Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A Day in the Woods

The best thing about my job is that I get to work with terrific people. The second best part of my job is spending time in the woods. Today started with a lift at the Canopy Crane--up above the tops of 200 foot, 500 year old Douglas-fir trees. Cones are at the top and in the Crane gondola, you can see them up close. Then a hike through the forest to a beautiful stream. And all this is the second best thing about my job.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Godless Communism? Not in Italy!

I remember the 1950s and early 1960s. I was a kid and I was afraid the Soviets were going to nuke us into oblivion and the Cleveland Indians would never win the World Series again. Or maybe the Ruskies would invade the country and force their way of life on us--making us eat beets, play soccer, and become Godless Communists, like them and everyone else who believed in that doctrine.

Fifty-some years later, I'm still alive, no thanks to Duck 'n Cover. The Indians still haven't won the World Series. I like beets, but not soccer. And based on this shrine, proudly placed on the outside wall of the Communist Party in Venezia, I guess Communism isn't Godless, at least in Italy.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Gelato a Venezia

Gelato in Venezia is everywhere! It's light, it's delicious, and it comes in one flavor--at least as far as I'm concerned. Why eat anything other than stracciatella, that creamy white vanilla gelato laced with thick chocolate shavings?

Nancy is far more of an omnivore when it comes to gelato flavors, and I have to admit, she picked some tasty ones like pistachio, Crema del Doge, terramisou, chocolatta, and coffee flavors. But, when it came time to put scoop to cone, I was as boring as boring could be. But oh my, that stracciatella! See it on the left, there?

Different gelato dealers pile their wares in characteristically shaped mounds with decorative swirls. Of course, the more popular dealers work their way through those mounds quickly, so one tries to avoid full trays of gelato that look a little melty--they've been there for a while and maybe the dealer's product isn't so good.

Gelato prices vary with location in Venezia and the map to the left gives the approximate isolines of prices. Within the red, the treat generally costs more than € 2.50 or € 3.00. Between the red and yellow, the price drops to € 1 to € 1.50 per scoop, but many stands impose a 2 scoop minimum. Outside the yellow you can happily enjoy 1 scoop in a cone for € 1. "Per favore, uno palina di stracciatella. Grazie!"

A tip: Il Pinguino on the Riva degli Schiavoni near the bridge to the Arsenale offers the € 1.50 per scoop (1 scoop OK) price within the red zone, and the stracciatella is great! Can't say about the other flavors...

Pavimenti d'Italia

I started taking pictures of floors in Italian churches when we visited in 2006. I continued on this trip, expanding my domain to include floors not in churches, although most of the pictures are still of marble and mosaics on which parishioners have walked, knelt, and crawled as they sought to have sins wiped from their souls. I guess by now, some of these floors have seen far more tourist feet than feet of the pious, but feet of sinners still.

This mosaic is in the Basilica dei Santi Maria e Donato on Murano in the Venetian Lagoon. The Byzantine church dates from either the 7th or the 10th Century, depending on the story you read. I believe this floor was laid in the 12th Century.

In Venezia, the floors are pretty standard with alternating blocks of red and white Italian marble--not too surprising I guess. It's pretty and it wears well. Timeless. Stands up to water and harsh treatment. Doesn't show the dirt. Environmentally sound I guess as it lasts thousands of years unless you decide you need to makeover your church to keep up with the latest fad. The flooring specialists did add various sorts of inlays to break up the large expanses and provide some individuality.

I particularly like to take low oblique angle shots of floors and capture sun flecks and shadows that are cast on the marble and mosaic.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Primavera al del lago di Como

The predicted rain clouds seem to have broken here in Portland today and the sun is now shining on our spring flowers and shrubs (and on the grass, causing it to grow, grrr) and it reminds me of the beautiful garden at Villa Melzi in Bellagio. It was a great day to be at Lake Como--the azaleas were in full bloom, the trees were leafing out, and it was warm and sunny. For more pictures of the garden, visit my Villa Melzi'll see that our yard, and yours too, most likely, are very similar.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Meanwhile, back to Italia...

After leaving Venice, we drove over through the Italian Alps to on our way to Bellagio. There was still a lot of snow, skiers were skiing, and the terraced hillsides were spectacular.

It was a beautiful day and we followed the winding roads to the Val di Sole, and then wound through tunnels to Varenna where we boarded the ferry.

We spent the night at a great little hotel, Albergo Silvio, where I had the specialty of the house, the salted sardines, caught, dried, and salted by the hotel owner.

The next day, after a visit to a beautiful garden just below our hotel, we went for our long-awaited visit with George Clooney at his Villa Oleandra in Laglio. But a mix-up apparently. He wasn't there, even though Nancy said he was expecting us. Next time, I guess...

Saturday, May 17, 2008

I Love a Parade!

And Portland seems to have plenty. Last week it was the St. John's Parade that was quite formal featuring several marching bands, political candidates, Rodeo Queens, Vespa clubs, the Broke Bike Mounties, and lots of old cars. And lots of things with motors: Model T clubs, muscle cars, motorcycles, ATVs, minibikes and so on. The parade was judged and all entrants sported Official Numbers and many already had their ribbons signifying their success at the judging stand. 2 hours of parade.

It was a cool day, but each band seemed to have parents equipped with spray bottles to spray water in the mouths of the marchers--what is with parents today?

Today was the Alberta Art Hop. Nancy worked as a volunteer, helping close Alberta to traffic, removing a road-kill squirrel from the street, and, at the appointed hour, preparing the route for the parade. Today's was a half hour, and featured many bikes, lots of people on stilts including some dancing, and a few political candidates.

Neither Hillary nor Barack made a showing even though both are in Oregon. Bill and Chelsea didn't make it either. Nor did Michele Obama or her brother, the new basketball coach at Oregon State (I think the Beavers figured that if Obama could come from nothing to become the nominee, maybe his brother-in-law could win a few games...). There were a number of elderly there--one of them may have been John McCain, but I wouldn't recognize him unless he was hugging George W. Bush. An aside, last night while walking from the Heathman Hotel Happy Hour to Mio Gelato, Hillary's motorcade passed us on Broadway. We spied her in the SUV, but she was reading her Blackberry (no doubt a note from Bill) and didn't wave.

For my money, the Alberta Hop was more fun, but then the day was warm and sunny, and I'd been by the Mash Tun to check out their supply of IPA. It's a little less than it was before...

Friday, May 16, 2008

Masonry of Venezia II

I've started working through photos so here is the first of my photo series

Venezia is a city of masonry, from the paving stones, to the walls of everything, to the marble floors, to the steps of the thousand bridges, to the railings of the Rialto bridge, polished smooth by the hands of tourists.

In the US, where almost all construction occurred after the fall of the Venetian Republic--La Serenissima--we sometimes think of eroding masonry, but walking in Venezia provides a new look at wear and tear, but also at the incredible durability of baked clay and stone. Comparable construction in the US? Cliff dwellings and pueblos, I guess

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Dateline Venezia III: More Pigeon News

Animal rights activists joined with tourists and children to break the ban and feed pigeons illegally at St. Mark's. More about it here.

And here

Friday, May 2, 2008

Leaving Venezia

Saturday morning, the day we leave Venezia and begin the trip home to Portland. It seems strange to be leaving after all the planning and anticipation--if I remember correctly we started 8 months ago. I've spent enough time here that I begin to appreciate what it might be like to be a Venetian, but I guess I'll never really know. I suspect it's difficult to live in a place that seems so personal with its tiny calli that wind across the islands, yet is so astounding in its art, history, and beauty that it must be shared with the millions who come to visit. To see streets cleaned daily, only to need cleaning again tomorrow. To watch the accidental (for the most part these days) jetsam and flotsam float out to wherever it floats to on the tide. To endure the traffic that clogs streets as you try to make your way from work to home, or to the store, on Friday afternoon or Saturday morning. To awake on Saturday, or any morning, to the sound of luggage on wheels passing one's bedroom window, as I just heard. The changing of the transient population begins anew, and today, as two weeks ago on Fondamenta Gherardini, we are part of the change.

In Venezia XV

Adventures on the Canal Grande! We planned to hop the #1 at Ca' Rezzonico bound for San Marcuola and the eastern side of the island. I was a bit suspicious when the vaporetto hit the dock with enough energy to stagger a few old folks waiting with us. Now, it's not unusual for the operator (pictured to the left) to dock by the touch method, but this was more like an aircraft carrier landing--a controlled crash. Oh well. On we got. Next stop and it's slam-bam, look out on shore. Back in the canal, the operator seemed to go very slowly and he tooted his horn a lot--a first that we've heard except when we almost ran over a gondola that ventured in front of us the other day. There also seemed to be an observer in the wheelhouse.

By the time we passed under the Rialto bridge (I noticed stalactites--see left) and headed (and I mean headed) for the Rialto-Mercato stop it was clear that even regular riders of the vaporetti were paying attention to what was going on. We hit the Rialto dock with just less than enough kinetic energy turned to heat to weld the #1 to the dock! At each stop the rope man--the person who ropes the mooring cleat--had to throw the hemp further and further. As we approached our stop, a water taxi was at our 2 o'clock and was clearly impairing our skipper's approach angle. He tooted the horn, which prompted a Venitian Stink Eye from the taxi man. If that taxi man knew what we knew, he would have hit the jets before he became part of a vaporetto stop. Instead, our driver started his approach too late, the rope wasn't long enough and he over shot. While backing up he ended up with the nose of the ship about 30 degrees into the canal from the dock. With the mooring rope on the cleat, he gunned the engine to bring us to shore against the tension of the rope and we hit with a resounding clang, staggering everyone on board including the rope man. As I left, I asked Rope Man, "Studente?". "Si," he replied with a smile and a shake of his head...I walked off the dock thinking of the the new bus driver I had recently who made a K-turn on Broadway and about the first time I ever drove in New York City. We all have to learn somewhere.

Dateline Venezia II: News When You Need It!

For more thorough news coverage (fair and balanced, well at least balanced by the look of the pigeons...), look here

I like this photo of the birds lined up like the vendors.

Photo copyright

Thursday, May 1, 2008

In Venezia XIV

We started the day with a trip up the Canal Grande to admire the various palazzi. Constant bearing! Decreasing range! That means you are getting closer to another ship and on a collision course. My friend Bob Kohut used to regale our field crew with tales of life on an aircraft career during long drives to Michigan City, Indiana. Life on the water in Venezia is Constant bearing! Decreasing range! Come to think of it, life on the streets is Constant bearing! Decreasing range! In both cases, contact is rarely made.

On the water, engines reverse, oars are stroked, rudders are turned. In the calli, at the last moment, a shoulder is turned, a step is shortened, or it's increased. For all the people, there is little contact. Except on the vaporetto where people cram against people, no one wanting to wait a few minutes for the next boat.

The story of the ban on pigeon feeding continued today. The vendors once again lined their carts up near the entrance to San Marco piazza.

Civil disobedience was breaking out. People were sitting and eating where sitting and eating were forbidden. They were feeding pigeons bread. Some vendors turned a blind eye while tourists took grain from their carts. A few vendors let pigeons into their grain bins or scattered an odd handful of seed. None would accept money for the grain. Petitions were passed and signed. Police passed through the piazza and waved their hands at a few people feeding the ravenous and disoriented birds--birds who were assuming their usual poses, only to find empty tourist hands--but not bothering people who were sitting and eating in clear violation of the signs posted on trash cans.

Nancy and I spoke with M. (initials only to protect the innocent) and S. and told them what we'd read in the world press. Word among the vendors is that the "Animal Rights" people will be on the scene tomorrow to lend solidarity as they are concerned about the fate of pigeons forced to fend for themselves, left only to food tossed from Florian's where coffee is € 6 and a crumb is the primi piatti, or the bags from McDonald's and Burger King that overflow the trash.

Then we were off to the Armenian Monastery on San Lazzaro. It's quite the place and I learned a lot about the church and the collection of items and art that they have, but not much about being an Armenian monk on San Lazzaro. In fact, I'm not sure there is more than one monk there. However, the church is quite beautiful and, unlike many churches in Venezia where one is not permitted to take pictures, I could snap at will in this one.

A day spent riding boats provided a completely different perspective of the city--and my feet are happier for it.