J’en ai marre 11

Monday

We accomplished two major goals today: hot chocolate at Angelina’s; and soufflés at Le Récamier, our favorite restaurant in … hmm, THE UNIVERSE. (Francesca’s second favorite restaurant is the truffle restaurant on via Fiori Chiari in Milan, that via being my favorite street (ok, I’ve said it; Rue Cler is my #2).)

As usual Francesca ignored the muggles queuing outside Angelina’s, pushed through to the front of the line, and went into the little shop near the door. In there can you not only buy worthy items to take home, but also cups of their finest hot chocolate to take to the park across the street. She read somewhere that this is how the locals avoid lengthy lines of tourists.

As to Le Récamier, well, words do not suffice. However, there was a comprehensible bonus. At a nearby table sat a pleasant looking woman, and a sterner looking Frenchman (maybe; his provenance was never established). Behind the woman, on the ground, was a container with screening on the top. Periodically a little face would poke out of the top and bark. We, of course, were thoroughly entranced. Two soufflés later the little guy escaped and made a beeline for our table. As the woman seemed unconcerned, we proceeded to treat the wee pup like our dearest long lost friend. He responded in much the same way and licked our hands vigorously. Unsatisfied, I got up, moved around our table, knelt on the ground (we were seated outside under their awning) and proceeded – to the dogs utter delight – to commune properly. Later, my possibly flagrant violation of protocol finished, I told the headwaiter, “Pardon, mais j’adore les chiens.” He replied, to my utter delight – I kid you not – “Mais oui.” Perfect. I’d only ever heard that phrase in movies.

The dog’s owner, by the way, is an American woman living in Paris. The dog herself was born in New York City. Perhaps it overheard our conversation and recognized kindred spirits. Or maybe it’s just … (the woman told Francesca that the dog loves Americans because they’re the only ones who respond right. Francesca thinks that the dog overheard our conversation, had us pegged for the right sort, and made every effort to escape confinement before it was too late. Excellent.)

Francesca and I are more effusive than most – and way more effusive than your average Parisian – in showering affection on receptive canines. A pair of youngish French women witnessed me frolicking on the floor of the restaurant, being vigorously licked by a bundle of cuteness. This seemingly overcame their French reticence, and when they got up to leave they sauntered over to the dog’s owner, who now had her boofy dog-faced beastie on her lap, and took their turns with the little beast.

Tuesday

Francesca succumbed finally to my illness, and since I proved myself covid free on Monday at a nearby pharmacy, we now know it’s a different virus. A bad cold. Still, we had enough energy today to go up the Eiffel Tower – a fifteen minute walk away. Anthony Bourdain advised against this touristic activity, and with good reason. Still, the view is impressive, and the misery of standing in line to get tickets, then again to get on elevator 1, and again for elevator 2, then that whole ordeal repeated in reverse to get back down, it was only half as bad as Anthony suggested, because covid had greatly reduced the number of tourists, especially Americans and Chinese (zero). By the end I was worn out and “rough”, Francesca’s way of describing my mood near the end of a tiring day. After another 15 minute walk we were back at our favorite cafe on Rue Cler, and shortly after that I had a beer in hand and was cured.

(Saying the Eiffel Tower slog was half as bad as it could have been is like saying an Iron Maiden is half as bad as it might have been because the inner spikes are slightly blunted. I’m not saying don’t do it, but if you’re over 70, and tall, and not fond of mobs of people … Still, nice view.)

Two more full days in Paris, avoiding the creepy guy who lives downstairs, trying to see a couple more places, then – or so we hope – scoot down to pharmacy, get official covid negative stamps, get luggage, check out, get taxi, go to Gare du Nord, and put ourselves in the hands of the fuchsia Vogons until we land in Boston on Monday. Details to follow.

Oh my fuchsia gods

So, ok … wait … trying to hold back tears … trying … not succeeding. (Wait for it. Starting to encounter roadblocks re getting home at this point.)

Creepy

The creepy guy, and the woman whose apartment was directly across from his, were possibly more than just creepy (but probably not; keep reading). He latched onto Francesca on one of her solo shopping trips. That was Tuesday. Later that day, spotting us entering the building, he shouted at us, ran around the stairs up to the 6th floor, and with his small amount of English, and my meager French, managed to get us to accept an invitation to drink champagne with him and the creepy woman the following day, Wednesday, in the morning at an undefined time. Francesca, ever the one to maintain certain social proprieties, suggested we go buy some flowers and a small cake to contribute to this gathering. Keep in mind, everyone on Rue Cler knows everyone else. It’s like a small village in the midst of this grand city. We described to the florist what we intended to do the next day, and she looked concerned. She warned us that the guy had a reputation of being bad with women – even dangerous. But she looked me over and determined that I could protect Francesca if necessary. The couple, by the way, are likely 5 to 10 years older than I am, so bring it on.

Francesca’s enthusiasm for this fête had by this point dropped to zero. She confessed to me that the morning he had glommed on to her, he had tried to convey that he was a photographer, and he showed her some pictures of women he’d photographed, and without exception they looked like they could have been drugged. I made a vow that I would use my cancer as an excuse not to imbibe in anything offered.

Wednesday morning dawns, and Francesca is now sick enough that she will spend the day in bed. Together we went down to the floor in question and knocked first on his door. Eliciting no response, we tried hers. She opened up and I tried to explain that we could not come to their little party, as is too sick. Three things prevented her from understanding what I was saying: my French; her total lack of English; and the fact that one of her two brain cells had died some time ago. We handed her the flowers and cake, and, ignoring her perplexed demeanor, went quickly back upstairs, and put Francesca back to bed.

(Actually, we first went to the wrong floor, and, after knocking on a door, a woman came out, saw two people she quickly determined were Americans, one of whom was holding a cake and flowers. She told us we must be looking for the Americans staying in the building; they’re on the sixth floor. Oh but that’s us. I don’t recall how this confusion was resolved, but the point is that she – and maybe everyone else on the street – knew 2 Americans were staying on Rue Cler. Funny place. At our home in New Hampshire there are 3 neighbor homes within 150 feet of our house. In 3 years we have spent 3 or 4 minutes (total!) talking with any of them. It’s been months since our last interaction. Exactly like Rue Cler? Sigh.)

But creepy guy was not to be so easily put off. He knocked on our door around 11am, and when I cracked the door, still in my pajama top, he vigorously and enthusiastically told me to come on down for cake and champagne. And he did mention the cake, so he had talked to creepy woman, but even if he understood from her that all bets were off, he was not to be deterred. In a raspy voice I explained that ma femme was too sick (mauvais rhume). We would not be able to attend. Did he commiserate? Express sympathy? No, he looked pissed, and, having shot his bolt, departed.

Later, spying me from his window leave the building, when he saw me coming back he went downstairs and when I pushed the elevator button he casually walked by outside the door, eying me suspiciously, in his best creepy guy way. No bonjour, wave, or anything friendly; just creepy guy suspicious. As I was alone, and carried a bag of medication from the nearby pharmacy, what could he do but stew?

The lady at the pharmacy became our favorite person in the neighborhood. More on her later.

As to the creepy guy, on our last day, as we headed out to do some touristy things, from the elevator we heard his door close, the sound of his feet scurrying downstairs, and when we exited the 2-person lift he pretended to be just coming in and gave us a friendly bonjour. I am hoping he did this to get back on our good side so that he could at some later date get us to drink his iffy champagne. I hope this, because discovering us gone the next day would certainly put his knickers in a twist.m

Parisians are not known for their effusive friendliness. If a Parisian is effusively friendly with you upon first meeting, well, that Parisian is likely a mass murderer, and on simply that basis alone it’s wise to avoid them. When we first arrived at the apartment building this guy and the woman were all over us (she insisted on fixing flaws in my attire – wrinkles and whatnot; and only in hindsight do I see this as beyond creepy in a mortuary kind of way). I was slow to read the signs … well well.

Postscript

The matter did not end there, as I exchanged messages with Paris Perfect about our concerns. They actually investigated. The best case scenario: the man is eccentric, but likely not harmful; the woman has dementia, which we were anyway guessing to be true. The two of them seem to have a symbiotic relationship: he supplies the brains; she the money. From the moment we entered the apartment building they were all over us, and it was mildly off-putting. Anyway, … anyway … I wish them well.

Tourists

Before leaving our home in New Hampshire I had read about a newly refurbished department store/indoor mall, called La Samaritaine. The building had been empty for 30 some years when Bernard Arnault, 3rd richest man in the world, got hold of it, gutted the place, and on its steel framework hung a lavish and very very pretty alternative to the Galeria (Paris; not Milan). The locals were pissed, because it used to be a kind of Sears, selling crap to the masses, and now it seemed distinctly aimed at rich tourists. Well, we were tourists, although not even in the top ten of the world’s richest people. Still, we were tourists. And the place was worth a visit. We had lunch there, looking out over all the splendor of its interior. I liked it. A lot.

In one of the upscale shops they had a single shoe on display. Francesca and I love this thing, and not as an actual piece of footwear, but as a gloriously offbeat work of art. It’s a good thing we’re a couple, for I can think of no one else in my life who would deem it praiseworthy. My sister, in particular, cast aspersions. I think one of us is adopted. She’s long suspected that we only share one parent. This shoe, and our various reactions to same, corroborates her suspicions.

J’en ai marre 10

Some other points.

Many street beggars in Lyon are young, look fit, and have an obligatory dog with which to generate sympathy. (They do this in the States as well, so I presume these (mostly) young people (and mostly male) googled how to beg for money while looking eminently fit and employable. “Get a dog; make it look a little scruffy.”) It came close at times to making me give in. Aww, poor dog. One young man had a book instead of a dog. He was focused on this slim volume. Addiction to literature is not a terrible excuse for being poor. Still, I passed by, curious, but unwilling to part with the hard earned. (Not that I any longer work for my monthly check. I find it perplexing to receive money that I did not directly work for. I do not complain.)

Remember the underwear that was left on a sidewalk in Milan? As pissed as I was by this incident at the time, I must confess that I wasn’t really thrilled with my purchase. They only vaguely approximated what I really wanted. To wit, I am addicted to Pullin underwear, which sport elaborate art outside, and occasionally inside. I have one pair that has a woman holding a halberd, the staff of which is a long baguette. My diminished junk is nestled against this artwork, and I couldn’t be more pleased. Although no one is likely to see these artworks, knowing they are on my person fills me with quiet joy. Not all works of art, however, are to my taste.

For example, I have never been a fan of old religious artwork portraying suffering sinners, or Dutch/German-looking baby Jesuses. Today at a local museum I discovered I am still not a fan. It inclines my modern mind to mockery.

Francesca reminded me that I’ve said nothing about the Old Lyon and Croix- Rousse neighborhoods that she had us find and wander around in, as she’d found something online indicating that the area was old, and had funky stairways. So, here I am mentioning Old Lyon and Croix-Rousse, as Francesca requested.

Below, my favorite way to hide my male member while out in public, nestled against this perfect piece of underwear art.

I may not have delta covid after all. We’re at this hotel for 4 nights, leaving tomorrow for Paris. Last night I discovered the pillows are feather filled. I am allergic to feathers. This may explain the excessive phlegm production, and coughing up of same. Maybe it’s lung cancer, but I’ve had this cough for 40+ years, so maybe not.

(In the end those pillows led to an illness that would plague me even after our return home. I did not need that aggravation. We had stayed at that boutique hotel 3 or 4 times before, pleased with their morning and evening food offerings. The evening offerings had been greatly cut back, the pillows almost killed me, and, yeah, so we won’t be staying there again.)

On train to Paris, a world in masks. It cannot be denied that travel like this is imperfectly pleasant. Although I don them with only minor protest, I dislike these masks. My right ear has decided its purpose in life is to hear only high pitched sounds. It has very little use for muffled sounds, and simply surrenders entirely when speech emanates from behind both a mask and a sheet of plexiglas.

Paris

Rue Cler Paris Perfect (Airbnb) apartment satisfactory. I mean, it has a balcony overlooking Rue Cler and our favorite cafe. Francesca loves this street. And it’s my favorite street in Paris, and if I didn’t feel so wretched, I’d be outside with Francesca right now food shopping. Francesca, however, doesn’t need her wreck of a husband to do what she’s doing. She’s in her element (one of many), and relishing every minute. I taught her how to say “I would like”, and “please”, but the notoriously uppity Parisians have met their match with Francesca. Their barbs and glares are powerless against her bubbly enthusiasm. The tidal wave of her charm overcomes all opposition. And indeed it did; in short order they recognized this effusive American and welcomed her at every street shop she visited.

As to me, maybe I do have covid. I feel marginally better today than yesterday, and last night I perspired buckets, but nothing compared to 2016. I wrote elsewhere about that maladie, and at the time only the knowledge that friends in Portugal and the states were suffering from something with identical symptoms kept me from seeking professional help. Anyway, my right lung tends to get icky if it gets too filled with mucus, as happened in Lyon due to those fuchsia feather pillows. If that’s the case, this may be bacterial instead of viral. Or it may be fuchsia both. Just my luck. I thought the cancer might prevent me from ever returning to Paris, and yet here I am, looking out over the rooftops of the Rive Gauche from our bed. One of those rooftops, by the way, prevents Napoleon’s Tomb from getting wet when it rains. We’ll never see that tomb, in all likelihood, for the prospect of doing so fills us (well, me) with ennui, at best.

Oh, I was talking about this apartment. Small. Filled with anal reminders (well, one) that if we break stuff, they’ll be requiring our life savings in recompense. 1500€ if the mechanical toilet gets busted due to trying to flush anything not on the allowed list: poop; pee; their toilet paper. Every time I go, fear of this fragile mechanism makes me shit bricks, which, of course, is counterproductive. Perhaps I am too imperfect for Paris Perfect. But they have been very helpful, and they can’t be faulted on that account. And it’s comfortable, has a washing machine, dishwasher, and functioning stove. (I was probably only griping because I felt sick.)

Something more needs to be said about that toilet. I’ve encountered many bizarre European devices with which one can rid oneself of one’s bodily waste. Some examples I’ve mentioned in the past: the bombs away porcelain hole in the ground; the platform toilet with which one can inspect one’s output afterward, but which prevents pooping entirely – while seated – if one’s poop is in any way majestically long and hearty, reaching the platform before leaving the body; the unenclosed urinal on the way to the lady’s room beneath a French restaurant; the French cafe toilet I got locked in, leading to much hilarity; and the urinal in an Italian park that consists of a 3.37 foot high porcelain plinth with a drain at the base on one side, completely open and unenclosed in the midst of families cavorting in the middle distance. (Note: at the time I was far too shy to use the thing, though I very much needed to. Yet now, testicles gone, sexuality reduced to “none of the above”, I find my bladder is nowhere near as shy as it once was. Fascinating. That plinth would not phase me anymore.)

But in all my years overseas I’d never encountered a “mechanical toilet”. Instead of a handle, one needs to press a button to flush. Flushing does not occur instantaneously, but requires some revving up of an unseen mechanism, and then a terrifying sucking sound pulling everything down that was in the water, but having very little, if any, effect on bits that may have got stuck on the walls higher up. Annoying, but not the biggest problem.

You know the old saying: “yellow is mellow, brown is down”. That is, if you’re at all interested in conserving water, and all you have to do is piss, well you could forego flushing entirely. You could do this repeatedly – I am not advising this – and the worst that would happen would be … well, use your imagination. One thing that wouldn’t happen, in a conventional toilet, is the fluid level in the basin changing. This is achieved by magic, of course, but the mechanical toilet, in eschewing magic for technology, is less forgiving. Empty your bladder in the thing, and the level in the basin rises by that much. So, imagine, if you will (and you probably won’t), what happens if you do this repeatedly without flushing. The mind boggles. Flushing very quickly becomes mandatory, brown or not.

Below is Francesca on Rue Cler with baguette and other comestibles. She is very happy there. By the way, vehicles rarely drive on this part of the rue, but mostly delivery vehicles. It is very pedestrian friendly.

2nd full day in Paris. On the first day I stayed in bed 80% of the time. Whatever I picked up in Lyon is knocking me for a loop. In addition to feeling wretched, I am also feeling guilty for diminishing Francesca’s Paris vacation. On the bright side, this apartment has a balcony overlooking Rue Cler, our favorite street in the world. It’s a culinary theme park, as it were, and Francesca absolutely loves taking the wheeled shopping thingy and roving from store to store – much of their wares set out on this mostly pedestrian street on wooden stands – collecting comestibles for our meals, and interacting with the vendors in that way of hers against which Parisian hauteur is not remotely proof. (Actually, I’d be hard pressed to choose between Rue Cler and that street in Milan with the truffle restaurant, and my favorite shop in the world.)

One of her missions will be to get a juice she’ll be pleased with, my two choices having fallen short. And she found it utterly inexplicable that the French would make raisin juice. I see her point, but she was mollified when I explained that raisin is French for grape. Still, she prefers her grape juice from vineyards, with a vintage, and all that high falutin’ sommelier rating stuff.

J’en ai marre 9

T plus 17 days?

Morning. Annecy. Breakfasted in room. (Meal prices in this hoity toity hotel are exorbitant; there are limits to how far we will go to pamper ourselves.) A friend from Switzerland is due to arrive this morning. His failure to effectively communicate leaves uncertain how this day will play out. The expectation is, since he is a doctor, we will discuss cancer. Oh yum. And old times, and new. He’s to stay in this hotel. We shall see.

He’s here. We lunched. Found a really nice Japanese shop. A long protest march against quelque chose went by outside. The two shop-girls barred the doors. They were impressed and found it sweet that I could say “I love you” in Japanese. (It evidently never occurred to them to wonder why I’d learned this phrase, conveying a sentiment I can express in many languages. Ever hopeful, I never got to exercise my linguistic skills to fulfill that hope, back in the days when that hope could have been acted upon.)

I texted a friend at home that a protest was working past our location. He wondered why the French felt so pulled to this activity. I explained. There is one big sport in France. We have 4 into which to pour our energies. The French have supplemented enthusiasm for soccer (Yay, tie score; 1 – 1. How exciting.) with enthusiasm for protesting. It is a sport here. It even has its own season.

Definitely having fun.

Francesca says: “And don’t forget to add something about the WWII airplane dog fights book guy whose French sternness and aloofness just melted away watching Americans get excited over his book!”

This incident occurred in a tiny bookstore here that we visited prior to the Japanese store, or after, but unlikely simultaneously. Inside there was a pleasant looking fellow whom Francesca evidently found initially stern. He had written a book, historical, as described above. He was selling them in the bookstore. Probably because I thought it might improve my French, and because we have a young friend very very much into all things aviation, I picked up one of his books, and while giving it a gander, he began to hold forth in French about the books contents, and what therein might interest me. Yeah, well, I could just stand there pretending I understood, or take matters into my own hands. I looked at the desperate fellow, and said, “Je suis décidé”, indicating that I would indeed buy a copy. His reaction was one of surprise, delight, and eagerness to inscribe something inside that I would be happy with. Then the booked was wrapped, put into my shoulder bag, and shortly thereafter we departed. I’d like to be able to tell you what the inscription says, but the book is upstairs, on my bookshelf, and still in the wrapping supplied by the author. As I have no plans to read it any time soon, it would be a pity to tear off the wrapping at this point. Sorry.

2021: Year of masks.

T plus 18? days.

Swiss friend departed after torturing me with some frisbee on the grass near the front of the posh hotel. This sport/pass time was how we met over 40 years ago. (Only recently – a month after our return – did it occur to me that he may have had an ulterior motive for making a frisbee toss possible. Maybe he was testing me – checking to see how I may have degenerated. He is a doctor, after all. And maybe I was testing myself. I was satisfied, by and large, with my performance. Although I feel the meds I take daily have decreased my muscle mass and dexterity, what muscle I have left still retains the memory of numerous Frisbee throws.)

Tortuous drive followed from Annecy to Lyon. (Well, by this point you will have noticed that all our drives during this trip were torturous.) What should not have been torturous was returning the car, but it took an hour to stick our Sixt rental in a qualified return spot on a Sunday. Office closed, of course. A nearby address on rental email was a nondescript opening in a wall. Irrelevant. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. (I mean, really, I stood in front of that address, just around the corner from the official office, and it had maddeningly little to do with anything Sixt related – or even car related. Phone calls were required to help us fulfill our quest.)

Eventually discovered we should drive the rental down to level 2 of a certain subterranean parking garage. The femmebot helped us find the garage (on the far side of a nearby park consisting of dirt and trees). This was entered via a ramp into the bowels of the earth, only slightly more noticeable than the one we encountered in Paris a few years ago. There was nothing – absolutely nothing – outside this underground garage indicating that this was a Sixt rental car drop-off point, or, from a distance, that there even was a garage at the specified location, for it consisted of an opening – a hole – level with the park itself, and a ramp leading into the earth’s bowels.

On foot we found the ramp. Then we retrieved the car and drove to the top of the ramp. There was a gate bar that opened when I pressed a button to collect a ticket. Down the ramp a garage door slid open as we approached (which is just as well, as the bar had dropped back down behind us at the top of the ramp). Now inside, I turn a corner and, VOILA! A sign for Sixt (quite small, but the right yellow color). Only here, through gate, down ramp, through the opaque garage door, did we see our first indication we had done this thing correctly. We drove down another level and parked. We collected photographic evidence that the act was complete, and departed in a cloud of profanity. Miraculously, on a Sunday, we soon encountered a cafe selling beer and wine. We drowned our sorrows. This was just so fucking French. I decided to ignore the fact I’d got a parking ticket in Annecy on our last day. Fuchsia.

(The look on Francesca’s face when we finally exited the parking garage says it all. See below. I wish I could show you the entire 3 second gif of her face, for it does this little shake that is quite frightening, full of feelings of fiery condemnation.)

(We gathered a great deal of photographic evidence to support the fact that the car had in fact been returned on the day specified, but it was not needed. In our experience the French are unwilling to concern themselves with such minutiae.)

Oh, and my iPhone 7, five generations old, is acting its age, and hasn’t long to live. And we wear masks most places. And our vaccine cards are frequently inspected querulously. As fun a trip as past years? Are you even listening? (And yet, … Francesca would cavil with my querulousness. She had a lovely time. Of course she didn’t spend the many days I did rearranging everything after numerous cancellations, and we haven’t even got to our struggle to get out of Europe at the end. Wait for it. Fuchsia Vogons again, of course.)

Head shaking; lips quivering; yikes.

You know, like 19 days.

Today we discovered Lyon is really pleasant and nice. Last time here we did the Basilica and Roman amphitheater. Entertaining, yes, but involving much vertical displacement, burning the leg muscles, and causing much free perspiration. And we saw the museum of miniatures, also cool. And there was the young people nightlife near our hotel along the river. And somehow, during that earlier trip – perhaps because we had only two days – we’d convinced ourselves that Lyon had shot its bolt. We were very very much wrong.

Yesterday we moseyed into Presqu’île … Let me explain. Two rivers run through Lyon: the Rhône; and Saône. They merge at the Musée des Confluences at the south end of the city. This museum we’d also visited 2 years (or 3) ago. The museum and its setting are unmissable.

So, right, the funky hotel we stay at is on the outside edge of the Rhône. Cross any of several bridges and you’re on Presqu’île, the region between the rivers. We crossed a bridge and moseyed down to the tourist office to buy a pair of 3 day City Passes, which get you onto and into lots of stuff for free, or at a discount.

You can buy these online, but I was hesitant to do so, at least until we waited 30 minutes in the tourist office for the next available window to be free. Finally, fed up, I used our personal wifi pod and bought the things with Paypal. I wandered up to a desk where two young women were messing with stuff, showed them the pdf of what I’d just bought, and said, “Je suis fini?” Evidently set on giving us official plastic City Passes, one of the women copied a code from our pdf into a computer, and voila, official plastic City Passes. Naturally, while all that was occurring, our number came up and we had an official window to go to. We indicated by word and gesture that the woman standing at that booth was no longer needed. I think this shaved 10 minutes off the whole process. I say this, because when we entered there was a French couple at one window, and when we left they were still there. I’m thinking some sort of Dr Who baddie had hit the trio with a freeze ray. No other explanation fits the circumstance.

By the way, two additional years of Duolingo French seems to have improved my language abilities to the point that when I speak French people no longer look at me quizzically, with a tinge of annoyance inversely proportional to one’s distance from Paris. Still, while gratifying, this also has the disturbing side effect that the person I am addressing assumes I can take it as well as I can dish it out. I cannot, and when they start slathering me with fluent French spoken at speed, the best I can do is listen attentively, pretend I understand, and pray the speaker is not imparting information of grave importance to the survival of the western world, which we highly prize.

Quick note: in speaking English a la Lumiére in the animated “Beauty and the Beast”, the French accent is reasonably pleasant. The converse is likely not true, judging from the winces evinced when French is spoken a la Geoffrey just about anywhere.

Bogging down now, as this is yet another day, and both yesterday and today the highlights were ferry trips up and down the Saône. During one of these we discovered that Lyon, like Paris and Milan, has a fancy area of modern architecture, the Confluence, a ways north of the Musée de Confluence. We had no idea; yet another indication of how far short we fell of fully comprehending this city during our last visit. We really like these modern bits.

We spent a lot of time on these ferries. Our Lyon Passes got us on for free, and you could see a lot of riverside Lyon nearly top to bottom. And, of course, as has been mentioned often, Francesca loves being on boats – moving boats especially.

J’en ai marre 8

T plus 15 days?

Took gondola and ski lift up mountain in Aosta yesterday. Very very pleasant. Well above heat of the valley. We could see the back (Italian) sides of both Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn.

(It is worth mentioning that Aosta is pretty obviously a ski resort in the winter. In the summer they switch from skiing to mountain biking, which is hazardous, requires more skill than skiing, I suspect, and considerably more protective armor.)

Francesca arrives in Aosta

(Suzanne’s take on Aosta, differing from mine in significant ways. By the way, she spent time in Tucson some years ago as she was one of the scientists involved with the Phoenix Mars Mission, and it was run from Tucson.)

We safely got to Valle D’Aosta.

I felt it was worth giving it a chance because my friend Laura – a sommelier in Tucson with whom I was very friendly while i was there – told me that THE most special region of all wine regions in Italy is actually Valle D’Aosta. And it’s a very tiny region and makes very little wine, so exports very little, but it’s like a sommelier’s Mecca of a sort. Like they don’t consider themselves complete until they have come here and stayed to test the wine because they cannot do it elsewhere – tiny region, much never exported. It’s primarily a white wine region and we tried it last night – absolutely positively unique – golden wine – I mean rich golden and flavorful – even while managing to be crisp. She was right. It’s unlike anything else. The closest thing I ever had was a wine made by 17 century methods – a rare special wine Klein Konstantia in South Africa. But that was much sweeter. The wine here is full of a very extraordinarily unique and delicious terroir. I see why this ranks as such a special thing for real sommeliers.

And we are staying in a building on the corner deep in a pedestrian zone – this building was made in 1748 – that date is carved into the stones above door in that is a very old wood door just tucked between a gelateria and shop full of tiny carved houses! (Not kidding. House about as big as a mushroom – I guess they are faery houses … in case you happen to have such a need!). The whole pedestrian zone is old buildings and its alleys are not big enough to convert to roads anyhow. All the building stone – thick, heavy, huge stones – so relocation is not option either. The bottom – the ground floor – cobble street level is all shops and restaurants or cafes and the next 3-4 floors – never more – are residential dwellings – fully Renovated to modern – if the one we are in is typical.

Ok – so I had my wine last night. My total reason for making this a trip stop. I had to buy a whole bottle in order to get a spectacular and special one that is really representative – the stuff by the glass is …no, just no. But no problem because in any restaurant you can stick the cork in and walk away with the rest of the bottle. So we have it and are set for the rest of this portion of the trip.

And following the suggestion of the apartment owner, we let them talk us into taking a traditional meal for the region … well, no … they were pushing – it was a suggestion and that sounded like a good thing to explore.

Weeellllll, no! Basically, it is nothing at all like any Italian food. It’s alpine cuisine. Not unlike Alpine French, and Austrian, and some Swiss and German. It’s meat, meat, meat, meat, meat, cured meat with way too much salt, and cheese….but not soft, ethereal spoon cheeses like France, or light soft Italian ones, but heavy artery hardening cheeses. And they do that awful schnitzel thing of coating a plate size piece of meat – cow or veal – it’s thin breading on both sides. Yuck. I didn’t eat it. My whole main. I said I was full, paid my conto, corked my wine and left. They gave me the meat thing in a nice box. I thanked them. We took it, walked to the edge of the pedestrian way down a side where it got rougher – and til I started smelling urine – and placed the box on the edge of a big stone flower box next to a bench – and left. We had seen people begging. Looked pretty homeless to us – or quite down and out anyhow. We tried to find a place to leave the meal they might find it.

Then my response to this meal was to get up with the markets this morning. I had to go to 7 different little hole in the wall markets to put together fruit: berries, figs, pears, peaches….oh, figs – wonderful fresh figs! One of my favs! And salad type veggies: green lettuce, purple lettuce, carrots, artichoke, olives, plus garlic and scallions. And a few eggs, a jar of tuna, some smoked salmon and a chicken breast and some herbs. That’s it. We’re not eating out for a single other meal. I hate their style food. It’s too heavy. It’s not good for me. It’s too meat focused. It’s too touristy. I just hate it. I have fish, eggs, and chicken and veg and fruit, and I am chef for the rest of this stop. So glad I have a full flat with kitchen – and excellent complete kitchen.

Also so glad it is a short stop.

The food shops are like a counter full of meat the length of the little shop … oh, and some eggs in the shelf behind. Or a counter full of meat and a little side row of one tray of chicken. Or tuna on the small side shelf. It’s over 90% meat in every food shop.

I admit, I had some thin slices of a ham leg that was very special – almost like an Iberico ham leg. But the rest – no no no! Not for us. I hunted down and pieced together my own food and we will eat my way.

If this place was empty … or just the small local population, it would be quite nice. It’s nifty looking. Interesting little mountain village. But oh the horror. It’s a flood of Italian and French – but tourists – it’s August and Europeans all go on holiday. So the shops cater to it. The restaurants cater to it. They are rushed. It’s not one table used one per meal but they can change and serve again. One has to weave among too many chattering tourists and I find it most unpleasant.

Can’t wait to meet up with Macé and family and get the heck out of here.

[Geoffrey aside: Macé is a Swiss friend, and a doctor now. We were supposed to see him in Portugal, but, the gods canceled that part of our trip. I met Macé when he was 14. He was not a doctor then, but he played frisbee. I must add that at the time I was unaware that Francesca found the touristy nature of Aosta in August less pleasant than did I. I am aware now, having read her account of our stay there. Also, I need to add that Francesca has a Harvard PhD, her field of study the chemical analysis of anthropological and archaeological artifacts. This sheds light on what she writes below.]

Anyhow…..I like Chamonix about 5 orders of magnitude more than this. This is cram packed with the unsavory kind of tourist – even if they are all Europeans themselves. I cannot even fathom the horrors of this place if it we were whole world tourists. They have just ruined this nice little mountain town and made it like a playground.

Anyhow … after my shopping – my serious hunt for lighter food – I came back and put it all away and then we trundled up the street to the archaeological museum. That was quite cool – to me. Cool and almost empty! And they had the artifacts from right here 7000 years ago. Really amazing stuff. They had large stone tool blades – almost like Solutrian points – so long and so thin – to fragile for combat – they could only be ceremonial! Very beautiful and highest end of skill to flake. How fascinating they were found in neolithic sites in these Alps. And, of course, tons of Roman stuff. The archway in town is from 25 BC. And the museum had a special exhibit inspired by MoMa in NYC in 1955 called The Family of Man with stuff from all over the world and it was unexpected and very interesting. And I bought us passes to go into all the archaeological sites from Roman through megalithic, I shall work on those when I go out.

That’s it. Not shopping here. Not eating out here. We’ll hole up in our flat above it all listening to the hum of the tourist throngs.

Chamonix is so very much better than this. And it’s not so far away. We’re within site of Monte Blanc.

Tourist traps are not for me.

No one else is paying attention to the archaeological past of this place. The ladies at the museum asked me 3 different ways when I was after tickets if I really meant it – if I was lost! A 3 floor museum and I saw 2 other people in it who didn’t work there!

They then had to call about our vax cards because they have not had any Americans and had no idea what to make of this – but wherever they called on the phone indicated they could accept our white vax cards and let us in … with the only 2 already there! Ha! Least crowded place in the whole town.

Ah well. It was a long way to come for trying special wine and seeing the alpine Neolithic artifacts and megalithic site.

Never coming back!

That’s our day. We came back for tuna and salad for lunch at home. We’ll go out later to some of the archaeological stuff. Then home for chicken for dinner.

(Roman. Not sticks in the ground, so even I thought it cool.)

Goodbye to Aosta, and a good riddance from Francesca

And today we did the 3 hour teeth clenching drive through the Alps to Annecy. Prior to entering the big 10km tunnel – ruler straight – under the mountains (there were at least 10km of shorter tunnels prior to that; so much fun), we had to go through “control”. This entailed paying a toll, but there was evidently more to it than that, for you had to do this with a person – an official person. It took some people a long time to get the green light. When our turn came, after 30 minutes in line, I handed over my British Airways credit card, with which our toll was paid, and which seemed to act as some kind of official documentation. I think he assumed we were British, gave the card back, and lifted the gate, and off we went in a fraction of the time of many who’d been in front of us. A bit over an hour later we arrived at our posh hotel in Annecy, my hands thoroughly cramped. I have special gloves I wear when this happens, and down a big pill full of magnesium. That generally fixes me.

As we pulled up to the front of the hotel we were asked by a young man if we wanted him to take our luggage. I politely told him to bugger off. This place charges for every little thing, and we’ll deal with our own little things, merci beaucoup.

Walked to Annecy old town in evening. Picturesque, in a kind of Diagon Alley kind of way. Very nice meal consumed. Yeah, so that’s the bright side. On the dark side, Annecy is one of the premiere August French vacation destinations, complete with what looked like a real Diagon Alley, a pleasant lake in which to cavort, and Alps looming off to one side. In short, it is mobbed with people who refuse to understand my French, and far too many of whom sport shorts, bathing suits, and flip flops. They are here to cavort in the water, bask in the sun, and be something all together more relaxed than they are in the places in which they live and work.

We purchased some groceries on the way home. Heavy. It started to rain. We learned that one does not hail a cab in Annecy, but with the help of a woman in a hotel outside of which we were standing, one was called. It was not her job to do this, but she eventually understood how pitiable we were, and took pity on our pitiable-ness. The cab driver was from the Alsace and asked at one point if we spoke German. I can get by in the language, but it gave me intellectual whiplash making the effort to shift. Francesca’s nonItalian grandfather was from Alsace. We connected splendidly with the cabby.

T plus 16 days?

This hotel (Imperial Palace) is posh, and stuffy, and they charge 6€ for a small bag of peanuts in the bloody minibar. Fooking ‘ell.

Like many places in Italy and France – but enforced more in France – masks are mandatory in indoor public spaces, and in restaurants it is not uncommon to have to show the spiffy cell phone EU proof of vaccination thingy before being seated. Our pathetic American vaccination paper cards have so far sufficed, but they generally give rise to a quizzical lifting of an eyebrow or two before being accepted. On the other hand, we would not even be here were we not vaccinated. Most people realize that, as we are American, and as we are in Europe, we likely had to experience extensive anal probing to get into the continent, and so are very likely safe.

I frequently forget to mask when I enter some establishment, but Francesca usually chastises me into compliance. My mask, by the way, is an EU flag; you know, light blue, with a circle of stars, although one fewer star since the Vogons buggered off?

Good riddance. (Francesca questions my knowledge of star count, but, still … Vogons.)

It is nearly 10am. I need to take my cancer meds, two hours having passed since breakfast. And I need to wait another hour before eating again. Francesca meanwhile …

I find it difficult to wrap my mind around the fact that my wife takes serene pleasure in just relaxing in the lap of luxury, requiring of her husband no prodding to go out and look at stuff. We are done for the nonce with rushing about being tourists. I must attempt to unwind.

Lunch had. Joked with wait staff. Discovered why people express surprise when we ask for butter. This most recent waitress, when I used my best French to request a bit of butter with our lunch, looked nonplussed. Was my pronunciation so bad? I tried again to say butter in French, which is the sound one makes just prior to vomiting. A waiter who knew English stepped over to help. It seems my pronunciation was ok; it was the concept that was inexplicable. In this season the French do not have butter with lunch or dinner. Once we explained that we had been unable to purchase French butter in America since the start of the Covid plague, they became more sympathetic, and butter was supplied. They even were sympathetic when we asked if we could take the leftovers in a small plastic bag. Bizarre Americans.

J’en ai marre 7

2021 Travels Part 7

Francesca’s Post Truffle Post

Then we wandered the fashion district for a postprandial sort of passeggiata and that was very interesting. We appreciate creativity in all its forms. Often just the window displays are real works of art. But no! This was the very first time it ever disappointed. Most subdued window arrangements I have ever seen. Nothing vibrant or explosively creative in any of them! Is this covid effect!?

A few nice dresses that were dead 1920 inspired. I loved them, oh course. But even the majority of shoes and boots were just boring. I can hardly believe I’m saying this.

Can’t wait to see if Paris is suffering the same malaise. Why would covid make it all so dull?! After WWII it was spectacular fashion houses and design that burst to pull people out if the hardship and trauma and sacrifice of war. Why is fashion not bursting with fun now? The world needs oomf again. Even Gucci was dull! And ever since the guy was killed and his crazy sister inherited his fashion house it has been utterly nuts – even to me! But nope…toned down.

(My pic. This is about as good as it got.)

End of truffles; Me Again

A couple of years ago I snapped my favorite picture of that year’s trip in Milan’s Galeria (amazing bookstore there, as well as excellent cafes for a man to have a beer while waiting for his wife and his old girlfriend while they shop). That picture was of a police woman in high heels looking absolutely amazing. You probably didn’t get my travel memoir of that trip, so you don’t know what I’m talking about. I have no sympathy.

Anyway, the picture below, taken at almost the exact same spot, may be my favorite picture from this trip. (In future, I should just hang out at that spot and wait for the perfect photo opportunity to arise.) A fashion shoot was taking place, and the model is changing shoes. It reminds me of the scene in the film Red when Helen Mirren, dressed to the nines for an important political soirée, and she’s just completed some spy stuff and is no longer in sight of the other guests, and she has more spy stuff to do, and unlike the vast majority of films with female spies in high heels who run around doing their spy stuff in entirely impractical footwear, Helen is handed a pair of very practical boots and immediately dons them, for she is a professional, and she has spy stuff to do that involves guns and punching. So, yeah, I love this picture, and the juxtaposition of practical and sexy footwear.

T plus 13 days

Yesterday we left Milan, got to our rented VW, and spent a relaxing and glorious 2 plus hours skirting death with Italian drivers. And I am reminded of something worth saying. We travel with a wifi pod, the SIM chip in which was activated prior to our flight from BOS to LHR. When we arrived in Milan it crapped out, which was unfortunate, as it gave me access to the frequently useful femmebot, and she was supposed to guide us to Fiumelatte. But no. We had to resort to the German GPS that came with our car, a domineering and unfriendly mannbot all of the instructions for which were in French (the car had an F plate). Anyway, later I discovered that Milan itself was the problem. Our private wifi pod functioned (so far) everywhere that wasn’t Milan.

So, still yesterday. Got to Aosta, got into our new apartment. It is comfortable, and the stove works. (That new stove in Milan petered out after 2/3 of a use.) However, we need to climb 50+ stone steps from the street to our door, and probably because this building was constructed in 1748, the steps are of random heights, hence require constant attention. Getting our things up the stairs left us drenched and exhausted. Cool showers were needed.

Later we ventured out into the picturesque town surrounded by snowy peaks. The town itself, however, was warm, and throngs of Italian tourists mobbed the pedestrian ways. At this point I started to realize something. I had always heard that Paris empties out in August as Parisians take to the cooler countryside to vacation. Clearly the same is true in Italy, and Aosta is a prime destination for those escaping northern Italian cities.

This fact crystallized into certainty when we later went to dinner at one of the better restaurants in town. We arrived relatively early (19:30), got seated after our American vax cards were perused, and then I made the huge mistake of ordering the 3 courses on a page of local mountain foods. I find Italian menus perplexing in the extreme, and I was getting increasingly frustrated trying to order just enough food for me, and not a battalion of hungry soldiers. Well, that battalion would have eventually pushed their plates away un-emptied having been served what we were served. As to that, unlike better Milanese restaurants, there was very little pause between the courses. They were happy to have us finish and leave, and seat some later arriving Italians at our table. (This was not the rule, and in the off season it is never the rule, in our experience. You sit down to dine, and the table is yours until you crawl away from it. But that restaurant was touristy from the get-go, and we were the wrong sort of tourists for that season, and patrons were waiting. Ciao.)

And now we get to meat and cheese, and today, specifically at 2am = 02:00. I have written in the past of an experience with Camembert, which is (to me) basically cheese LSD. Last night’s dinner was laden with tasty mystery cheeses, which had me awake (and angry as sin, for the first time, at Italy’s inland diet) for 4+ hours. MSG only does 2 hours, so Francesca thinks the culprit was formaggio. Fuck.

By the way, in the dozen days of our Italian journeys, we have seen fewer than ten – if that – Americans. It’s a blessing, and a sign of how hard it is to travel to Europe from the USA in a plague year.

(We occasionally did see a fair number of Americans, but without exception we did so at crux points – places where they needed to congregate in order to get through some official barrier, like at airports.)

Below the steps leading up to our apartment, Even individual steps were not uniform. A route had to be learned from top to bottom that would minimize the risk of injury. The top two steps pictured are particularly bizarre, and I conclude from this that they were not intended for elites – the kind of people who would have you incarcerated (or worse) for discommoding them in any way.

And speaking of elites, people who swoon over castles and their often elaborately furnished and decorated interiors, are idiots. 99% of those people, were they transported back to the time of the castle’s construction, would have been minions: laborers, lackeys, serfs, etc. (Not me, of course.) Their lives would be full of hardship, a fair bit of pain, and short. Well, yeah. But ok, so the swooners maybe don’t care. The British to this day doff their caps to their pedophilic betters. Stupid of me to even bring it up. Skip this paragraph and carry on.

We saw a Roman theatre ruin today. Cool. There was an even more ancient site, a 7000 year old megalithic ruin, consisting of some sticks in the ground indicating positions of some megalithic crap. It was a trek. The day was hot. Francesca failed to convince me of its worth. Wasn’t on my bucket list; still isn’t. I hate bucket lists. I’ve always hated them, but now – the big C looming over my future – I loath them with added fervor. We did not go see the sticks. (That’s the trouble with the majority of archaeological sites of the order of 7000 years old. Their building materials tend to rot away, and special devices are required to figure out the outline of settlements from such times. Once the outline is determined, you put away your devices and put sticks in the ground to indicate important corners. Maybe add a plaque with an artists rendition of what the place may have looked like. Add a goat to the scene, and voila!)

Today is day 1 of a several day heat wave which will haunt us in Annecy and Lyon, our next two stops. Tomorrow we hope to take a gondola up a nearby mountain. If we succeed, I shall write about it. If we fail, I shall sit on the toilet all day and try to rid my body of dudgeon.

Most of the pleasures of this trip have been of this sort, the sort I’m about to write about, if you’ll just be patient. She – pictured below – and her brontosaurus, saw us looking in the door of a shop at her; oh, these people are looking at me; I will go over, say hello, get cuddly scratches, and the world will be a better place. Fortunately she wagged in English. Dogs.

(Remember the dog in Matera I wrote about to which I gave my Dog Whisperer look from some distance, and who immediately recognized what the look meant, and was all gung ho to respond, and almost pulled his owner off his feet in his/her effort to fulfill the promise of the look I’d given him/her/them? Remember? I recently had a similar experience at my favorite local surf spot. I was sitting on a bench atop an embankment watching the sea, and a girl was walking by beneath me with a smallish bulldog kind of beast, and evidently I must emit some sort of magical dog friendly aura by this point, with a range of 50 meters or so, because even prior to me doing more than just noticing the boofy, it stopped, and resisted being pulled further away. The girl turned around, and I said to wait just a second. I walked down the embankment, the dog waiting patiently, refusing to budge, and we shared a priceless moment together. I almost felt that the dog had turned the tables, and was doing some Geoffrey Whispering, for I really felt drawn. The girl said I must be a dog person. I replied: “you have no idea.”)

(Francesca has reminded me of a detail of the brontosaurus dog encounter of which I was unaware, for I was so focused on the boofy. She – the dog – approached us full of hope, but as I had made the eye contact, the boofy was locked onto me. When she reached us she handed the brontosaurus to Francesca, then turned her attention back to me. She clearly knew we were together, and just as clearly felt Francesca looked trustworthy. “Would you hold my brontosaurus for a moment while I commune with your husband?” And then, communing done, she carefully took her brontosaurus back, and retreated into the shop, as pictured below.)

J’en ai marre 6

2021 Travels Part 6

T plus 9 days

The day started off auspiciously. I promised the Swiss Miss (called Heidi in a previous memoir) that I’d take her to a special place. It’s in what I now thoroughly realize is my favorite neighborhood in Milan: Brera. There is a little street we happened upon maybe 5 years ago, and as I wrote about in a previous travel memoir, there is a little shop on that street with the most amazing window display I had ever seen. There is no 2nd place worth mentioning.

A couple or more years after that we were back in Milan searching for that same shop, and after carefully studying pictures I’d taken previously, we worked out the name and returned. It was still glorious.
It’s called Il Segno del Tempo, and I hesitate to share that with you, for it’s like giving away the position of a secret surf spot, one carefully guarded by locals. And indeed, my impression is that this little street is intended primarily for locals, and those of some means. Still, probably no harm done, as fewer than 10 people have ever read any of my memoirs.

So this morning we hopped aboard the #2 tram and got off at the end of the street of my secret spot. A quarter mile walk brought us to the shop, and it easily lived up to my expectations. I placed my iPhone against the glass and took several pictures. (The door to the shop had never been open or unlocked in all the times we’d visited.)

I noticed a man in the back, and when two workmen got his attention he came to the door and talked to them. The door was opened. I was not about to let this opportunity pass. When the workmen exited, I told the man that this shop was the most amazing I’d ever seen – or words to that effect; I fawned, shamelessly. And would it be possible to come inside? Yes, of course. Keep in mind, this fellow told us that he had only worked there for a year, and he was not an owner. I think we lucked out in this regard.

So, we got in, and I was now surrounded by works of art and science that thoroughly captivated me. Goosebumps occurred. I was simply awed in every direction I looked.

And lo! There was an elevator to yet another floor. Would we like to descend to the other level? Does the pope do cosplay?

(I’ve since visited their website and got an impression of how much disposable wealth one needs to buy their stuff. After our return we discovered our furnace is no longer viable, our circuit breakers ought to be replaced, and we’ll soon need to pay property taxes. Consequently my disposable wealth has few significant figures to the left of the decimal point. Sigh.)

Upon exiting, still giddy with excitement, I half noticed that Heidi was perplexed. This whole eye of the beholder thing is at times aggravating, especially when you are swooning and those around you are making a brave effort to partake in said swooning, but failing utterly to understand why they should do so. Francesca shared my rapture, but Heidi was just nonplussed. But I did not care. Heidi actually wanted to go to parks and walk amidst greenery. I like parks, but they’re not why I come to Milan repeatedly. (Why would anyone go to any remarkable city to sit in a park? Anyway, I found her brave confusion slightly aggravating. I shared something precious, and got a “That’s nice” in return. My fault entirely. In my heart I knew Heidi’s tastes did not encompass this sort of thing. Ah well. And anyway, I hadn’t dragged everyone to this street and shop because I thought it would please anyone else. Nay nay. I needed to be there, and again experience the wonder of that little shop.)

Still, later, when asked to briefly hold a bag containing some undergarments I had just purchased, and, a short time thereafter, perplexed as to why she was holding a bag, she put the thing on the ground, where it remained when we sauntered off … anyway. My fault. And my subsequent ire when I raced back to find it, leaving Francesca and Heidi behind, and then I couldn’t find the fucking thing because I didn’t remember the location, and I told them curtly on the phone to take a tram home, and hung up with noticeable dudgeon, and fortunately found a taxi stand that got me home 60 seconds before them.

Still, I got inside the shop, and it amply fulfilled my expectations. And we got Heidi to the train, and hours later she got home. She is more of an Indian Ashram kind of person. Expecting Milano to thrill was an error on my part, but it was where we were, and it was nice she came down to visit.

As to that, Heidi was not the only one to travel some distance to see us. There would be two other visits, and I was grateful for each. Still, the nagging fear that they were doing so because they might not see me again did not lift my spirits. Ç’est la vie. Ç’est la mort.

T plus 10 days

Sauntered back to our street via Piazza Gae Aulenti. I said hi to a couple dogs. We ate. Walked. Trammed. Rested. Discussed recent events, myself putting a forgiving spin on everything. And now I’m typing. Tomorrow is our last full day in Milan.

Discovered today a long street of outdoor dining a couple blocks from us. Walked halfway down. This place looks nice. 40 or so tables, only one other one taken. Time: 19:40 = 7:40 pm. By 9:40 pm all tables full, people waiting for early birds to leave. Italian notion of proper dinner time differs from ours. Radically differs, truth be told.

As of yesterday, by official mandate (if that’s what it’s called), some venues require proof of vaccination, and a temperature check, before entry is permitted. This being Italy, the mandate – as happened tonight – is often ignored.

T plus 11 days

I should explain. Regarding Il Segno del Tempo, my enchantment is 1/3 the objects, and 4/5 the arrangement of the objects, the magical design, as one only ever sees in Italy, especially in Milano, the heart of design in this country. New York, Paris, Milan, the fashion triumvirate, and while Milan is the smallest, it is in my mind the greatest.

Well, speaking of fashion, we hadn’t done the long fashion street yet, so today we took a tram to my favorite street, lunched at a nice place that smelled of truffles … A word: Francesca is wild about truffles, and even the smell makes her weak in the knees. Curiously I don’t seem to have the right genes for the things; I’m never sure if I can actually smell anything, and maybe I taste them … maybe; I’m just not sure. I suspect they are aphrodisiacs for women, and not for men; or it could simply be I was born wrong – sideways or something.

After lunch we moseyed down to the fashion district and ogled this year’s Fall styles by all the leading designers. Even before surrendering my testicles I was fond of fashion, it being but a part of art and design. Should I be more or less attracted to this artistic milieu now, without my little Gundam pilots? Studies have not been made, so I am unsure.

(Heidi knew of my medical condition (she is a nurse, and her husband a medical doctor), and how I’d chosen to confront it, before coming to visit. She seriously wondered if lacking testosterone would give me a higher voice – more feminine. It hasn’t, but I tried to fulfill her expectations a couple of times, and much hilarity ensued. (But really, why would my Adam’s Apple suddenly pop up out of sight in response to that surgery? Still, I do get hot flashes, and that’s fun.))

Now thoroughly hot and sticky, we headed through the amazing Galeria, across the Il Duomo piazza, and hence to the #2 tram, which took us back home and into a cold shower. And a nice lie down. Ciao.
A heatwave is approaching and will encompass all the region between Milan and Lyon, during the next nine days of our travels. This does not make me happy. If our next place, which is not air conditioned, is too unbearable, we will retreat to Chamonix, higher in the Alps, as we did two years ago.

Francesca’s truffle experience

(Her words, typos corrected by the husband person. Why does my Mac want me to replace the word “by” with “buy”? Am I for sale?)

“Today’s beauty was invisible. It was taste and smell. When we were passing by a day ago my knees almost gave way. The entire street had the divine headiness of truffles. I was so desperately sad we had eaten lunch already that day. Had to go back and have some!“

[The restaurant referred to here is at the end of my favorite street with the little shop of wonders. We got back to it, as I wrote above, and …]

“Oh oh oh … I had fresh black summer truffles shaved on carpaccio with parmigiana – next to our ‘offbeat curios shop’. I ate so slowly to savor eat bite and rest in between.

“Heaven.

“And you might wonder if a restaurant would be mad at us taking up space for so long. No! Not at all. They actually gave us the premiere spot. It was a corner building with a double row of tables all along two sides and where the sides intersected there was a single round table – with as much area as the 4 seat rectangle tables but because of the space around it it was set only for 2. So it was like the best double in the whole place. And we came along and they motioned to it and I thought that’s a mistake and was trying to figure out where to go, so the manager or owner … the clear top person running the place at the time, walked over to the big round corner and pulled a chair out for me! It was true. They put us right in the corner where people going along both alleys saw. Then he gave us complementary glasses of Prosecco. I had the carpaccio and truffles and then some porcini mushroom riso, and I asked for a glass of the best wine to go with the funghi – and he nailed it. Then I had my decaf espresso and suddenly a complementary limoncellos arrived and then when I asked for our bill, another little glass of limoncello arrives. And I was watching; I was there a long while and watching both ways and watching both alleys and chatting with various waiters. And I specifically was watching for others to get free things – free drinks … nope. We were being spoiled. I don’t know why. But they were lovely to us and didn’t mind us taking up space a while – in fact – the biggest table there. Other guests – not all – one large table of many tables put together for 10 all along half the building length – certain ones kept leaning out and examining us – like they were trying to figure out who we were … as if we were someone. The restaurant made us look like we were! Or it must have been my fabulous new shoes with black silhouettes and long flowing lovely scarf!

“Anyhow – everything about the meal was beyond expectation. And I went in with high expectations having been completely intoxicated by the smell the day before. The free Prosecco was not because of the truffles either. It was given to us while we viewed the menu before we ordered even a thing.”

I snapped this picture at the end of the meal:

J’en ai marre 5

2021 Travels Part 5

T plus 4 days

Some mystery food purchased at a butchers evidently had MSG in it. Sleepless until after midnight, then at 01:30 the windows start flashing and the sky started booming, all quite close. Ended around 03:30, and got up at 07:30. Oog. During the MSG inspired sleeplessness, I couldn’t stop thinking about the dog and how little time I had to solidify our friendship. Maybe tomorrow night when we go back one last time to that restaurant.

From an email I sent this morning: “Suzanne went to mass this morning in Fiumelatte, and the old aunt was there (of course), and she grabbed Suzanne and introduced her to several other old women.” Even the fruit and vegetable seller in Varenna recognized her, pleased at her attempts to communicate in Italian. Big smiles were exchanged, and I could not help but contrast this with my own attempts to introduce my Duolingo French in France. Reactions have varied from wan forbearing smile to a look not dissimilar from disdain. In our conversations here we’ve come to learn the Italians are not overfond of the French.

T plus 5 days

Soporific day. Pleasant; not too hot. We walked to Varenna, bought round trip ferry tickets to Menaggio, them tootled across the lake. We were required to disembark and wait for a ferry back. It was 20 minutes late, at which point we were happy with our minor excursion, for a lengthier one – to Como, for example – would have been of an entirely unpredictable duration. We have a dinner reservation.

Francesca’s university teaching in September, which was to be in person, may not be, Massachusetts being the timid state it is, and conflating the delta covid numbers in Missouri and Arkansas with their own. Francesca is feeling very strongly that if this is the case, then she wants to teach most of September from Santa Margherita on the west coast of Italy. We have been there three times before. This would get us back in time for my oncologist appointment in midOctober. I need to check for how long the chip in our wifi pod is scheduled to work, but I think until midSeptember. I could always add a month.

Ordinarily this prospect might please me, but I have just got to the point of relaxing after our flight home was canceled, UK friends visit needing to be canceled, and trip plans needing to be frantically rearranged. I still have some PTSD, so adding a couple weeks to our trip would lead to more hectic planning, albeit without the tight deadline. Oh, I just today learned from our Milan host that Italy tightened entrance requirements on 29 July. We entered on 28 July, which he had forgotten. All the more reason for me to be chary of overstaying our welcome in this country.

So, remember the dog who poked me in the butt to make sure I was aware she was leaving. We saw her again in the square in Varenna today. I said hi, but the scene was somewhat hectic, and she only vaguely acknowledged my attention. But in the evening the whole group of five people and one dog were at the quiet restaurant again where we had first met. I said hi to her when they entered, and they had a table further away this time. The dog crawled under at one point to look at me, and to make sure I knew where she was. When we left I walked over and knelt on the ground in front of her. She was close to tears. I was close to tears. We’d known each other for such a short time, and this might be our last meeting. We said fond goodbyes, some good scratches being offered, fury heads nuzzling into nearby thighs. And then we had to leave. She watched us walk away down the sidewalk. I know this, because I kept looking back. It would have been socially irresponsible to return, but both she and I wanted that. Sigh.

T plus 6 days

Soporific again, but more so. We both had after breakfast naps, then started packing for departure tomorrow. Milano, next stop.

T plus 7 days

Leaving Fiumelatte fairly painless. At first it would have been hard to get lost. There was one snafu after the femmebot told me to take the 2nd exit at a roundabout, and I took the third. A quick u-turn and we were back on track. And then the track merged with a more main road, with millions of trucks, and some fun passing trucks in tunnels … I aged a couple of years, but c’est la vie.

Our place in Milan is quite nice, although practicality is given second place to design. The bedside table – quite artistic in a 19th century sort of way – is attached to the wall in such a way I cannot plug in the device with which I charge my devices. And evidently wastebaskets are a design faux pas. Still …

T plus 8 days

So, evidently lived in previously, this apartment has not been lived in since the bizarre design-focused renovation. It’s really cool and all, but many things you may be accustomed to working one way, they function differently; presumably the trusted past is bourgeois crap. Even the bed pillows compress too much to be comfortable. But they are chic. Fortunately, Francesca brought two smallish pillows with her, and adding one of those proletarian cushions on top of the one supplied suffices.

Oh, and the kitchen is filled with all new devices, including an untested countertop convection stove. It has touch sensitive controls, the idea being, I suspect, that actual knobs are passé, an embarrassment to one and all. So, yeah, Francesca cooked on this elegant device, and just short of completing the process of preparing dinner, it got all sulky and stopped working. This is now the morning after, and it’s still sulking. Oh for a knob to twist peevishly.

And to top all that, today my former inamorata is coming down from Basel to visit. And despite that romantic tie having finished 40 years ago, Francesca still finds her presence unsettling. But she is one of my valued collection of European friends, and, anyway … The fact that I am no longer physically capable of infidelity has no bearing on Francesca’s feelings. But we’ve all been together twice in past trips, and we have even been put up at the home of the Swiss miss, her husband, and two grown children. Should be ok. I’ll try not to be stupid.

J’en ai marre 4

2021 Travels, Part 4,

… concluding with my favorite moment in all my years of travel. We shall be leaving to start our 2022 EU travels in a week, so this will be my last post until July. The dog will return. Please feel free to miss me.

Francesca’s first morning in Fiumelatte, as written by Francesca:

For today’s beginning entertainment… ….we have dawn!

I stood leaning out my window for 2 hours watching it all unfold.
Just so pleasant.

Dark silhouettes of mountains across a pallet of soft shades of gray – gray water, gray sky – a world of shadows of boats.

Color growing slowly from the top down as sun finally lights the peaks, then more and more like a honey of light and color seeping down the mountains.

The bird chatter greeted the day.

And a drama unfolding beneath my window. There was a family with 4 baby diving ducks on the stone pier that lead into the wee harbor next to the house. There was a fluffy pile – huddled, nestled, occasional jostling …. that later resolved into 4 fluffy babies. The jostling nudging and rearranging increased. Finally one stretched up and clapped tiny wings. And another got rambunctious and had a little dip before the rest. Not sure the watchful mother was thrilled with that! And then after they were all up mama and the rest slipped off the end into the water and went off for breakfast.

I watched the adult males of the species – deep shiny black with bright white bills – dive deep and long periods. (Correction after the fact: there were no males; the black birds were coots.)

2 swans went by.

Swallows danced through the air.

At 7 the bell tower in the next town sounded to wake the rest of the world.

And all the while the gentle lapping of the lake against the stones beneath my window. All night long actually, on the stones….every time I was awake it was just such a lovely sound.

This is nice. Achingly nice.

I just stood leaning on a bar out the window in my light flower night gown…and somehow hours slipped by.

T plus 3 days

Whether illness, making up for pre-trip stress, or just how soporific this place is, what with the warmish temps, and the lapping of Lake Como waters below our windows, but I sleep a lot here, dead to the world. Pasta may contribute to this problem, if problem it be.

“At least 125,000 fully vaccinated Americans have tested positive for Covid”. Maybe covid is making me sleepy.

Ah, so, at last, weather.com having predicted lightning for the last 48 hours, it finally arrived, with some hail, much booming, and totally obscuring the mountains across the lake. Weather.com, knowing this is summer, and these are the southern Alps, probably knew they’d be right at some point, so felt safe in their forecast. Before the trip I was expecting to be daily entertained by storms of this ilk. We have 3 more days. There’s no telling if there will be further episodes, but the dice that weather.com use to make predictions suggest there will be. Below is the calm after.

Brunetti

Ok – and this is important, so please focus. We travel with kindles, and I’d bought parts 1 and 2 of a thriller before departing. I started one yesterday, and quickly realized I had utterly no interest in terrorism, WMDs, and Islamic fanatics of any sort. I stopped reading. (I must say, now I think on it, my interest in this thriller genre faded to zero quite a while ago, and I just never noticed until confronted with more of same.)
Ok, so, for many years now Francesca has been enhancing her travels by reading Brunetti mysteries by Donna Leon. She would occasionally share some humorous bit, wry, insightful, and … Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, why am I reading about chemical weapons in Syria and Pakistan, when I could be basking in literary genius taking place in Venice. And literary genius it is, on a par with P.G. Wodehouse. I say this with utter confidence, although only 20% through the first of the mysteries. Francesca is reading the 15th, and the bits she shares are brilliant. I am saddened that I may not live long enough to read them all. But the book’s pompous maestro is dead, and we don’t know whodunnit, so, ciao.

Content

Some advice, for those with nontoxic personalities, possessed of a modicum of joie de vivre, and content. Fiumelatte is small. Paolo, who – along with Sabrina – let us in to the apartment, he said at one point that everyone knew everyone in the area. They know the woman that greets us at the perfect little restaurant across the street; they knew the taxi driver who brought us and our groceries home today; and we have met their great (great?) aunt, more than once, and the lady in the restaurant said she’s the oldest lady in town. I told the restaurant lady that on first meeting her in the presence of Paolo and Sabrina, and learning the aunt’s age, I looked at the aunt up in her window, pointed to my chest, and said, “due cento”, indicating I was more than double her age. Her reaction was priceless and wonderful. She made an ohohoh kind of noise, and made that hand gesture with the right hand waving up and down vertically, indicating (in an Italian way) more than doubt, and suggesting even I may be lying a bit. Everyone laughed, and the aunt with word and gesture indicated I must exercise a lot.

Francesca is going to mass tomorrow with the restaurant lady, and probably many other people we’ve met. (The restaurant lady and the elderly aunt, go to market together on one of the infrequent buses that go to a much bigger town.) These moments of being included – tied into – a small group of local people, accepted temporarily, these moments are priceless to us.

Varenna, the larger town a 20 minute walk to the north, is scenic, and it has sights worth seeing, but it is filled with Germans and Dutch, and people even less savory, and the cultural noise of their density subdues any chance that they will have of meaningful interactions with local culture, which they in any case might fail to recognize or approve of. The locals try to stay polite, but understandably sometimes fail. It reminds me of our visit to Lake Lugano a few years ago, in an Italian Swiss region. These Swiss Italians were more formal than the Italian Italians to the south, but in a restaurant there the German Swiss seated near us were rude and dismissive of the Swiss Italians serving them. I had to grit my teeth to avoid pushing the German Swiss into the lake.

Let’s end on a positive note. At dinner tonight there was a table of mostly Italians, and one dog. I patted the dog when they came in, but she was tentative, and the lady with the leash put the dog under the table for the duration. When they got up to leave my back was to them, but Francesca could see the dog stand up and look in our direction. Francesca beamed approvingly, and the dog moved closer and pushed her nose into my butt. The leash lady was initially concerned, but relaxed when the dog and I bid a fond adieu to each other, the dog leaning warmly into my arm, the hand of which was scratching her neck and ears. I guess that explains in part why I am prone to seek out canines in our beach walks at home in New Hampshire. We have no Italian style cohesive culture in America, but dogs come close at times. So, anyway, buona notte.

J’en ai marre 3

Zombies

PW had a recent article about supersymmetry theorists who refuse to concede that the idea is ill-conceived. I call it stupid, but that’s just me. Still, SUSY, although dead, continues to walk about like some sort of zombie theory eager to eat the brains of a new generation. In grad school my advisor, who once suggested I had a hotline to god, bless his soul, recognized it might prove interesting to just leave me alone to pursue my own weird ways. He and Marc Grisaru were dabbling eagerly in SUSY at the time, and Marc was so enamored with it, that my resistance to getting involved caused him much chagrin. He wanted me kicked out of grad school. He took steps to make it so. Sadly they failed.

Anyway, I get my PhD, postdoc for a bit, and am occasionally at a loose end. During one of these I earned my living working in a bookstore. While so engaged I ran into Marc in Harvard Square, a place in Massachusetts. He asked me what I was doing. I told him. He shook his head, and, sort of as an aside, said, “What a waste.”

And here we are some 40 years later. I’m still waiting for the world of theoretical physics to catch up with my ideas, and the ideas to which Marc surrendered himself for decades is now still walking around, but with no beating heart, one eyeball missing, and some bone visible beneath the fetid flesh. What a waste.

2021 Travels, Departure

The airlines, unable to cancel every plane, allow us finally to depart.

T minus 0 days

This morning I received an email from the Vogons at BA that they needed me to resend covid testing docs as my initial send confused them. Likely my fault, as I sent my and Francesca’s document pdfs together, causing their bureaucratic neurons to misfire. So I sent just mine – again – and just the test result and scan of proof of vaccination. I was delightfully surprised when 5 minutes later I got an email giving me a green light. Thunderbirds are go.

Meanwhile, five plus days of ceaseless effort to get our obstreperous ducks in a row has left me feeling unwell. Had a slight fever this morning, but hoping this will abate once everything is done. And everything seems to be done, actually. Boarding passes for BOS to LHR, and LHR to LIN (tomorrow), have been issued and printed. I will shower and shave an hour before departure.

It should be mentioned, if it has not already been, that we travel business or first class only. I’m too old to sit up for hours at a stretch, and I always buy tickets months in advance to get deals. And I’m dying, albeit slowly at the moment. My ten years working for Fidelity Investments left me with enough savings to easily last the rest of my life, so, what the hell. First class on this trip, which means free pajamas. Yay.

Now at Logan. BA first class lounge closed. Every other airline lounge is open, but not BA’s. And, insult to injury, my favorite travel trousers, 3 pair, no longer fit. This is likely a consequence of the cancer, and the hormone treatment that is keeping it at bay. (A known side effect is an accumulation of fat around the midsection.) Yeah, well, at least I’m alive, although no longer using my fourth belt loop.

T plus 1 day

Although I will not supply details, my impression, after the fact, of the covid inspired hoops to be leapt through at Heathrow was of frequent anal probes through all of the body’s orifices, and if that makes little sense, then you underestimate both the British, and the Vogons at Heathrow. Still, the 1st class BA lounge at Heathrow was open, and nice – the terrace room especially so. Next step, board flight to Italy. What horrors await us there?

No horrors, although we did not at first know this. And I would trade all of that 1st class lounge stuff at LHR had the Heathrow Vogons been as relaxed as the Italian customs when we arrived in Milan. Full of trepidation, in the 30 minutes leading up to our turn with a customs official, Francesca and I gathered every piece of paper we thought would expedite the process of allowing us into Italy. In the end, after a 30 minute nervous wait in line, we handed a guy a wad of paper each, and – or so it seems to me (this is just an impression) – he said, “Oh, si, paper. Grazie. Ciao.” And suddenly we were through and into Italy proper. Stunned. Moderately stunned.

A nice old taxi driver took us to our hotel, muttering frequently about Mother Mary and Luna, possibly in response to my suggestion that he was taking us in the wrong direction. And he was, according to the femmebot google maps, but weirdly you had to go a way wrong a fair distance to go eventually right.

You know, I had a feeling things would be easier getting into Italy. If you want to understand why, go watch Izzy Eddard’s hilarious take on the Italians becoming fascist prior to WWII.

T plus 2 days

First night in hotel at Linate airport in Milan, I drenched several cloth items with perspiration, following a bout of chills. Diminished covid variant (vaccinated: J&J)? My deeper disease? Inevitable effect of struggle to arrive in EU? Remember the perspiration floods that knocked me out in France a few years ago? Anyway …

Our drive to Fiumelatte took two hours instead of one because femmebot was on a mysterious break, and we had trouble using our rented VW’s navigation system. As the car originated in France, the system text was in French. I kept following signs to Como, which got us closer to George Clooney than Fiumelatte. She (femmebot – google maps female voice) finally came back once we wormed our way to Fiumelatte, and our Airbnb hosts, on the watch for a silver/grey VW containing two lost Americans, waved us down and, yeah. Femmebot really wasn’t the issue. Our on-the-go wifi pod didn’t get working until I got thoroughly lost. Francesca berated me for not trusting the navigation system. But I saw it wanted me to go south, and I wanted to go north. It was trying to get us unlost, and I stubbornly ignored both it, and Francesca. In extenuation I will just say I was exhausted. Brain said north, go north. Ah well.

As to Fiumelatte, Francesca, as is her wont, assumed the town could be meandered and shopped, transferring memories of past locales, where this was in fact true, into her hopes and assumptions for this spot. Unfortunately, Fiumelatte is really just the base of a very high cliff, with room enough for some dwellings, a restaurant or two, a sidewalk area (along a road busy with Italians and tourists) varying in width from 6 inches to 2 – rarely 3 – feet (the sidewalk, that is; the road is frequently wider). Exciting, but not suitable for passeggiata.

Fortunately, a not unpleasant 20 minute walk to the north is the bigger town of Varenna, and while brimming with blonder, taller, and frequently annoying folk from northern Europe, it is pleasant, has scenic places to meander, and shops. There are botanical gardens that we will get to, weather permitting (we did not). And it may not. But that’s ok; I’m still recovering from pre-trip schedule changing traumas.

As to Fiumelatte … well, was I lying?

The Pills

Neither of us are fans of the American pharmaceutical/medical industries, but we are now both deeply in their power, a thing that we would have found anathema and outlandish just two years ago. But Francesca now takes a battery of pills daily to help control an autoimmune condition affecting her thyroid; and I take a slew of pills to keep my cancer at bay and to reinforce bone density. Ok, so, it must be added that Francesca combined her Harvard PhD, with massive reading on the subject, to largely put together her own therapy, our GP being less than useless. Francesca’s therapy has worked extremely well, perplexing our GP, who may have stopped keeping up with medical advancements since leaving med school – if not earlier. But another medical professional she sees was deeply impressed. So, ok, ok, we both take prescription medications, and we both – we thought – acquired sufficient doses prior to flying overseas to cover our 4.5 week trip, and then some. But in Francesca’s case the pharmacy screwed up, and she had close to a week’s shortage.

Let’s get to the point. Our first day in Fiumelatte we walk to Varenna, spot a farmacia; we go in (masked; the rules here stricter than in SE NH), and she shows them her prescription bottle, indicating by word (Italian words) and gesture that she needs more. Pharmacist says not today, but he’ll order for tomorrow. She pays then, gets a receipt for a tenth the cost of same medication in USA, and no prescription necessary. Do you have any idea how aggravating … You know, a worry wart friend of mine suggested medical insurance for our trip. I sent him back a link to an online story of a similar case of an American in Europe needing medical care and paying a small fraction for it compared to the expected price in the states. My friend replied, ah, I see, and did not press the matter.

(During the rest of the trip Francesca acquired enough additional doses to see her to next Spring, all at a tenth the USA Big Pharm price. Assholes.)

A song

Years – nay, decades ago – when my stupid hormones caused me to spend lots of time in Switzerland, through a friend of my then inamorata I heard a song in Italian that I found very lovely – enchanting even. I learned the song by heart, without understanding – or at least thinking about – its meaning. I never forgot.

I wrote this email to Swiss friends who were responsible for me learning this Italian song: “Yesterday we walked home to Fiumelatte from Varenna and met the couple who let us into the apartment we are renting. They were standing outside a home looking up at their 96 year old great great aunt who was leaning out a window to chat. We stopped, Francesca used some of her Italian, and I mentioned I knew a song in Italian. I sang: tu sei la mia vita … The young wife, Sabrina, said that was a religious song, and I explained that I did not realize that at first; I just liked the tune. But later, when I thought about the lyrics, I realized it was religious. Then Sabrina and I sang a few lines together to the old lady in the window. It was very pleasant.”

We’re now in bed, this being the end of our first day of actual vacation during the 2020/2021 plague years.

Oops … is it Santa? Jumped to the window, threw up the sash, to discover Varenna was having a post 22:00 o’clock fireworks display visible from our window. We do not know why. I was just in the process of inserting earplugs to silence the snores of she who will remain nameless. Nice fireworks. Maybe a Friday evening tradition. A domani.

J’en ai marre 2

Tradition

The New York Times Sunday Magazine recently had an article about billionaire Nicolas Berggruen’s effort to set up an Institute to promote modern philosophical thinkers, with a slant to the pragmatic and effectual. Some words drawn from the article:

“… [a] philosopher whose work has been supported by the Berggruen Institute, suggests that Berggruen might best be thought of as a kind of latter-day Medici. … the Medici analogy has something to it. The history of Western culture is, to some extent, the story of rich people underwriting artists, musicians and thinkers. Patronage, Edmund Burke declared, is ‘the tribute which opulence owes to genius.’ Yet it’s also a demonstration of the influence that flows from wealth. That was certainly true of the Medicis, and it is no less true of Berggruen: His ability to pull scholars, former statesmen and fellow tycoons into his orbit is testament to the convening power of money.”

The Medicis, in particular, supported Leonardo Da Vinci. Provided by his patrons with a comfortable living, he was then allowed to apply his genius, without significant interference, to stuff. Whatever. This patron/genius model is good. One could argue, I suggest without supporting evidence, that the Renaissance may not have happened without some support from the über wealthy 1% of that time.

However, that’s not my point. My point is that the Renaissance may also not have happened had the patrons stuck their noses in everything the geniuses were doing.

And so we come to yet another recent story of a young person (13) who is scheduled to enter university to study physics. This kid doesn’t have a chance. Da Vinci had a hands-off patron, not an intrusive director. This kid, on the other hand, is going to be surrounded by tired old academics who will be anything but hands-off. His chances of producing groundbreaking works that disrupt tired old ideas will be small. Yeah.

Travelogue of 2021 European Plague Trip Part 2

This is an account of the travails of trying to travel during a time the world is trying to relax, but failing to do so.

Cancellations begin

(What is written below is a kind of diary, beginning about a week before the trip, ending after the return. It’s a very different narrative than I presented in previous memoirs … you know the ones … right?)

All right. Good. With the plague winding down (well, the CDC graphs at the time gave me this impression, since proved fallacious) we decided to risk Portugal, France, Italy, and the UK, at the end of the summer. I felt that the international covid alarm would have abated by that point to make this possible. Portugal was to have been the first part of it, and it was included because good friends – a family of four – would be there at that time, and a jolly reunion … well, maybe not too jolly, as the mother of this family had lost her father to covid recently, and her mother, who lives in Portugal, would be there surrounded by family. I thought at times that this was not an ideal time for Francesca and myself to intrude. We liked both of her parents very much, but our presence was unneeded. In the end BA took Portugal out of the equation entirely. It canceled our flight to Porto from London, and in fact it seems they canceled all flights to Porto out of an excess of concern re a resurgence of covid cases in that country. We could have flown to Lisbon, perhaps, but we ran the risk that no one else in the EU would let us in from Portugal. So we canceled our Porto Airbnb (2 blocks from the beach … sniff), and all our Portugal plans. We got tickets on BA to Milan instead, from Heathrow (LHR) the same day we were to arrive in London from Boston (BOS). We’d intended to head to Milan anyway after Porto (so I had to cancel the Porto to Milan flight), but now we were arriving in Italy a week too soon. Lake Como was nearby, so I got us an Airbnb on its shores.

Arriving in Milan, we spent a night recuperating at a hotel near the Milan airport. The morning after we planned to pick up a rental car, drive to Lake Como, then later back to Milan. (Switching tenses, as most of this was written at the time.) After a few days in Milan we are driving west to Aosta, Annecy, Lyon. Then TGV to Paris. Cafe time! And finally back to London for a few days to visit friends. Then home.

So many things could go wrong. (So many things did.) Francesca and I have medication needs that will keep us on pins and needles every day. We’re vaccinated, and expect no problems covid-wise as a result, but reality may choose to mess with our expectations. And the French may choose to do that grève thing they are so fond of, and which caused us in the past to get creative with travel plans (as outlined in my last travel memoir). The weather looks to be ok. In 2016 we were in Paris during the big flood, and in 2018 a European heatwave caused us to change plans and flee to Chamonix in the Alps. I’m hoping such flexibility is not required this time.

We leave in 10 days, and arrive in 11. There are pins, and occasionally needles.

T minus 7 days

The covid delta variant is causing cases of heebie jeebies among fraught peoples around the world. Still, we may pull it off.

T minus 5 days: Cancellations

Email I just sent to friends and family: “BA flight home canceled. Next available flight that was able to seat both of us (in our chosen class), AND didn’t have a stopover in LA, was August 30, 11:15am. We are now booked on that, until it too is canceled.” This would get us home three days later than originally planned.

This is the second canceled flight. The first cancellation caused us to replace friends in Portugal with no friends on Lake Como. Meanwhile, amuse yourself by guessing, on a scale from 0 to 0.000007, how confident I am that there will be no more glitches in the Matrix. I’ll check back later and collect your guesses.

Oops, sorry, three canceled flights. Our flight BOS to LHR had to change by a couple of hours. Am I nervous? Three flights canceled. Three new flights left. And one flight canceled by me, replaced by another. I confess I am experiencing some unease.

T minus 4 days

UK being pissy, even to the point of threatening 10 day quarantine. As our stay in London was intended to be for 6 days, spending 10 days of that in quarantine seems likely to be a game changer – if I’ve done the math correctly. (It is now 6 weeks after our return, and according to recent data the rate of infection in the UK is presently much higher than the USA. And they were afraid of us?)

France and Italy have no such restrictions, so we might extend Paris, fly BA from there to LHR, stay a couple of nights there before flight home, now 3 days later on 30 August because 27 August flight canceled – the third cancellation so far.

You know, part of the point of this memoir is to document the travails involved in traveling during covid years. So far covid has been doing a great job of providing material. Of course, the more material it supplies, the worse it is for us. But, after all, there’s that death sentence thing hanging over my head like a particularly unpleasant Dementor, so, uh, half speed ahead, and damn the torpedoes.

Evening. London portion of trip canceled. Too much fear and trepidation, and a threat of quarantine. London’s charms are meager in our view, so without the option of spending time with friends, I mean, really.

T minus 3 days

8am. Already exhausted trying to synch our new travel plans. Anal Parisians kindly allowed change to our Rue Cler Airbnb. Doubtless the addition of two extra days, très cher, helped motivate their decision. I remained cordial throughout. (Indeed, Lyon hotel was also only too glad to add 3 extra nights. Woof.) The cancellation of a week in London has led to these extensions at other stops. Juggling … forever juggling. Throw in a mime, and the experience would be perfect. And who doesn’t love a good mime?

T minus 2 days

Recently a British politician suggested it was time for the citizens of GB to stop cowering (a behavior evidently prevalent out of fear of the latest covid mutation Deathstar, or whatever it’s called). Sufficiently many citizens felt the politician’s statement was a gross violation of their safe spaces that he was forced to recant. He didn’t really, except to apologize, and to suggest the wording of his statement was unfortunate. (Suggesting they were wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beasties may have been less offensive. He should have led with that.)

So, they’re (UK) out of the EU, and now many regret that. And the English team lost to Italy in that big soccer match, denting their national pride significantly. Exacerbating this was the fact that the citizenry of no country other than England wanted England to win (Wales and Scotland may have been teetering, but I doubt it very much). And the UK covid restrictions are the tightest in western Europe. One might almost say, yes, they are cow’rin, like wee sleekit tim’rous beasties. It is widely acknowledged that they have sticks up their butts, a trait that becomes all the more unattractive when mixed with the cowering, which causes the sticks to protrude in a most unattractive manner.

Our decision to fly BA was made on the assumption we would spend several days in London at the tale end of our trip visiting friends we have not seen in a few years. The cowering put the kibosh on that (we still plan two nights at a Heathrow Hilton before returning home, primarily to provide a buffer against the irrational vicissitudes of BA scheduling). So, there no longer being any need to fly BA, it is extremely unfortunate that we need to stop in London at all. Were it any longer financially viable, we’d discard all BA flights, and go 100% AirFrance. And yes, they did once cancel a flight on us, but they have the extenuating circumstance of being French. Still, BA never made us anywhere near as happy, once onboard, as has AirFrance each and every time we fly with them.

So, anyway, in two days we are set to fly BOS to LHR, then later that same day LHR to LIN (Milan). As we needn’t go through customs, while not exactly optimistic, we suspect things may go as planned. And then this morning, when I checked the status of those two flights, my BA app informed me that the Milan flight was delayed. I decided I had better check Alitalia, and discovered that if our BA Milan flight died horribly, Alitalia could easily come to the rescue. (Huge irony: near the end of our trip Alitalia announced bankruptcy and would cease to be an airline in future. Postscript: at the time Francesca (half Italian) suggested that Alitalia would not stay dead. Yesterday, over 7 weeks since our return, Alitalia rose Phoenix-like from its ashes. I’m thinking this is how Italians do restructuring. I’m always telling Francesca, when she starts cursing when one of her electronic devices misbehaves, to just reboot. That’s how Italians handle troubled businesses; they reboot, thereby cleansing the system of vested interests and outdated gadgetry that gum up the works.)

You know, more and more I begin to suspect the internet is gaining consciousness, and fucking with certain people gives it a digital version of pleasure. In support of that conjecture I offer the following: 15 minutes after I checked if Alitalia could fly us LHR to LIN, I checked the BA flight again, and it was now listed as On Time. You see what I mean? Anyway, I’m just sayin’.

Just a short time ago I sent the following regretful email to one of our London friends: “We have decided – life being of an unknown limited duration – we will never again set foot in the UK, nor ever again fly BA. We just heard that relatives of a friend flew to Germany with not a single bit of fuss. We may never see each other again, but there’s always email.” I added this picture from the planned animation series based on Blade Runner. So chuffed.

T minus 1 day

Finally got our UK Locator forms done. Awaiting covid test results so we can complete the lengthy spirit draining process. First 2 weeks in EU look to be rainy. French and Italians have just passed legislation prohibiting bunches of stuff to those not vaccinated. In France, just the threat of this legislation led to the usual burning of tires on the streets of major cities. Not sure about Italy. Italy is not France. They’re more likely to just ignore the legislation. I am hoping our American vaccination cards will get us into cafes and restaurants in France, else we may starve. Coming home an emaciated corpse will not reflect well on their tourist industry. Rain in Boston when leaving; rain in London upon arrival, and when leaving for Milan; rain in Milan upon arrival. Some of the rain may be electrical. @#&%^ x 10.