important historical site.
I had to remind myself that St. Ambrose built his cathedral in the 4th century, 800 years before Cambodia's crumbling Angkor Wat was built which, by comparison, seemed so much older. Of course, over the centuries, parts of the basilica have also collapsed, been torn down, re-built, built up or over. It's like George Washington's axe which is said to be the very one young George used to chop down the legendary cherry tree, though it's had several new handles and heads. 

White slippers cover St. Ambrose's feet.
The foot bones of one of his companions are exposed.

St. Ambrose died in Milan in 397 and he, and his two companions, have laid in the crypt below the alter ever since—give or take a few centuries during which time they disappeared.

Next . . . the Cimitero Monumentale.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Basel lion and the strange drifting refrains

Basel, Switzerland

This "music" was coming from within
a 700 year-old cathedral where this lion was embedded in the door.

They say life is what you make of it. Yes, it's an irritatingly simplistic saying, an elitist platitude but, even at that, there is something to it otherwise we are dupes only, powerless to shape or influence our reality. So what do I make of life? A favorite view of mine is the surreal. I enjoy dark, ironic, absurdist and/or stupid humor and thrive on life's strange details hidden in plain sight. No wonder then, when I heard creepy organ music wafting from the nave of the 700 year-old built and rebuilt Münster (cathedral) in Basel I had to stop, listen and watch.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Firewords and another cemetery

4th of July Fireworks  -  Los Angeles

On the 4th of July flew from LA to London where we've been for the last few days, back in our old Finsbury Park neighborhood. This time we're much closer to our favorite halva place, Kofali Hot Nuts. The first day we bought a 2 lb block and have been working on it since. Also since arriving in London we've taken some good walks.

Sunny day in a London cemetery
Lovely day in a London cemetery

For our first outing, needing a good walk to survive the stupor of  jet lag, we went to Kensal Green Cemetery. Nice place to visit. It's a charming mix of history, ruin and repair. Along with some 65,000 others, some English notables are laid to rest there including Charles Babbage, often referred to as the "father of the computer" and playwright and Nobel Laureate Harold Pinter.

Kensal Green Cemetery
Road's end

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Rosie or As the Century Rolls On

The Bird Park has changed in the months we've been away. It's full of cats  . . . and a skunk with a fabulous long flowing tail whom I call Rosie. In the brief time we were back, I put food out as always and good old Maggie Magpie, who ever keeps an eye on the place, showed up for breakfast as always, but she was one of the very few birds daring enough to do so.

Of course, predators have hunted here before but never stayed. Until now, the Bird Park was a relatively peaceful world just for birds. No more and I'm sad about that. I suspect these cats live in the house just over the back fence so they have the place for now. The black one spent most of her time staking out the squirrel hole and all four came and went at will. At various times I chased them away but it won't matter. I'm already gone again for months. Perhaps this is the end of an era.