Wide Awake in Wonderland

We’re only dancing on this earth for a short while

My Super Dolce 16 September 22, 2008

First off, I would like to suggest that we give me a small pat on the back and perhaps a moderately loud round of applause for not once utilizing the phrase “when in Rome” while in Rome. This is not to say it didn’t occur to me. A lot. But I am ever-conscious of you, the reader, and thus try to maintain some high standards. This, of course, does not allow sinking to or utilizing that which is cliche, trite, predictable nor mundane.

You didn’t know this about me? Well, bion giorno, and welcome to the brave new world. Now finding myself supersaturated in the super powers of the glorious works of the Renaissance masters, I too am now an artiste. Oh yes, gone are the stories about fears of peeing on myself in creepy bus station bathrooms. We will only be talking about reliefs and frescoes and Machiavelli and Medici and meringue and merengue and creme fraiche. That’s right. Bust out the good china, because it’s a whole new fancy ball of wax.

This new leaf turned, you might be surprised to learn I just spent the last half-hour watching “My Super Sweet 16″ on Italian TV. This is 100% because there is a TV in my room, and – from there – 99.9% because it was the only thing in English. And for the first five minutes, it was a treat to listen to someone talk without having to concentrate.

But then what they were actually SAYING started to get processed. “Ummm…did you just say someone was coming to give your dog LOWLIGHTS!?” “Can you repeat that? If Kanyae West doesn’t jump out a cake at your 16th birthday party, you’re going to take a semi-automatic weapon to your private spoiled monsters high school and kill everyone?” (Although, upon deeper analysis, this might not be such a bad thing…)

I can only hope this show is kind of a joke. Something like, “I know that you know that I know that you know that I know that you aren’t really a sociopathic self-centered waste of space like you’re portrayed on this show.” I hope… If not, then I guess this starts to solidify some of the reactions I get when I reveal I’m from the States. It also explains the “Shot at Love with Tequila Tequila” graffiti I saw in Poland. I’ll confess, I’m familiar with that travesty. I was – until it ended – a major “Rob and Big” fan. I have a deep appreciation for the absurd, and there ain’t nothing so absurd as keeping a mini horse in your house.

Anyway, a few weeks ago I saw “A Shot At Love with Tequila Tequila ” spray painted on a wall in either Prague or Warsaw. At the time, I wasn’t really sure what it meant, and kind of forgot about it. However, combined with “My Super Sweet Sixteen,” I recognize it as the Eastern European shorthand for, “REPENT. THE END OF THE WORLD IS AT HAND.” You mix this stuff in with Iraq and Jerry Springer, and it’s no wonder the world thinks we’re a bunch of war-mongering psychopaths…

So getting back to my small world, I almost bypassed Florence today in favor of Milan. Somehow I had the very inaccurate sense that it took three or four hours by train from Rome to Florence. I caught the 10:38, and I suppose I thought I’d get there around 14:00. So when the trained pulled into some station around noon and the lights turned out, I didn’t even look up from “Snowball fight”. I fought on, in vain.

You see, snowball fight is this extremely crappy game on my otherwise useless cell phone at which I am utterly hopeless. I slowed the speed down to 2 (out of ten), but I still get clobbered by the little jokers nailing my poor kid with snowballs. I can’t even figure out what I’m supposed to be doing to triumph in this situation. But I digress…

We’d sat there a couple minutes and my cellphone screen inevitably flickered, “YOU LOSE.” Out of curiosity, I glanced out the window. “Firenze.” Hmmmm…. Firenze. What’s that? Wait a minute… FLORENCE? FIRENZE? Florence = Firenze!?!?!?

I started frantically putting my stuff away, realizing that (I was pretty sure) this was my stop. As with my near miss in London, I leaped off the train right as it started to leave the station.

And thank god, because I’m damn tired, and it’s nice to have a room to myself, no matter how much it’s an amalgam of “Things IKEA didn’t actually think anyone would ever buy.” You see, the last three nights in Rome were rougher than I let on: The first I was fairly sick and could barely breathe, the second I was kept awake by the snoring of an inexplicably loud Australian woman (what is up with these log sawing ladies!?!?), and last night I was a plain old paranoid wreck. I got up no less than five times to violently shake out my sheets (top and bottom) and perform a bed bug exorcism.Actually, it may have worked. I’m damaged, but no worse feasted upon than I had been the day before.

Anyway, as is par for the course, Florence is lovely. The Duomo is like some kind of birthday cake I would have pined for as a little girl. My cold is fading. I have a vague cough, but nothing worse than anyone else in ‘smoke ‘em if you got ‘em’ Europe. And I’m dog tired, so off to saw some logs of my own, and talk to you tomorrow!

 

Never trust a bedbug to read the fine print September 21, 2008

I said they could bite so long as they didn’t bite me. I suppose it wasn’t the most clever approach to hope they would all vacate the room and head out with the grouchy Mexican girl. They didn’t. A few stayed behind and had their way with me. They feasted on my tender flesh, and I hope they all get food poisoning. Regardless, one more night, and I’m on to new things.

Otherwise, I’ve got no complaints with Rome…except maybe that it’s too damn good looking. I’m talking really, really, ridiculously good looking. And all of this breathtaking architecture and endless grandeur and utter magnificence and plain old splendor leaves me EXHAUSTED. I came around a corner on my way home today on a street called “Grecca” I believe, and there were a couple ruins and a magnificent fountain, and I found I couldn’t do it. I had lost the ability to pull my camera (now giving me the flashing empty red battery warning sign) out and take yet another shot of something remarkable. Rome has officially supersaturated my senses.

I’ve had all I can stands, and I can stands no more. I’m just going to hang out with the bed bugs in this dingy hostel until I can look at something carved or marble or Roman again without flinching.

In other news, I started my day with a long run. I’m a firm believer in sweating out what ails you, and I spotted a park-looking area to the south of where I’m staying (by the Coliseum). I found a nice long stretch of grass and dirt and like-minded folks. Plus, along the way, I was able to observe some authentic Roman exercise, and all I can say is yikes. I saw more strange things today than I know how to articulate: Not one but TWO men running with a body posture somewhat like that used to go under a limbo bar. A very heavyset man running with hand weights and flailing them about like you might if you were practicing really telling someone off for once and for all. Head to toe shiny spandex outfits straight outta ‘Xanadu.’

Then there was this jungle gym/obstacle course area, and all these super macho guys were there doing all sorts of goof ball stuff, but looking super-serious about it: Pull ups, flips, hanging from the knees, some primitive form of Jazzercise, etc. My favorite was the shirtless guy throwing punches in the air with intense ferocity. And me without my camera…

Afterward, I went to the Coliseum, and got a good jump start on my visual overload. I am so completely and utterly taken with the Coliseum. I could sit there and stare at it for hours. If I were a billionaire, particularly a super-eccentric one, I would build a Coliseum replica somewhere. I think the world could handle two of them. Put it somewhere like Flint, Michigan, where they could really use the tourism revenue.

So anyway, as I was wandering away from the ruins in pursuit of some pizza in the Travestere, I spotted a Peruvian band (of course)…and then another across the street. Dueling wind flutes. You ALWAYS see Peruvian bands. There must be a Peruvian band on the moon. You don’t always see them set up shop across the street from one another – it’s like Jets and the Sharks.

Anyway, the second band was blocking some particularly nice ruins, so I paused to walk behind them and take a picture when I heard an American ask one of the band members how much their CDs were. “10 Euro,” he replied. The questioner wandered away, and an unmistakable Long Island accent asked, “What’s the matter? You couldn’t Jew them down?”

Hey lady, you kiss your mother with that mouth? I’ve just spent the last three weeks knee-deep in the history of the six MILLION Jews killed during the Holocaust, and I think you can come up with a better verb (negotiate, bargain, haggle, compromise) than that. Yikes. Embarrassing. The next confused Italian who asks if I’m from England is going to get a proud, “Yes!”

I wandered for a solid eight hours today, and it was at around hour six – at the Pantheon – that the overload started to kick in. There were simply too many people, and they were pushing and elbowing their way into this ancient building like an angry mob. Someone gave my back what felt like a serious two-handed shove, and I had some uncomfortable memories of the Gimme Shelter movie. I don’t have any need to be part of an Italian reenactment of the Stones concert at Altamont. Especially not at a building that’s been around for 2000 years, and will most likely be here on some future visit. Thus, at this point some some temporary agoraphobia set in, and I bolted off to the Trevi Fountain.

God help me, the Trevi Fountain. It’s unreal. Have you SEEN this thing!?!?! The closest comparison we have in America is Caear’s Palace in Vegas (I know, that’s sad…) but Caesar’s doesn’t even come close. It’s glorious, and if it weren’t in a city with two hundred other amazing things, I might have even heard of it before yesterday.

All this gushing aside, I promise to get some pictures of these marvels up in the next few days, provided I can get through the night without requiring a blood transfusion or a gallon of DDT.

 

Let the bedbugs bite September 20, 2008

(So long as they don’t bite me.)

So file this under ‘extreme coincidence':

If you ever go to the main page, WordPress has about eight blogs they’re promoting under different topics. I occasionally check out the one for “Travel”, just to see what they’ve got that I don’t.

So today, the featured ‘travel’ bit was some kind of entomology report about bed bugs. It had a 12-step program for examining your hotel room (and I was literally lying in a hostel bed as I read it – many, many steps down from a hotel room and very intimidating as my mind started to process the odds). Seriously, as I glanced through, I felt my skin literally come alive and start creeping and crawling. The power of suggestion.

Then I got up and went through the copious and extensive and gross exam (looking for blood stains, checking my own self for 3-pronged bites, etc.) It all looked okay. I felt creeped out and vulnerable and someone had left a comment about waking up in a room alive with cockroaches and I HATE cockroaches, but as for bedbugs, it looked okay.

So anyway, I’m kind of under the weather. I have the full-bore stuffed up nose, headache,and general malaise of the slightly ill. I put in a full day at the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica. After a bit of a struggle with the subway system (i.e. went the wrong direction for three stops), I got to the museums around 9:15 and got in line. By 10:05, I had my ticket in hand and made a bee line for the Sistina Capella. I even snapped off a couple photos before they started screaming at me that photos weren’t allowed (oops. Who knew!?).

It’s a weird thing, but the place is so incredibly amazing and grandiose and ornate, that after about three hours, you really can’t take it any more. The sight of more marble mastery and ancientness and genius and attention to detail makes your head hurt (or maybe that’s my cold or flu bug talking?) Seriously though, I took about 2.2 million pictures, and then I literally couldn’t stand the sight of it for one second longer.

By the time I got to St. Peter’s, I was so overwhelmed that I was like, ‘Yeah. There’s Michaelangelo’s Pieta. Nice.” I’m a bad tourist like this. I tend to get somewhere, get overwhelmed or bored or underwhelmed, and a small voice in my head announces “Eiiffel Tower. Check.” and I’m kind of done.

Okay, so I interrupted myself on the extreme coincidence part of the story: I read this horrific bedbug thing on WordPress (always trying to figure out what makes certain blogs do so well. Blackcelebritykids, for example. That has been the top blog since I joined in May. Gives me little hope that I have anything to say that the masses want to hear. Seeing as I’m not currently stalking Will Smith and his family, nor do I have any kind of dirt on 50 Cent’s numerous bastard offspring [I don't actually know that there are any. Just assuming]…I may as well throw in the towel!) Anyway, read it around 6pm, checked the bed, felt itchy and generally unnerved, slept for an hour, and went out in the common area.

Around 9pm one of my roommates – a very grouchy Mexican girl living in Spain – came home. If I needed to do a brief synopsis for a yearbook or something I would say: Adamantly unfriendly, and a snorer. She completes my unbroken streak of Central and South American girls snoring like men. You pay extra for the all-female room, and they carry on like that. It ain’t fair…

Anyway, she came home and went in the room for a while. About twenty minutes later she came out and showed one of the hostel owners some kind of damage to her person. I was too far away to see, but she presented him her arm and leg and said, “I’m like this all over.”

He looked at me. I assumed we were talking bugs (and the weirdness of the timing started to hit me).  “I’m cool.” I confessed. “Maybe they don’t like me?” Anyway, he tore the bed apart, and was really clearly concerned (and I was, for about the tenth time today, spooked), but he didn’t find anything. And the snorer left (for the mixed gender room), leaving me by my lonesome.

The way I see it, if the bedbugs liked her last night, they’ll just track her down next door. And if they didn’t like me, they’ll keep leaving me alone. The power of attraction (or repulsion, in this case) and positive thinking. No worries. Plus, for tonight anyway, I have a single room.

Well, sort of single, Just me and a few hundred of my closest blood-sucking friends…  Buon Appetito!

 

Arreverdici, Riga September 19, 2008

I’m blowing this frozen pop stand. Thanks for the memories of torture, apathy, hostels only sightly less worse than the one in the movie ‘Hostel’, and sub-par customer service! If I ever decide to write horror films of my own, you’ve provided plenty of mental imagery for the cause.

Speaking of which, it’s a sure sign you’ve been to too many torture museums when you look out the window of the plane, see the propellers start up, and imagine what a mess it would make if a Soviet soldier or Nazi policeman forced someone into it. It could happen. Hell, it probably did happen. That was likely detailed in the parts of all the museums where I finally and inevitably decide I’ve seen enough photographs of bloated dead bodies and head for the nearest exit.

Anywho, I flew from Latvia to Lithuania and Lithuania to Italy this morning in the pre-dawn hours. I am really not a morning person, so this was harder on me than I’m making it sound. Plus, the Baltics and their hostel-dwelling homeless got their head cold/flu claws into me, and I’m fighting something that’s making my throat sore and my ears hurt and my shoulders ache and my skin sensitive. And my ears hurt. Did I mention that? Ah, yes I did. (something tells me this blog is not going to be as sharp as some of the others…)

However, despite the seemingly mundane circumstances of getting the hell out of Dodge, there were still many puzzles presented as I bid my adieu. For instance, the announcements by the airline staff in “English.” I first got an earful of this on the flight from Warsaw to Vilnius. It was as if I were to construct a sentence of the ten words I know in Italian and string them together with a babble of sound that I think kind of sounds like the language.

“Signore e signori blahblahBLAHblahBLAHBLAHblah BIGLIETTO blah blah AUTOBUS PREGO SCUZI blah blah blah blah GRAZI!” In Poland, that means you’re fluent.

Anyway, I don’t understand a word of any of them, but I imagine that Polish, Lithuanian, and Latvian are spoken very, very rapidly . I base this hypothesis upon their slander of my mother tongue: Fast, slurred, and incomprehensible. It’s as if Bullwinkle’s Boris and Natasha got jobs as auctioneers.

Meanwhile, I’ve had two weird (one was more alarming than weird, actually) run-ins with old ladies in the last few days. I’d be open to your input here (particularly advice on how to avoid future-such incidents):

  1. Lost in Riga with backpack in tow and searching for my boondocks hotel. I had been wandering suburban streets for about fifteen minutes. I turned the corner and came upon three goats tied to one another (and struggling in a three-way goat tug-of-war) on the sidewalk. One was eating some grass in the area between the street and sidewalk, and on the other side of the sidewalk was a school playground where children were playing. All was normal but for the bondage goat menage a trois.

    It was so gosh darn weird, that I put down my messenger bag and began rifling through in search of my camera. Then I noticed a shadow fall on me, and looked up to see a 110-year old woman – straight out of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. But the kicker was, she was looking at me as though I’d just stepped off a spaceship. Seriously, I could not have been a bigger oddity had I been dressed as a member of Kiss and levitating three feet off the ground with fire coming out of my eyeballs. Here I thought these goats (and their ancient caretaker) were a sight to behold, but it seems – as always – the joke was on me. Stranger in a strange land, for sure.

  2. Then, late this morning in Rome, I was marching down the street in search of my hostel (notice a common theme? Alas, it’s true, a lot of time is spent looking for stuff – mentally, physically, metaphysically – and great weight is carried while these searches occur. Hmmmm…). Anyway, I’m tramping down the street minding my own business, and I jump about a foot as my mind tries to process the sight of this older woman coming at me with her mouth open like she’s going to bite my messenger bag (that I carry in front). Seriously, this scared the living SH*T out of me. I cannot accurately convey how truly alarming a sight this was. It was a massive adrenaline punch, and I felt immediately poised to start running. It was so random and bizarre, and it totally brought to mind imagery from that movie “The Grudge”. Her mouth seemed so BLACK. This photo is not quite as scary: http://www.allmoviephoto.com/photo/2004_the_grudge_011_big.html Then she screamed at me in Italian until I got far enough away that I couldn’t hear it anymore. Probably a good thing I don’t really speak Italian, or this might give me bad dreams or something???

Seriously though, when has THAT ever happened to you????

Do you think when we die all the answers to these WTF moments are cleared up?

Speaking of WTF, on the back of my seat on the first flight was this cartoon picture of two pilots saluting. They were both overweight, one notably so. The fat one (it amused me that they took the care to give them both love handles) had a Hitler-esque (Hitler in need of a trim shall we say) mustache and was holding an ice cream cone with three scoops in the hand that wasn’t saluting. The thinner, younger-looking one was holding an apple, but staring at the ice cream. Wha…..?????

To the left, it said a bunch of stuff I don’t understand in Latvian or Lithuanian or the like. I will say, my favorite words (I jotted them down) were nesunegaluotu (do you think that means ‘glutton’?) and papasakok (I just like saying that).

Now you, too, can share in the confusion and speculation...

Now you, too, can share in the confusion and speculation...

This raises many possible interpretations. I posit to you a few of my own, but seeing before you the picture, feel free to share your own:

  • Ice cream makes you fat

  • Lithuanians have apples, but gelato (like the Italians have) is better

  • Hitler liked ice cream. A lot.

  • You, passenger, are in back hungry, while we – the pilots – are in front gorging

  • We salute you, but we also salute the four food groups – minus meat (unless you count my pudgy coworker here)

  • I would kill this guy with just an apple to get my hands on his ice cream

  • Ain’t dadaism grand?

Oh, and I finally figured out how to get soap out of the Lithuanian soap dispensers – they’re like MILKING A COW (funny that this should NOT occur to me, as I have exactly zero cow milking experience). Actually, everywhere you go, there are little mysteries to figure out like turning on the lights, flushing the toilets, and getting to the soap. In America, so much is automated. In Europe, it’s like an IQ test. You do things like pulverize a bar of soap in the spirit of an organ grinder’s monkey – Germany, utilize a “soap on a pole” (like soap on a rope, but on a big metal nail thing) – France, and, as previously mentioned, work an udder.

I remember when I was working as a banking consultant I went to this one credit union where they had all this hand washing propaganda in the bathroom about how there are more germs on your hands than there are people in London. And about how some horrifyingly low amount of people wash their hands after using the bathroom (and it’s DEFINITELY lower in these parts – people crap on a cookie sheet and go out and get themselves a Big Mac without pause), and – most importantly – that’s how you get sick.

Basically, that credit union gave me Obsessive Compulsive Disorder that afternoon. The whole bathroom was one big scare tactic – and it worked. On me, anyway. I still do all of it:

  1. Soap up and scrub for at least 30 seconds

  2. If you have any rings, take them off or slide them around and get under them with the soap.

  3. Rinse with hot water

  4. Don’t touch anything once you’re clean! Hang onto your paper towel when you’re done drying and use it to open the door to get out.

#4 poses a particular challenge in a land of heated hand dryers and the “infinity towel”. That’s when (I suspect) there’s like three feet of towel turning over and over everyone uses it. I thought these things went extinct in the 1980s along with the Dorothy Hamil haircut and Nehru jackets, but apparently they were just shipped to Italy and Minneapolis.

In those circumstances, I dry my hands on my pants and use my elbows to open the doors. I’m like a veritable Christy Brown.

However, perhaps the most unusual thing I saw on my way out of the Baltics was a beautiful, happy, laughing little girl on plane. In stark contrast to her parents, she was friendly and sweet and full of smiles. Their younger child was an angry little man, so they plopped her out in the aisle while they attended to him, and as I was in the row behind them, she promptly gravitated my way. I mixed up some Emergen-C in front of her eyes like it was a magic trick. She looked at me with as much wonderment as the goat lady, Only a lot friendlier.

I have all these different colored pens in my bag, and I got them out and she was coloring with me (I was in the aisle seat). At one point, her mother got up, looked at us, made a face, and then just sat back down. I’ll throw down that any American (British? Australian? Irish? Swiss? Scottish? German? Canadian? etc. etc.) mother would chat and be slightly friendly to a woman entertaining the child she’d tossed in the aisle. Maybe at least smile?

Anyway, whatever with her. I was just hoping to leave a positive impression on the next generation so maybe they can learn to be a little less cold.

Thus, I hope my re-education efforts don’t cause any trouble. Hopefully that little girl isn’t thrown in the gulag wherever she’s going.. At two and-a-half or three years old, she’s too young to have been fully programmed with the official sneer, or maybe just doesn’t understand yet that smiling is illegal in the Balkans? ;)

What a strange world, my friends…

But nothing I will figure out tonight or while feeling so whipped. Ciao bellas and bellos! Sleep tight and wish me luck fighting off this cold!!!

 

 
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