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Knock Out

2 Sep

I’ve been a little behind on research this past week.  It may have been a bit hard for you to carry on without me telling you what I think about various travel soap and the best destination to get a haircut in Switzerland.  For that, I apologize. 

Today I’m back and I’m committing to being back by sharing a little story about desktop wallpaper.  You see, I spend a good part of my work life in front of a computer (when I’m not at someone else’s computer).  So it’s helpful to me to have pictures up that inspire me.  Even if they only inspire me to not fall asleep.  Times are hard, people.  Sleeping on the job is no longer okay.  I had no idea that there would be days like this.  Sooner or later they are going to tell me that I can’t wear pajamas to work and then it’s going to get ten different shades of serious in my world.

Thankfully, that day has yet to come.  And I can still pick my desktop so I did.  I popped a picture of the Mister and Henry (otherwise known as LB for Little Buddy) onto one screen.  You can see it on the right side bar with all my other Flickr photos.  For the second photo I thought I should pick one of somewhere that we’ll be going.  When I thought of the beautiful places we’ll be in less than a year (hold me!), this is the clear beauty pageant winner.  Or scholarship contest, if that’s how we’re rolling.  The Cinque Terre.

What’s even better is I found today’s image at a site called Chaffeurs Italy.  Now I don’t want the Mister to read this and get excited that we’ll be met at the train station by a driver with a sign that reads “Karli and the Mister”.  Though that would be cute.  Anyone got buddies in Milan?  Never mind.  What I’m getting at here is that the Cinque Terre (or Five Lands) is a group of five cities near Genoa.  They all have their own personalities and specialities.  I’m gonna blog about them again soon but I thought that this picture would give you a taste of the good things to come.


It’s Hip to Be a Venetian Square

28 Aug

Napoleon called it “the most beautiful drawing room in all of Europe”.  Or at least plenty of people think he did.  I guess the jury’s out on that quote but I think we still get the point.  Piazza San Marco or, as us Yanks call it, St Mark’s Square is a looker.  It’s the buildings, the pavement and even the pigeon poo.  For centuries this square has been the religious, political and social center of Venice.  Beauty and brains and all that there.  It’s one of my favorite places in the world.

St Mark’s Square got it’s start with a dead saint.  In 828/9 San Marco was adopted as the patron saint of Venice.  Before him, St Theodore had that honor.  He sounds pretty cool as he is portrayed in a statue on the Piazza with a spear and a crocodile representing his feat of slaying a dragon.  And if you had a dragon, a patron saint that could mark him expired might be nice.  But St Mark got the job when his relics were taken from Constantinople and handed over to the Venetians.  Having relics in those days was a big deal, kind of like hosting the Olympics but even better because you typically get to build a church.  And that’s what the Venetians did.  Eventually.

Check it. These Clarks shoe models are so happy to be in Piazza San Marco. Apparently too happy to notice there isn't any shoe modeling going on. Dang!

When St Mark’s relics came to town they were originally stored in the Doge’s palace.  The Doge is the rule of Venice and so that seemed like a good place.  This Doge leaves a gift in his will of a church to be built in Venice to house the relics.  And that’s how we get St Mark’s Basillica.  Of course, the original one was mostly burned down in a rebellion in 976 and had to be rebuilt in 1063.  It’s still old and it still has relics, aka religious bling.

To reiterate just how important relics are view the mosaic above the door of San Marco.  It depicts some Venetians in Alexandria smuggling the relics out.  To hide them they thought it would be best to put them in pork.  You see, back then TSA was Muslim and they don’t dig on swine.  So they allowed the Venetians to leave Alexandria with the relics because they assumed that no one would be desperate enough to hide highly esteemed religious objects in dead pig.  Obviously they didn’t know who they were dealing with.  In fact, all of beautiful San Marco is covered in fabulous artwork liberated from other places.  And you know, pigeon poo.  But that’s all local, my friends.

You Put a Latte in My Heart

27 Jul

The Mister and I aren’t really coffee drinkers… except that lately he has found room in his heart for the foamy latte.  This has been going on for months and I truly didn’t understand it.  Then it happened to me. 

Last Friday I purchased a latte for my friend Megan, who you met here, and one for myself.  I figured that two of my favorite people like this stuff then it might not hurt to give it a go.  Now I’m sunk.  They are much better than I could have guessed.  Perhaps it’s that I’m older now and I like things that are bitter.  I learned from Alton Brown’s Good Eats that when we are young we associate bitter with poison.  So we don’t like veggies or dark chocolate or coffee.  Now I love veggies, dark chocolate, a pint of bitters and, after much hold out, coffee.  Or at least I do right now as I’m typing under the influence of a grande.

Something I learned is that latte is often mispelled as latté or lattè.  This kind of extra flair is attributed to something called hyperforeignism.  I read about it on Kottke and you should too.  Basically it’s taking a foreign word and making it, well, more foreign by mispronouncing it.

In hopes of avoiding more errors, I was interested in how the Mister and I can order these suckers when we’re overseas.  I knew that if I ordered a latte in France that I’d get a cup of hot milk.  Research suggests that I can order café crème or un crème in French speaking places.  In Italy, I can simply say caffèe latte as the Italians invented the stuff, and not, as so many people thought, the French.

Now in Germany it’s a whole other matter.  I did a little research and it’s pretty important how you phrase this one, apparently.  If you want a latte then you’d better say you’d like a Macchiato Latte.  Why?  In German the word latte refers to a post or something wooden, like the English word lathe.  If you are requesting a latte you will likely be interpreted as wanting something wooden.  And someone will probably giggle at you.  They have another term that refers to something being wooden in the morning, Morgenlatte.  So how do I put this delicately?  It would not be a good idea to go into a German café and request something stiff and wooden and creamy, you feel me?  If you don’t then just heed my advice about adding Macchiato and watch more HBO, will ya?


Body by Italy

25 Jun

Get on that traghetto and engage that core!

Italy is a beautiful country. There are so many amazing historical sights and natural wonders. It would be a shame to miss something. So I’m keeping Italy in mind when I head off to the gym. It’s a far better way to stay motivated than by just telling myself I need to spend time on an elliptical. Here’s what I’m training for:

Some say that the Renaissance was born in Florence and that one of the main catalysts is its cathedral. Santa Maria del Fiore was such a unique feat of architecture for the time and its beauty continues to inspire visitors hundreds of years after its completion. This was also a special place for Mom. She loved visiting the Duomo (“cathedral” in Italian). So you add her enthusiasm and the fact that I loved Ross King’s book about the Duomo and this became a necessary stop.

Activity: Climbing the Dome of Santa Maria del Fiore
The dome was constructed with an inner and outer shell. When climbing, the visitor is able to see some of the perspectives the original masons would have seen. You are also rewarded with an amazing view of Florence from the cupola. Not to be missed.

Workout potential: climb 463 steps, equivalent to over 46 flights on the Stairmaster but with better views and better artwork

Though Pisa is home to the Field of Miracles (Piazza dei Miracoli), the star of the show is the bell tower or as we know it, the Leaning Tower of Pisa. As I mentioned before, this was closed during our visit in ’92. It is now stable and safe to climb. You can also reward yourself with a picnic in the Field of Miracles afterwards on the prettiest lawn in Italy.

Activity: Climbing the Leaning Tower and Walking to the Piazza dei Miracoli
You are only allowed 30 minutes to walk up the stairs, see the view from the top and then climb back down and retrieve your belongings from the lockers reserved for this purpose.

Workout potential: climb 294 steps, equivalent to over 29 flights on the Stairmaster. Walk 20-30 minutes from Pisa Centrale train station to the Piazza dei Miracoli while stopping for picnic ingredients on the way.

These five separate towns are perched on the edge of mountains. Each has its own character, dialect, traditions and hiking trails. There are ocean views, olive trees and white wine along the way.  We can’t wait to relax here and enjoy the local cuisine.

Activity: Hiking in the Cinque Terre
There are paths of differing difficulties available. All five towns are connected by hiking trails and train. Boats also make connections though they are dependent on sea conditions. One of the hikes is called Via dell’Amore or Walk of Love. It’s the quickest, averaging 30 minutes, and the shortest, only half a mile. It also has the ugliest cement walkways but they make for easy trekking.

Workout potential: 9.5 miles of hiking trails available, some with climbs, taking as long as five hours to complete

The whole city is an island so you can walk without fear of getting lost because, hey!, you’re still on an island. You can dance at St Mark’s Square and you can climb the stairs at the Doge’s Palace. I’ve picked a much easier workout for us at the end of our Italian adventure.

Activity: Riding a traghetto across the Grand Canal
A traghetto (pronounced “trah-jet-toe”) is a gondola powered by a gondolier. The difference is that these gondola are available at key points along the Grand Canal so that commuters can cross easily. The rides are cheap and last only a few minutes.

Workout potential: Standing up on a traghetto as the locals do and engaging abdominal muscles throughout, then heading off to find some pasta to exercise your… flavor muscles

Brunelleschi’s Dome – Ross King

24 Jun

You have to hand it to the Italians.  They certainly have chutzpah.  Not only can they create miracles with carbohydrates, they know that their technology will match their imagination if only given enough time.  For example, Leonardo da Vinci had designs for the bicycle and flying machines.  Then there’s the story of Santa Maria del Fiore and Brunelleschi’s dome.  If you hadn’t guessed it, that’s what we’re talking about today.

See those black circles on the dome? That's Brunelleschi's design to channel wind force. Brilliant!

 In 1296 construction began on Santa Maria del Fiore.  The design called for a large dome.  So large a dome, in fact, that the techniques to build it had yet to be invented.  Work started anyway and would continue, more or less, until 1436.  When completed it would claim the world’s largest masonry dome and it holds this record today.  Now that we can build with steel frames, feats like the Astro Dome are possible.  But are they as beautiful as the Duomo in Florence?  Is the Pope Presbyterian?

 You could say that Filippo Brunelleschi was awarded the job because he was a sore loser.  The wool guild who was in charge of building the Duomo (and Florence is all about the guilds, you may have heard of their guild of medical doctors.  Does the name Medici ring a bell?) initially had a contest for a different building.  The Baptistery, one of three buildings in the Piazza del Duomo besides, you know, the Duomo, needed doors.  Andrea Pisano had created bronze doors for the south entrance.  New doors were needed for the north.  Brunelleschi entered, as did his rival Ghiberti.  They both turned in elaborate designs.  Back in the 1300 and 1400s a small scale model for consideration meant months of work.  For example, Brunelleschi’s model for the dome was 12 feet high… but I’m getting ahead of myself here.

 The guild then awarded a tie to Brunelleschi and Ghiberti.  They were to work on the doors together and sing songs about cooperation.  Filippo was less than thrilled and so he took his ball and moved to Rome.  While there he licked his wounds and studied ancient Roman architecture.  He’d measure angles and arches and… domes.  He was there between 13-14 years, sources differ, and then he returned to Florence.  And as luck would have it, they were having another contest.  This time for who would build the dome and we all know this time our little pouter ended up on top, beating out his rival, Ghiberti.  Ahhhh, snap!

 During the dome’s construction, many different design and functional elements were created by Brunelleschi.  He created a hoist that was able to lift marble pieces weighing tons to the top of the structure.  The hoist was so large that the rope used was custom made in Pisa by shipbuilders.  It was 600 feet long and weighed 1,000 pounds.  Without it the work would have halted as conventional wisdom only included a kind of treadmill worked by as many as two workers.  It was limited by weight and by height.  Here again the Italian belief that technology would match creativity came into play and the hoist went off without a hitch.

So, in summary, Brunelleschi’s Dome: How A Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture was endlessly fascinating.  King is really deft at incorporating so many areas of history into Brunelleschi’s tale.  I was amazed at how much detail he was able to share about people who lived so long ago.  How they looked, how they were paid, what they ate and how they worked up a good prank.  Even if you don’t have any interest in architecture (that’s me, raising my hand!) you will enjoy this.  And if you’re lucky enough to visit Florence, walking up all those steps to stand atop the dome will seem even greater a thrill… once you stop wheezing.

Don’t Call It A Compost

4 Jun

And look! I got you a map to accent your learnings. 'Cause this is real!

Today’s post is brought to you by the word “grappa”.  First, let’s learn how to pronounce the sucker.  “Grappa” rhymes with “Big Poppa” and not “Parappa the Rappa“.  Now let’s all say it together “grah-puh”.  Sweet.

Now that we’ve learned to say it, let’s learn what it is.  I had no clue what grappa was prior to reading up on Italy.  It’s one of the most popular alcoholic beverages in Italy, where they produce 40 million bottles a year, yet I’ve never heard of it.  What else am I missing out on, I wonder.  Definitely not the Baconator.  Anyway, grappa is made from something called pomace.  And since that was another new word for me let me explain.  Pomace is what is left after wine is made.  So it’s the grape skin, the seeds and sometimes the stems.  Word is that the use of stems is on the decline as they can be bitter and, get this, they can be responsible for producing poisonous methyl alcohol.  I can hear frat boys everywhere lining up.

The pomace is added to yeast and select enzymes and then distilled.  Once it’s ready it is either bottled at once, called bianca and is white in color or it is stored in wooden casks, called riserva and is yellow or brown in color.  Either color can be between 70-120 proof.  That’s similar to the punch that vodka and rum pack.  This probably also where grappa gets its reputation as being a macho drink.  I my dad would say that this stuff would grow hair on your chest.

Grappa’s reputation has been changing a bit since the 1970s.  It had been around since the Middle Ages as a peasant’s drink but it started to become more popular in the age of ABBA.  Then in 1989 the European Union made a ruling that this liquor can only be called grappa if it was produced in Italy and was made from pomace.  There are imitators, France has marc and Germany has Tresterbrand.  Some American wineries have taken to marketing their own grappa though they may have to change the name in the future.  Might I suggest that we call it Mad Grape or Purpleasaurus Rex after my favorite Kool-Aid flavor?

How do the Italians drink their grappa?  Typically it is straight out of the freezer though the recommendation from folks who know is to serve it chilled but not allowing for freezing temps as the flavor changes.  Another popular version is popping some in your espresso and calling it caffe corretto or “corrected coffee”.  As in, “that’ll learn you good, coffee”.  If you don’t want to bother with the caffeine you can always sample some flavored with almond, honey or blueberry or other local flavors.  You may also see labels that indicate that a certain grape was used such a merlot or a pinot.  To earn this distinction 85% of the grappa’s raw materials have to be made up with that grape.

Lastly, the name grappa doesn’t come from an Italian trying to say “grape”.  It’s named after the city that first produced it, Bassano del Grappa.  This town is in the Veneto region of Italy, which includes Verona and Venice.  I plan on making the Mister sample some of this while we are on our way to visit Juliet and her balcony.  Maybe we’ll sing karaoke once we get there.

Row, Row, Row…

29 May

The Mister can't wait to sit down in one of these!

When I visited Venice with my family we didn’t ride on a gondola.  I was relieved.  To me it’s always been a romantic thing to do.  Riding along with your family while your sister tries to pretend that it isn’t happening and your dad is trying to take pictures of the gondolier isn’t romantic.  I was glad that we didn’t do it and I instead thought ahead to the day when I would return with someone special.

Enter the Mister.  Does he care that I’m forcing him onto a gondola with me?  Not if it means that we’ll be off of our feet for a bit.  As I ramble on to him about the different places I want to visit when we are abroad, he begins to worry more and more that I intend to have him walk a daily marathon.  I don’t think I do but since he definitely does, this idea was an easy sell.  I’m thrilled.  I look forward to gliding through the side canals with him and having that memory in my back pocket for years to come.

Now if you are looking to save money, you and your five friends can share a gondola.  After all, they don’t come cheap.  The starting cost as decided by the Venetian government is  € 80 for a one hour ride before 7 pm.  After 7 pm (or 19:00) it goes up to € 100.  This is the starting cost though.  You’re not likely to get a ride for this much.  And if you want someone to sing to you then you’ll have to pay more.  Personally, I would gladly pay the guy much more for no singing.  Now if he wants to tell us about the history of Venice or where the best pasta is, that’s totally tip-worthy.  Someone singing for me makes me sweaty and tense.  I try not to pay money for that kind of feeling unless it involves the dentist.

Then there’s the question of what you want to see.  I think that the Grand Canal is beautiful but you can see that on a vaparetto for much less money.  The vaparetti are like bus boats.  They have regular, posted schedules and you’ll be riding with tourists and real Venetians alike.  Unless a Venetian is getting married they don’t bother with the gondolas.  However, it is a part of their past as everyone with money used to find their way around in a gondola.  There are currently 500 gondolas but there were, at one time, 10,000.  Can you imagine?  Can you also imagine some of the hanky panky that they got up to on those boats?  I can because I read that book about Casanova.  Mama mia!

You can book a gondola ride with your hotel or over the internet, too.  You’ll pay extra for the convenience though.  This is especially true in high season when the demand goes way up.  Earlier in the day there are less takers, so it’s a little cheaper and easier to find a ride.  Part of the experience is finding a gondolier that you like.  You know, like one who won’t sing.

There’s only one woman gondolier thus far (certified in 2009).  All gondoliers must go through certification and are required to wear the uniform of dark pants and striped shirt.  The straw boater, while fetching, is optional.  All gondolas are black though some are heavily decorated.  Some Venetians are working to put a stop to this individualism and return to plain black boats.  They say that the gondola is a symbol of Venice.  I think that if they’re really worried about it that they should go after the Venetian in Las Vegas first because I went on that sucker.  Nothing demeans a national symbol quite like having it run through a mall, no matter how nice said mall is.

I’ll leave you with one last tidbit on the gondola.  The symbolic iron head used on the gondola, the one on the end opposite the “driver”, is made of iron.  It’s used to offset the wait of the gondolier and it’s also a stylized map of Venice.  The six strips of the “comb” represent different neighborhoods and the longer strip represents the Island of Giudeca.  Then there is the double “S” that has bends representing the Grand Canal and dogal horn that represents that Rialto Bridge.  “Dogal” means belonging to the doge, which was the ruler of Venice or Venezia.  You could still visit the Doge’s Palace today, via gondola – with or without the singing.

Wherefore Art Thou and Stuff?

23 May

When he was in college the Mister trod the boards as Romeo in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.  I know that he’s a good actor but I just wish that I had been there to see his butt in tights.  TMI?  Anyway, when we head to Italy next year we’ll be doing a day trip to fair Verona where they, you know, lay the scene.

Verona already has millions of visitors every year.  Or 1.5 million to be more exact.  When Dad toured Italy in the early sixties he made a visit there, too.  The big draw appears to be Juliet (I bet things would be different if they saw the Mister’s can).  When there you can visit Juliet’s tomb and her balcony.  Below her balcony you can also gain luck in love by rubbing the right breast of a Juliet statue.  I’m not sure how you do this without feeling like a perv but that statue has one shiny sweater puppet so apparently very few are concerned.

This statue arrived in the '60s and it's been rubbed the right way since.

Most of the information about the Juliet sights in Verona explain that it’s just a beautiful story.  That the Italian book that Shakespeare based his play on was written about two warring factions, not two warring families.  The names in Italian were Capuleti and Montecchi and easily translate into Capulet and Montague.  But some sources claim that it’s real! and that it really happened! in Verona!  One site even has both sides of the coin with one page saying story and the other proclaiming that it’s genuine.

Does it matter?  I seems not.  Thousands of women every year write letters to Juilet.  And someone has been replying.  Since 1940, when a local started answering the mail that had been piling up, volunteers in Verona have been responding to letters about love.  Some simply have the address on them of “Juliet, Verona”.  They even pick winners every year of the letters that they like best and give out awards for them on Valentine’s Day.  Which kind of stinks because you could have your hopes dashed by the contest along with all the other V Day folderol.  Or you could win and they could make a movie of your life, right?  Sure.

I think we’ll probably stick to seeing the balcony, doing some rubbing and then running off to find some gelato.  However, I’m really excited to see Verona.  During the filming of “Letters to Juliet“, 2010’s forgettable chick flick,  a producer noted that they worried that the shooting that they were doing on location was going to look fake… because it was too storybook pretty.  Which reminds me of the Mister’s… never mind.

Tilt: The Skewed Tale of the Tower of Pisa – Nicholas Shrady

19 May

Yes, there is a book on the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  Kids, if there is a topic you can think of it then there is probably an author dying to write about it.  Now this person just needs a publisher and a goofball, like yours truly, to read it.  The Dewey Decimal System gets put in top gear and we’re off to the races.

This book was a fun and fast read.  It’s only 161 pages, after all.  Now there are other things to learn about the tower besides the whole leaning gambit but let’s start there, shall we?  When the tower was built, it was created in fits and starts.  They started in 1173 with money left for a bell tower or a campanile by a widow.  Then progress halts in 1178 with only three stories complete.  Then, get this, construction doesn’t start again until 1272.  That’s almost a hundred years of stalled work.  And I thought the construction on Crosstown was bad.  Sheesh.

They then build for six years before, you guessed it, stopping again in 1278.  By this time the Tower is leaning.  They spend twenty years looking at it with their necks tilted before they say “maybe we’d better take a look at that”.  The first of seventeen commissions is started to inspect the tilt in 1298.  Basically this group just agrees that it’s off kilter and call it a day.

The campanile is finished in 1370 and it is all kinds of kittywampus.  And over the years it continues on in this fashion for awhile before it starts to lean a bit more… and then it’s really slanted.  It’s like a very drunk girl at a very long party.  You’re watching her and wondering if she’s going to topple.  You hope she’s not but you continue watching in a mix of dread and fascination.

See how I titled my discount book for this picture? Am I killing you with my artistry? I thought so.

Anyway, as I mentioned there were 17 commissions.  In 1989 the Tower was closed to visitors but thanks to the work of the 17th investigation the Tower is now standing and safe to visit.  The Mister asked me just how safe it was.  Then he stopped and reconsidered.  He realized that I would be going up those stairs so it had to be safe.  Step ladders scare me so this fix has rendered the tower safe as milk (which, apparently, is not all that safe… but that’s a different blog).

Over the years there have been some famous people linked to the Leaning Tower such as Galileo who was rumored to have taught lessons on gravity by throwing things off the tower.  Then there is Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley and Lord Byron and their Pisan circle.  That basically boils down to the tower being flawed and therefore kind of romantic.

The part I found the most interesting was there was a rule made where at least two people have to climb up the tower at a time.  This was enacted when it became romantic to commit suicide by throwing yourself off the tower.  I guess they never heard of Jonestown.  There is definitely not always safety in numbers.

When visiting you schedule a half hour time slot.  You pay, stow your belongings and then do the ten minute-long hike up, spend ten minutes on top and then ten to descend.  I’m excited to climb those stairs as the Tower was closed in ’92.  It was a brilliant place to stop for a picnic.  You just knew that I was going to tie this post to food somehow, didn’t you?  I’ve got my priorities people and most of them involve cheese.

This is How We Do This

18 May

I’ve never been a scrapbooker. Most vacations I barely remember to take photographs. Besides sending out postcards to others, I really don’t have that much to show for my trips. Oh, yeah. Besides memories. And a deep dread of airport screenings.

This is not true for my dad. He took some of the best vacation photographs I’ve ever seen. He would eventually progress from an amateur to a professional photographer. We rarely posed. The photos were taken when we were exploring. As if my dad was our personal paparazzi. I’m so grateful to have these pictures now though at the time this wasn’t the case. In fact, I looked at all his camera gear and was puzzled why he’d bother. Ah, kids. They can be such schmucks.

Florence page from the family scrapbook

Another thing that Dad had a talent for was the aforementioned scrapbooking. He told me today that to keep track of all the paper whatnots that are accumulated during travel that he would bring a Ziploc bag and place everything it. As I prepare my own trip, it is pretty fantastic to find such a detailed walk down memory lane courtesy of a giant scrapbook.

Today’s picture is just one page out of this giant scrapbook. I’m going to be sending a bunch more time going through it so you may see more. You might see much more, come to think of it. I’ve always felt lucky that I had the dad I did. But today I’m especially so.