Saturday, August 27

Let's hear it for cheap applause

Saturday night (thank gods they put the day of the week on the floor of the elevators, I'd be lost without that) and I'm sitting alone in what passes for the internet café around here. It's our second sea day out of the last three. After I signed off last, I did most of what I set out to do.

I did read most of His Dark Materials. I'm about half way through book three. Enjoying the series immensely. And Matt's right, he is the one to direct it. If there's any justice in the universe he'll do it too.

Yesterday was Naples. Up early, we piled into a tour bus and made our way 85% of the way up Vesuvius. The other 15% was on foot. A killer climb, 15 minutes of hard going that felt like it was straight up. Whatever didn't kill me made me stronger, though, and the view from the top was well worth the climb. We walked around like tourists, took lots of pix, and then came back down.

Then there was the (seemingly) obligatory stop at a local cameo factory (for which I'm sure a kickback was involved) and after wasting a half hour of our time looking at some particularly ugly examples of the art form, we were off again.

Pompeii was our fourth set of ruins this trip, and the greek and the roman are starting to run together a little bit. It definitely was the largest settlement we've seen, and the only one that had preserved the decoration as well as the walls. Interesting, but I think I've had enough for now. I'm ruined for ruins, it seems.

After that we grabbed Max and headed into Naples to try to seek out the elusive Pizza we had heard so much about. It turned out to be harder to find then we thought, since all the restos had closed up after lunch and weren't opening again until dinner. We had given up completely and were headed back to the ship when we finally spotted a place that looked both authentically neapolitan, and also open for business. Great, fresh, wood fired and with a cold beer the perfect snack. An excellent final meal, and a fitting capper to the trip, too.

I spent half of today reading, and the other half packing. In a few hours I'll go to sleep and then spend about 15 hours in various airports, planes, buses and taxis until I am home again safe in my own bed. Until then I'm gonna finish The Amber Spyglass, because I'd like to find out how the world ends.

One more thing, just an observation I had today that I thought summed up my ambivalence towards the whole cruise ship thing nicely. The overall metaphor for this kind of a trip is this:

It's like living at the mall.

Everything's nice, everyone's friendly, everybody's trying real hard, but in the end it's just the mall, a world of artifice and plastic experience. Traveling by train and plane and staying in hotels might be less convenient, but it's also just the tiniest bit more real. And I can't recall the last restaurant I was in where the staff lined up to receive a round of congratulatory applause, but on the cruise they've managed it the last 3 nights in a row.

I'll be glad to be home.

It's always 9:15 when I look up

I come in
A dark room, but busy as my eyes adjust
I am finding my wary way

Just beyond my reach I see what I will see soon
That there is a world here; I move inwards, I am of the world I see
There is still darkness
I do not have to feel my way as cautiously as before

I can walk now. I am seeing.
I can begin to anticipate

I run, faster, almost tripping almost falling almost feeling

The world has order as the world slips past
As it fades I travel with the people I have met
I feel them beside me

The end comes faster now
The bottom part of the slide until it stages me and I am slowing
And landing on an ending that I gently defend as best.

Wednesday, August 24

Athens & Santorini

It's been a hell of a couple of days. Got up later than we wanted on Tuesday and after sending Max off for the day we took ourselves into Athens to gawk like the tourists we are at the Parthenon. Some points:

1) Don't go into Athens in August and forget to take your sunscreen and your sunglasses. Walking around the Parthenon in 110 degree heat for 90 minutes is pretty tiring on the system.

2) The thing I had no idea about; when they said they were restoring the site, I sort of thought they meant they were cleaning it, putting up new plaques, etc. Nope. They're pulling the damn thing down and completely reassembling it from scratch, cutting new marble as needed and replacing the iron supports with all new titanium ones. We got to see them cut the marble to match a plaster cast they had made on a giant drill that resembled nothing so much as an 8 ton key cutter.

3) Another day, another insane meal. Taverna Psaka, with a view that overlooked a trellis of flowers and then the streets of the city. Fresh baked rolls piping hot, with a goat cheese and herb spread. Eggplant keftedes with bacon. Greek salad with a piece of feta the size of a slice of toast. Grilled calamari that filled the plate. Free watermelon and honeydew for dessert. Fucking brilliant.

4) Athens itself, once you are just downtown and out of the Parthenon area, is really nothing special. It's just another city. The big open squares, Syntagma and The Plaka, are plain compared to Barcelona and Rome. Had I only come here and nowhere else, I might have been much more impressed.

This was the only day I got truly sunburned and my foot blistered, but I was still a happy but exhausted camper by the end.

Today was our most expensive day, we booked an exclusive tour of Santorini, going by coach to 2 small villages, plus a winery tour and tasting, and a boat tour around the volcano. It finished up with the most elaborate greek meal of them all. The best food I've had anywhere has been in Greece, and that's saying something. Today was:

crackers spread with fava bean mash, hummos, tsatziki and olive tapenade
Greek Salad
Caesar Salad
Fresh Bread
Charcoal grilled santorini white eggplant and portobello mushroom caps
Grilled king prawns in butter sauce
Grilled salmon in dill sauce, served with rice and steamed vegetables
pistachio baklava and cappucinos

All while perched under a canopy, overlooking the caldera of the volcano as we were buffeted by gentle breezes.

The villages are a photo op at every turn, and we both picked up some small jewelry before taking the cable car ride back down the cliff to the port. I'm about to go enjoy my dinner, and then tomorrow I'll be at sea for the day, trying to read all of the His Dark Materials series in one day.

Then it's on to Naples. I'll check in again after climbing to the top of Vesuvius, wandering through Pompeii, and hopefully getting into Naples to check out the birthplace of the Pizza.

Monday, August 22

Antiquity, Haxan and dinner went a head

Hi there!

It's Monday night, and the ship finally has reliable internet again, so I'll catch you up.

After I blogged, I did in fact complete an intercontinental podcast. I then tried to post it, unsuccessfully, to my idisk. So you'll have to wait a while to listen to it. We headed back to the boat right after that.

The next day was spent at sea, as we travelled down the Italian coast, through the Straits of Messina, and on towards Mykonos. I spent the first half of the day eating, playing some minigolf in a gale force wind (this is something everyone should do!) and looking for a single quiet outdoor place to read my books. About 3pm I found it. We went to pick Max up that night from the kids program. He wasn't there, because he wet himself in all the excitement and had to be removed. This was his one chance, if it happens again he can't come back and we are kind of screwed for the rest of the trip for babysitting. (This is truly a one-off thing. He NEVER has accidents, so I'm not that worried.)

Then on Sunday we were in Mykonos. We took the excursion to Delos, to walk amongst the ruins. Delos is one of two examples of ancient greek culture unearthed intact, and we had an excellent guide. Pictures to come when we get back. Then it was back to Mykonos for what can only be described as one of the best meals I have ever eaten. Nikos Taverna served me a fish plate that tasted like the sea. 66% of my meal still had the head on it! A fresh whole fish (I don't know what kind) charcoal grilled in some olive oil, a GIGANTIC king prawn done the same way, and about a pound of the best calamari rings I have ever had. Plus of course fries and rice. And the best spanikopita I've ever had. And the best Saganaki I've ever had. And a fresh baked loaf of dark dark whole grain bread that I'd willingly kill a man for.


Then we just had time to clown around with the very tame and people friendly pelicans (again, pix to follow) and then it was back to the boat. After a day walking around ruins in the hot sun, I happily collapsed into bed.

We were up again at 6:30 this morning, After a quick breakfast we headed into Kusadasi, Turkey for our second set of ruins and -

I have to pause here to just make an observation. I'm writing this at the terminals near the main lobby of the ship. They've switched the live music currently pounding in my brain from horrible lounge crap to even more horrible bouzouki crap. My question is this: are there any greek songs that don't start slowly and just build and build? because I've heard like 10 of these numbers now, and it's always the same bloody thing.

anyhoo, we took a bus to a guided tour of Ephesus, a completely preserved ancient roman city of about 250,000 people at its height. Although our guide was slightly less personable, the city itself was remarkably magnificent.

meanwhile Max and sone of the others went to the turkish railway museum, where Max practiced his photography. He's developed quite an eye, and some of his shots are better than mine or leah's.

Then we just hung out on the boat for the rest of the day, Leah and I got massages, and that brings us to now. We're in athens tomorrow at 7 am, so I've left another 6am wakeup call. I'm going to have lunch near the athens market, so I'll be back tomorrow night or the next with more gastronomic tales to tell.

Friday, August 19

As far down as I wanted to go, and then some

I'm in an internet café in Rome, taking a break while I wait for Matt to record a podcast over skype. I don't want to talk about yesterday. That is out. O U T. But Wednesday was nice, in Nice. Beautiful, varied, pleasant. Today the same. So what if I wanted to take my own life on the in between day? Let's just forget it happened.

Just know this: 5 year olds do NOT need to travel. They can safely be left at home, without the slightest guilt.

In any case, some highlights. A fantastic view of nice from the waterfall on the hill, a great walk along the beach, the Matisse museum, and perhaps my best meal so far, a mixed green salad with a dijon vinaigrette, a gigantic piece of smoked salmon and a huge scoop of buffalo mozzarella. Fucking great, simple, light and fresh. And today, a slice of pizza from a joint that simply sold the slices by weight. I asked for quattro formaggi, and the lady motioned with her hands, how big? Then she just threw it on the scale. Less than 3 euros for a HUGE slice.

Saw the Trevi, the Pantheon, The Spanish Steps, The Fountain of the 4 Rivers. Great Cappucino (maybe the best ever). Great simple lunch. And I bought some awesome sneaks, baby.

Hopefully pictures soon. Or at least once I'm home. Someday I will blog about yesterday, but today won't be that day.

Tuesday, August 16

How loud can they belt that thing?

I'm sitting in the "coffee bar" on board ship. Really it's just a side area near the main lobby. There is the world's most mediocre jazz band lounging it up about 20 feet below me, though of course it feels like they're playing from inside my brain.

All that aside, it's been an awesome trip so far. I was up for 24 straight hours from Sunday morning until my head finally hit the pillow in Barcelona Monday night. In between I went from eating Weber's burgers in the airport to $100/kilo aged ham in a Barcelona tavern. They do not mess around with the leg of the pig here. Barcelona has two main things; insanely detailed physical surroundings, and that Ham.

It's really more like prosciutto, or at least the best prosciutto ever made in any case. I had three meals in Barcelona, Dinner, Breakfast and Lunch. The ham was consumed at all three.

We conked out after dinner on Monday (I was so tired that I have no actual memory of putting Max to bed) and then I managed a basically uninterrupted night of catch up sleep that left me mostly refreshed and ready to go for today. After a really nice hotel buffet breakfast (our hotel was classically euro, very small but so elegantly appointed and with the most brilliant use of materials throughout) we were picked up for a guided tour of Barcelona. This turned out to be a typical "from the bus" tour, with a far too quick look at the city, a quick stop at La Segreda Familia (it really is quite unbelievable) and then we were deposited at our ship.

We checked in, got everything where it was supposed to be, and ran back for a last look at Barcelona. This time we did it the right way, on foot. started at the foot of the Ramblas, walked along until a sidewalk tapas joint called out to us, had a lunch of tapas and limonata, and then proceeded along to explore the street performers, the impromptu pet shop kiosks, and most of all the market. A market to put St. Lawrence to shame, and this even when over half of it was closed because most shopkeepers take holidays in August. Just a brilliant, brilliant day, and the first time we really felt like it was "our kind of trip".

I'd love to post some pictures (I will eventually) but internet on board ship is kind of ridiculous. I'll try to blog it up a few more times, and I'm going to try to find an internet cafe in Rome on Thursday.

I've got to go now, they're starting to play "Misty" and I'm a sucker for horn and banjo arrangements.


Sunday, August 14

You and Me and George

1) Packed

2) Fed

3) Prepped

4) Scared

Awaaayyy we go!

Tuesday, August 9

Total Recol (dot CA!)

I just checked my junk mail account, and there's a version of the Nigerian Scam in my inbox. A rather crude and badly worded version at that. I'm not exactly sure who it is that's the target audience for this anymore. Are there still people out there who are smart enough to get email, yet simultaneously dumb enough to fall for this?

In any case I decided to do my civic duty and try to forward this thing to the proper authorities. After about two or three google searches I came away with, the RCMP's online crime reporting page (is it me, or is that cool in and of itself?) Reporting Economic Crime On Line. Dot CA. Except that when I tried to get past the splash page, I got a security warning. The RCMP let their security certificate for their own online crime site expire 2 weeks ago. Which means that the site itself could be a phishing operation. It certainly asked me to register all of my personal information before reporting any fraud. Like I'm gonna be that stupid.

Can someone call Alannis Morissette? I think she might want to add a verse to that song.

Monday, August 8

Wheel within a wheel

I woke up this morning to some sad news. Followed immediately by some happy. One person left us, another joined in. All within the space of an hour or so.

I'm leaving on a jet plane in just under a week. It seems slightly surreal, going from shiva to baby naming (assuming it happens in time) to vacation to film fest planning to work to film fest attending all in a row like that. Hell, that doesn't include poker, or movies, or podcast, or radio show, or anything else.

I took Max to see 2 movies yesterday, a mini film festival of his own. To paraphrase Wooderson, every year I get older, but the disney movies stay the same age. We saw Herbie: Fully Loaded (no doubt a subtle hint to adult viewers) and Sky High (no doubt a subtle hint to adult viewers.)

Except for the haircuts and Lindsay Lohan's prodigious talent(s) I might as well have been watching The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes or The Shaggy D.A. There's no reason for pg rated entertainment to be this bland, folks. Sky High especially suffers form an overwhelming capitulation to the generic. There simply is no excuse for a movie about the various cliques and social divisions of High School life to be this lifeless. Herbie fares slightly better, if only because of the inspiration to make the little bug bond emotionally with its new owner and therefore take on some of her characteristics and abilities. Like the ability to skateboard and trick off of everything, something that isn't used nearly enough in the ensuing action.

Max liked the cars, of course, and the superhero stuff. Tellingly, he did not exit the theatre with an immediate plea to own the dvd's of these movies. This is as close as a modern five year old gets to hating something; not wanting to own it on dvd.

I shouldn't slag Ms. Lohan, something the press has been doing an admirable job of lately. The fact remains that she is the most talented and charismatic actress of her generation, and the only one able to truly carry a mediocre vehicle (sorry!) like this one (I don't consider Jessica Simpson's appearance in Dukes of Hazzard to actually be acting. Bringing in a crowd that simply wants to "tap that ass" as the daily show put it is not the same as hoisting a narrative on your shoulders for the long haul.) The problem is that every time her "father" Michael Keaton leans in to her for a big old hug, it just feels a bit icky. Cause you know that if they were just hanging out as actors he'd be trying to put the moves on her like there was no tomorrow.

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