Monday, May 28, 2012


It's now Monday morning.  We are home.  The grass is tall, but a bit too wet to mow.  Maybe this afternoon.  Our fig tree is still ripening, so we did not lose our spring crop.  The roof was not blown off the house.

Our travel went remarkably well.  We were always on time or early.  Barely any turbulence or unwanted surprise. Several wonderful surprises. 

There were no bad meals and many fine meals.  Only one day of rain, seven days of bright sun.  Our "free" hotel rooms were much better than we would have otherwise reserved.  Because airfare and lodging were paid with points, we otherwise traveled as if we were wealthy.

Travel can open the mind to new possibilities.  Previously unrecognized options seem, at least for awhile, both fantastic and entirely realistic. Today Jeannie and I will purchase lavender, rosemary, and zinnias.  This evening we will have wine, cheese, and olives on our deck.  

We are in our late fifties.  I have had, depending on how you count, six or seven careers.  I will probably have at least two more before I die.  I expect my current career will begin to end in the next two years or so.  I need to move toward the next horizon even while this ending plays out.  

It would be great to create an opportunity to allow for more of what we've experienced the last ten days.  We will try.


Trevi Fountain, Rome

Palazzo Strozzi, Florence

Departing Venice on Train

Danieli Terrace


Saturday, May 26, 2012

Returning to Venice

Saturday in Rome was predicted to be rainy. It began very bright. Overnight the forecast for Venice had changed from fine to mixed. predicted sunny, Weather Underground predicted cloudy, Accuweather was showing thunderstorms. But on Friday I had purchased our train tickets expecting rain in Rome and sunny in Venice, so we were on the 9:40 Eurostar north.

We arrived in Venice at about 1:30. gets the prize. It was very sunny and pleasantly cool. Perfecto.

We checked our two pieces of luggage at the station and walked, briskly, toward San Marco. We had decided to try to have our last lunch on the terrace of the Hotel Danieli, just behind the Doges Palace overlooking the Grand Canal.

Arriving about 2:15 we were seated at the rail. Here's the panorama that spread before us.

Ten years ago I had one of my all-time favorite meals at the Danieli Terrace.  I savor my memory of the food and the setting.  I have absolutely no recollection of the cost.  I'm sure it was expensive.  It was certainly expensive on Saturday afternoon.  But what a wonderful way to conclude our ten days in Italy.  There is a time and place for extravagance.  Celebrating thirty years together is such a time; especially when after so many years together there is still plenty to discuss, discover, and enjoy doing together.

Friday, May 25, 2012


Continuing with our purposeful wandering, on Friday Jeannie and I made our way to Trestevere (Beyond the Tiber) for lunch. Along the way, a five mile roundtrip, we saw some old sights again and encountered several new sites. Just some quick highlights here. (A larger map will open by clicking on it.)

We returned to the Trevi Fountain.  Here's Jeannie tossing in two coins for good luck.

From the Trevi we walked on to the Pantheon.  We had been there before, but both the building and it's piazza are a wonder and a delight.  After the Pantheon, though, we were in new territory.  Just south of the Pantheon is an archaeological sight marked the Area Sacra.  The only reason we visited was because it was on our way.  We were glad to learn that here, in Pompey's Portico, is where Julius Caesar was assassinated, not at the Curia in the Forum as we always assumed.

There is a beautiful bronze fountain in the Piazza Costaguti, but the light was not right for a photograph. Just past I was very tempted to stop for fried artichokes, but it was only about 11:30. Then we weave our way through the ruins of the Portico d' Ottavia and the Teatro Marcello (below).

We chose Trestevere as our destination because we had never been there and it is often referenced as an older, slower, more residential part of the city.  The description is accurate up to a point.  But Italians love their cars at least as much as Americans, and the automobile can take the most beautiful street and make it mostly a noisy, smelly parking lot. 

We were able to find a small restaurant off the main streets with a vine covered patio.  Both location and menu were attractive.  Even with our limited Italian it was clear the restaurant claimed to be organic and depending on "local" farmers.  

At a restaurant, as opposed to a "snack bar" or other category, there is usually a three course Italian lunch from which most choose only one course.  At Lucie 44 the full lunch with bread, water, and coffee was "only" 15 Euros each (just under $20).  This is so much less than what we were accustomed to paying in more tourist oriented areas that we assumed each course might be a kind of small plate. We were hungry - and curious - so we each ordered three courses of different selections.  Good thing we were hungry.

My first course was spaghetti with caviar, the second course was an omelet with spinach and cheese, and a third of fried potatoes.  Jeannie had a risotto with pesto, sausages and beans, and a green salad.  The portions were the largest we had encountered in Italy, almost as much as the US.  Each simple dish was well-prepared and presented.  It was the least expensive lunch we had while in Italy, and other than the extraordinary cuisine at Venisse, our best.

By about 1:15 the restaurant was crowded with Italians.  We were gone by 1:30, walking back across the Tiber to the area over the Palatine Hill from the forum.  Below is a picture of Jeannie with the forum stretching to the Colosseum behind her.

On our walk back to the hotel we stopped into San Giorgio in Valabro.  We were the only one's in the church, a cool, softly lit, quiet retreat from the noise and constant agitation of Rome.  We strolled the shaded colonnade of the Piazza del Campidoglio (below), designed by Michelangelo in the mid-16th Century.  As we passed the Quirinalle Palace (Italy's equivalent to the White House) a marching band and many rows of uniformed police were marking Police Day with a parade. I don't know any US police force that features silver swords and feathered helmets.  At the piazza of the four fountains we saw a fender bender resolved with a series of shrugs.  Near the Barberini Palace we stopped for gellato.

Rome can be a frenetic place.  Right now it is also an anxious place. Our hotel shares the same block with the ministries of economy, commerce, and labor.  Small knots of worried looking bureaucrats gather on the street, especially in front of the economics ministry.  The overall unemployment rate is 9.8 percent (and rising), while the unemployment rate for those under thirty is just over 30 percent.  Greece is, once again, teetering on the edge. Spain is struggling.  With the eighth largest economy in the world Italy is beyond being bailed out if private markets lose confidence in Italian debt.

I imagine, however, there is a rather different attitude toward these challenges than we have in Washington D.C. or New York.  How might the mind be influenced to find at the heart of your city vast ruins of a collapsed civilization?  How might your current choices be framed if beside these ruins you eat a fabulous lunch or hear a wonderful concert in a gorgeous building constructed 1000 years after the collapse, in part by reusing pieces of the ancient ruins.  What does it mean to live in a city where Nuovo or Novello (New) is attached to structures 500 years old?

I expect this context encourages a healthy - and sometimes cynical - respect for human folly.  It probably does not encourage delusions of being in absolute control.

In ancient Rome a conquering general might be rewarded with a victory parade. Thousands would turn out to cheer and spread flowers before his chariot. Meanwhile a slave whispered in his ear, "Respice post te! Hominem te esse memento! Memento mori!": "Look behind you! Remember that you are but a man! Remember that you'll die!"

Momento mori. Remember you'll die. So... today enjoy your lunch.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Galleria Borghese

Young Woman with a Unicorn, Raphael

While planning our time in Rome, Jeannie said she mostly wanted time for random wandering.  So the only scheduled activity for Wednesday afternoon through Saturday morning was a visit to the Galleria Borghese.  Only 300 are allowed to enter every two hours.  It is typically "sold out" two or three days in advance.

Begun as a very personal collection of classical art by an early 17th Century member of the Borghese family, the Galleria became a fabulous set piece of artistic excellence. The collection can be "read" as a narrative with certain themes extending from the classical, to the renaissance and enlightenment eras.  There are some extraordinary individual pieces, such as the Raphael above and several Bernini sculptures.  But it is the wholeness of the collection situated in a jewel-box of a building that wows!

We were scheduled for the Borghese from 11:00-1:00.  Afterwards we strolled to the Piazza del Popolo and then down the Via Margutta, stopping for lunch about 2:00.  Mostly we have made lunch our main meal.  Here's Jeannie at lunch.  I think you can tell she was very satisfied with her spaghetti with mint and cheese.

After lunch we window-shopped and shopped for gifts to bring back and talked about how we need to plant some zinnias in the garden, get an orange tree for the deck, and otherwise bring a bit of Italy to the Blue Ridge mountains.

Instead of dinner we stopped in a grocery store for olives and cheese.  The hotel had given us a bottle of wine when we checked in and we had some bread left from lunch.  Our room is featured on the Boscolo website (look for pink and gray striped wall paper, white marble floors and white furniture). But the best feature is a wrap-around terrace with a table and two chairs, two chaise lounges and lots of room.  Sitting on the terrace on a warm May evening with the swallows flitting above us was a very nice way to end the day.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Florence and Rome

Wednesday morning we awakened in Florence.  After breakfast we checked our luggage, again walked along the Arno crossing the Ponte a Sacra Trinita and eventually climbing the Costa San Giorgio to the heights above the city.  We were seeking a "nice view" of the city below, but were surrounded by the walls of an ancient fortress.

On our descent I began taking close-up pictures of moss covered stones and other rocky arrangements.  More on this below.

We crossed the Ponte Vecchio and had coffee and ice cream at Rivoire on the Piazza Della Signoria.  The first photo below shows Rivoire to the left.  The second photo is what we saw from our table.

Jeannie visited Santa Maria Novella (below) while I returned to the hotel to retrieve our luggage.  We met at the train station, across from the Church, then took the Eurostar to Rome.

It was less than two hours to Rome.  We arrived early, about 3:30 and walked to our hotel on the Via Venato.  We are staying at the Boscolo Palace, again using Marriott points.  There was some seeming confusion at check-in regarding my Platinum status which may have contributed to us being given what is evidently the second-best room in the property.  The room is a typical first class accommodation, but also features a large wrap around terrace overlooking the city to the east. (Pictures will come with our Thursday post.)

Wednesday late afternoon was clear and warm.  It was an easy walk to the top of Spanish Steps (can you find Jeannie in the photo below?), then to the Trevi Fountain.  

While Jeannie rested  beside the Trevi Fountain I visited a small exhibition at the nearby National Institute for  Graphic Arts.  Previously I reported that in Florence I started taking close-ups of what I saw in the walls we passed.  Below are a couple of examples.



I have now collected over 50 of these "abstract expressionist" pieces.  It has been fun and has encouraged a closer look and a slower pace than I might have otherwise indulged.  I did not take it too seriously until I saw the exhibit in the building behind the Trevi fountain.  Here are two examples, surreptitiously photographed, from that exhibit.

These are marbles with various types of human incisions.  The technique is much more highly skilled than my mere observing, framing, and clicking.  But the outcome is not always so different.  In any case, it has been fun and I will frame some of my "works" when we return home.

We had a great dinner not far from the Trevi.  I had rabbit. Jeannie had a pumpkin ravioli.  More tomorrow.


We left Venice on Tuesday's 12:27 train, arriving into Florence just after 2:40. There was a mix of clouds and sun in the upper 60's. Our hotel was a recently constructed AHC, an existing hotel chain in Spain and Italy with which Marriott has entered into a partnership. Very modern rooms, walking distance from the train station, good breakfast. Here's the view from the hotel's rooftop sunning deck.

We had reservations for a 4:30 entrance to the Uffizi Galleries.  It was a twenty minute walk  along the Arno river from our hotel to the museum.  Here's a picture of the river.

The Uffizi is literally packed with great art, but so is all of Florence.  We chose the Uffizi especially because it houses the Birth of Venice by Botticelli.  In 1966 the Arno flooded and many works in the museum, on the banks of the river, were damaged. When this was reported in Reader's Digest with an illustration (!) of the Birth of Venus it was the barely pubescent Philip Jon Palin's sexual awakening. (Clicking on the pictures should open a larger version.)

Away from the maddening crowd of the tour groups - on a floor they do not visit - Jeannie and I found four fabulous Rembrandt's.  There are moments when one reality collides with another and we are better for it.  Two Rembrandt self-portraits, an old man, and a youth can do as much as several hours of therapy.

We only had two hours in the museum before it closed. Jeannie and I then strolled into the great square that holds the Michelangelo David.  Here's a picture of me next to Cellini's Perseus with the head of hydra.

We had supper on the piazza beside the Duomo and Baptistery.

Here was the view from our supper table.  Most Europeans don't eat until 8 or 9.  Jeannie and I have made it until 7 but don't last much longer.

Much, much more to tell, but we are in Rome now and tired.  Back in a five star hotel with free internet, so we will send more along tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Short note from Florence

Jeannie and I are in Florence.  Fabulous, beautiful, great hotel ... except internet access is not free.  So our Florence post will need to wait until Rome (Wednesday).  If you happen to be checking in, did not want you to worry.  Much love, Phil