Thursday, August 30, 2007

August 23, Solitude in pidgeon-flesh and the asian contingent

Ah! I slept until noon today! Well, I don't remember much about the night before so I figure that is why my head hurts. It was a beautifully rainy day today. Ma Pop and I took br0n to San Marco Piazza to chase the birds. She wore her water shoes so she could tromp through the puddles on the way. There was thunder rolling over the city and the innumerable pidgeons of the square jumped at the sound of it. br0n seemed to take flight with them, running after them, wet and bedraggled, looking very much the part of pidgeon/scarecrow. Ma Pop suggested we get some gelato and I thought that was a wonderful idea. We walked a short distance in the drizzle, finding ourselves under the eaves of the shop, I went in to talk to the girl at the counter. Gelato is not indistiguishable from iced cream, though it is very similar. The chocolate is so, so good. Ma Pop had the cherry and br0n had vanilla flavour. We finished and went to sit in the salon of our albergo, out of the rain. People watching has always been a hobby of Ma Pop's: picking out strange behaviors and interesting features, commenting and sparking thoughts and conversation. We sat at the window and watched the rain and the people below, playing restaurateur with br0n. We also spent some time in the small column of a courtyard, waiting for dinner time. We went to a pizzaria around the corner for dinner after stealing never from her personal time and noted that all the waitresses were asian girls. It is strange watching an asian approach you, knowing some of their general mannerisms and seeing some of them in the person approaching you, expecting a broken greeting or at least a light accent, and getting a perfect "buonjourno" and an easy prattling of Italiano. I was reminded that we are the foreigners, that we are the ones with broken language and seen as having generalized trappings and faults. Knowing some do not like me or my family on the basis of being tourists was unsettling. Never the less I ate a great spaghetti alla bolognese, as did Ma Pop, br0n had a margherita pizza she didn't eat, preferring a plain bun, and never a very good looking gnocchi (which, I found out just prior to coming to Europe, is pronounced nyo-kee, not no-chee.) With wine undrunk and a long, quiet conversation still to be had with never about this and that, we headed to our rooms for the night.

Monday, August 27, 2007

We awoke the next day early enough for the included continental and packed ourselves into two small tables. I took Ma Pop up to her room when she was done with the intention of coming back down to finish my breakfast. I got back after dropping her off and the waitress had cleared the table, she's quick. Ma Pop took a nap and the rest of the family went to take the laundry to be done. It was surprisingly far, the ~other,~ closer laundromat being closed for all of August. It will be a long time before I understand the workings of Italian business. It was a nice walk along the main tourist port, over four beautifully crafted bridges and up into a neighborhood we didn't know. We found the place with very little difficulty and paid twenty euros per load for separation into lights and darks, washing, drying, and folding. I figured that it wasn't bad for a tourist price. We bought some beer, wine, and pop at a corner store on the way home, I love Europe). I went alone to pick up our laundry and it was a quick trip through the winding streets. Navigation by foot and boat are the only ways to travel in Venezia and walking seems to be the faster of the two, though some of the bodies of water don't have bridges across. I enjoyed the time alone and paced quickly through the other tourists, as per mi mode.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

august 21: Venice, a rogue's port if ever there was one.

We checked out of the Hotel Daunau Opera with five hours until we had to leave for Degaulle Airport. 

Walking by one of the narrow, one-way streets with parking on both sides, never noticed a piece of a huge ferris wheel slowly turning. She cried out with a hand to her mouth, bringing us to attention. Hurrying over to it we found a fully-fledged fair, complete with barbe a papa stalls, churra (a deep fried treat similar to doughnuts,) and rides, rides, rides. We passed the bungie trampolines and headed directly for the ferris wheel. The ride operators helped us cut into the line right in front and board the first gondola available. "Merci, pardonnez moi. So sorry," to the family who would have been next. We board.

Ma Pop has never been on a French ferris wheel. They are huge, tall, wide, monstrous, soaring 70 feet into the air. (This might be an incorrect figure, I am very bad at distances. Note that it might be about twice as tall as you expect, had you never seen one in France.) It has been a childhood dream of hers to ride one. She missed it in childhood and lost her dreams in the everyday of middle-age. Now that she is here, nearing the end of her life, it seems an appropriate time for dreams to come true. We soared well over the standard six floors of the apartment buildings surrounding us. We peered, candide, into the living spaces of the people across the road, I wonder if they ever get used to that. We saw the church on the hill a couple miles away. We cast our wary eyes downwards, giddily reeling at the apex. 

I am afraid of heights. 

The gondola landed smoothly and we made our escape. Trudging down the puddle-ridden fairway, we passed carousels, food and treat stands, a woman with perfect breasts, bumper cars, several swinging and twisting rides, a haunted house, and a fun house. Br0n rode with me on the carousel and we sang "I want someone to buy me a pony (clip clop clip clop clippy-clip clop.)" We took some food from a Grecian stall, another cheese-covered hot-dog, frites, bits of pork and vegetables in a hot-dog bun, and a few drinks. We sat in the garden adjacent to the fair to feed the swarms of pidgeons frites, playing favourites and trying to walk through the carpet of birds. We eventually went back to the hotel where we left our bags and sat in the salon to await a taxi.

One portion of the day over and we were all ready for bed. Now, off to the airport for another round of screaming agony. 

Something I've noticed on flights: Stewardesses and stewards seem to switch languages as soon as they are comfortable doing so. It is strange that, sitting in a room, you can hear the country changing underneath you from as the inflections and words of our hostesses. 

We landed at about midnight and met a porter who was friendly and very helpful. 

He spoke limited English and I'm still getting used to the sound of Italiano. It's much like French and English in parts but the delivery is very strong. I like French better, probably because I know it better and also because I can speak it without much accent, I think. 

The porter told us about a watertaxi that would bring us to the port we needed in not a very long time and a waterbus that would take longer but cost about 135 euros less. Yes, the watertaxi would cost about 170 euros. After picking our jaws off the floor we exclaimed, probably too loudly, that a waterbus would be fine. 

Have you ever taken a bus from the airport? Imagine that trip and then imagine that your bus has no wheels. It was a long, dark trip to take in the middle of the night. I could see structures in the water but couldn't make out exactly what they were, I imagined they were the ghosts of long sunken ships. The eerie city lights added to the fantasy of a ghostly city on the water. After several stops we finally reached San Marco, the place we were to get off.

There was a thunder storm over the sea which cleaved the sky with light.

Now, if only we knew where our hotel was. Albergo Firenze is located in a corner, through an alley, in a side-street, past the San Marco Piazza. We got good directions from an English speaking woman who asked us to follow advertisements which, I suppose, change frequently, so following her directions proved vain. After a walk I met a couple sitting in a chair within San Marco Piazza and watching the storm break over a huge church. It was one of the most romantic things I have ever seen. And as I pushed my mother in her wheelchair, lugging a bunch of luggage, asking in vain for a street that doesn't exist, I knew that my chance at high romance was fading. We wandered these lapping, old, epic, old, and thoroughly old streets until 2 in the morning when, it happened, that someone who we had already asked directions from (we had asked directions from a lot of people at that point) saw us and told us we were going in entirely the wrong direction. Or I think that's what he said, since he said it in Italiano and then proceeded to take us directly to the albergo. 

Following him, we were scared for our belongings. Not knowing if he was trustworthy and treading blindly through badly lit, venetian alleys. Every corner brought the surprise of safety, but he was our best lead to the Firenze. We thanked him profusely, of course, when he did eventually lead us to the albergo safely ("Grazi, grazi!" "Prego. No, prego.") and woke the owner to check in at two in the morning. He came down to meet us with flashlight in hand and checked us in with nearly infinite patience and perfect alertness for having been asleep two minutes before. The halls were absolutely dark but for tiny little emergency lights near the ceiling, because Europe conserves energy. It was difficult but I appreciated the sentiment behind the darkness. Ma Pop was asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow. Our room found a busy sleep after much bickering and loud talking.

That morning, when we woke, was much more fun. With errands to be run and a missed continental, we eventually got out for a lunch of spaghetti bolognese, a split margharita pizza, coca light, coca proper, fanta, and espresso. Italian coffee is very close to godliness. There are stores with masks everywhere. Huge feathered and jeweled masks, some of them costing 300 euros, some of them 12. A family of four walked into one of the chic artisan shops and came out with four gaudy masks, American tourists enshrouded in feathery enigmata. 

Ma Pop eventually was ready to go out at 4 or so and we left at 5 for something to eat. Food in San Marco Piazza is so, so terribly, stupidly expensive. Three sandwiches and drinks cost 70 euro, which is about 100 CAD. It was stormy and absolutely beautiful. People flashing pictures and ogling my hair. The pidgeons smearing the heavy sky. Filling the air with feathered flesh and obscuring the catholic church at the far end.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Versailles is a big house.

Another continental breakfast, I suppose I should get used to those, then we slept until noon. My mother was not up to going to Versailles at 1 so we went, the three of us. Yep, it's a huge fucking house. It's so, so, beautiful. It's gilded with gold everywhere and has huge frescoes, and paintings all over. Some of the most awesome paintings you can think of were there. There was even a painting of Louis XIV cosplaying as god. We walked around the palace for a couple hours and only scratched the surface of the building. It must have been a perverted citadel in it's time. Versailles' true beauty, though, lies in it's garden. This rich, lavish, HUGE garden brimming with running water and brass sculptures. Half naked ladies vomited into a pool of carved metal. And hidden in one of the floral squares, a gem of a fountain. It had stepped plateaus of water spilling into one another, each step inlaid with conch shells and the basin at the top seeming to supply the entire thing with aqua lined with huge teeth. Gargantuan fucking teeth. Real teeth. I wanted to smash my body against it until I was dead. 

If I was less tired I would write more.. and more coherently. The French, lallygagging loudly outside, must keep me staring at the ceiling until exhaustion finally takes me. 

Bon soir.

PS. I touched everything, even the centuries-old paintings.

Ah! Paris makes me yearn for an older, lower city!

Paris is exciting. After my jet-lag, which lasted an entire day, morning until night, I woke up this morning to a continental breakfast with ma pop, never, and br0n. We then didn't get out of the hotel until about noon, when we took a trip to a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful little museum nestled behind a huge famous church on a hill. I don't remember what either of them are called and will update if I ever do. I took a bunch of pictures from there that still need to be uploaded from the camera into the receiving end of a tube. Then we went on a boat tour on La Seine which went past La Louvre, Napoleon's Palace du Justice, Notre Dame, the famous art acadamie which is there, Tower d'Eiffel, and a billion other hugely famous, massively old structures. There are people who live on houseboats all along La Seine. The water is so dirty. 

We got back and had a small rest, then went out to find some food. We almost walked into a strip-bar for lack of reading obviously posted signs which featured girls in lingerie and brass poles and huge bold words reading, en anglais, LIVE DANCING GIRLS. :facepalm: We did eventually find a place to eat that didn't have tuna taco on the menu. It was a busy place name Madeline 7 (that's "sept" for you filthy anglophones) and they had the most beautiful Filet Mignon du Porc au Citron, which is pork loin smothered in a sauce of cheese and lemon, beside linguine. never had this boring looking spaghetti which she says was actually above average, and so very, very good. My daughter, the ever-choosy, picked something safe, hot-dogs...

Now hot-dogs are OK when they're from a vendor in N America, if you like that sort of thing. The thing that arrived was a Cajun dream. Oven roasted on a baguette and smothered in a thick layer of well-cooked cheese. The actual hot-dog part was completely invisible underneath all the awesome. My daughter said that she wouldn't eat it.. I was drooling despite the pork loin being covered in my increasingly foamy saliva and she was telling me it wasn't plain enough. I would have thrown her out of France if it wasn't enlightened and I wasn't her father and she wasn't so cute and I was more cruel and.. well, cetera. My mother had a french onion soup and it looked pretty good, except don't call it "french onion soup" unless you want to be snickered at by a cute waiter. 

I am feeling more and more comfortable with speaking what little French I know, which is difficult with the issues that I bring to a conversation. I can very nearly order something to eat entirely in French!*

I am also going to Venice, Florence, and Roma. One of my friends asked me to take a picture of myself drinking Coca-Cola in front of the main building in the Vatican. Does anyone else have any nutty requests?+

*assuming it's not terribly complicated and I see a written version of what I would like beforehand.
+again, assuming it's not terribly complicated or expensive.