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

Lion guarding the nave of the 700 year-old Basel Münster (cathedral)

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.