Sunday, July 22, 2018

Selected Shorts #04 - Honkey, Please

Honkey, Please

I have a message for some of my fellow White peeps in the USA. I wish to assure you that, contrary to what you hear on a daily basis from our current President* and his media enablers, the people you think are out to get us are not out to get us.

- Immigrants are not out to get us. The overwhelming majority of them are, like our ancestors, people looking for a better life for their families in the Promised Land. And by the way, “They’re not taking our jobs. They’re doing our jobs.” (h/t, Jimmy Tingle)

- Black folks are not out to get us. They’re simply demanding a level playing field. That, and the luxury of not getting 9-1-1 called on their ass for no good reason and/or being killed by the cops for the crime of “existing while Black.”

- The government is not out to get us. Although it should be noted that a lot of White people are also falling through the cracks due to certain foolish social, fiscal, and trade policies. (Nothing personal - just collateral damage in the art of the deal.)

- The media is not out to get us. Seriously, the quantity of solicitous anthropological updates cranked out about “middle Americans” or “working class Americans” or “forgotten Americans” or whatever-the-hell euphemism du jour for White people is currently in vogue is stupefying. (Nothing personal - just good for business.)

I know that White folks, especially we White men folks, have gotten use to having the run of the place, but seriously, it’s just not all about us anymore. It’s past time to grow up, and enough already with the whining. Should you experience pushback for acting like a racist Honkey chowderhead, either (a) own up to your BS or (b) consider a different approach. For example, not acting like a racist Honkey chowderhead? That might be worth a shot.

If, however, some White people are so desperate to justify feeling dispirited, downtrodden, and generally put upon, well, I have a thought. Obviously, whoever came up with the notion of White racial superiority clearly wasn’t, dermatologically speaking, paying attention. The fact is that many (most?) so-called “White” people have skin that is susceptible to splotchy and cancerous ugliness. (I’m one of ‘em.) So…

Looking for an enemy? Try the Sun.

- The Sun abides, absolutely essential yet supremely indifferent to our very existence.

- The Sun does not register our complaints nor recognize White privilege.

- The Sun will - as a matter of course - burn, blister, and kill us if we are not vigilant.

Enemies? We don’t need no stinkin’ enemies; we already have a nemesis. That should be more than sufficient, even for White people.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Selected Shorts #03 - Motivation


I was maybe nine years old and had been playing the accordion for three years or so. I was pretty good at it, but because I was immersed in a pain-in-the-ass “I’m bored” phase, I had gotten lazy and was not practicing like I should. But every week, my Mom dutifully continued to drive me to lessons at the Central School of Music in downtown Louisville, where she would sit patiently in the corner, quietly observing the proceedings.

One week, I had a substitute teacher, a gentleman unknown to me. I was faking it, pretending that I had actually practiced my lesson assignment, when he stopped me. Turns out he had some points to make, politely, but in no uncertain terms:

1. You have talent, but you are lazy and unprepared.
2. You are wasting your time.
3. You are wasting my time.
4. You are wasting your parents’ time and money.
5. If you are not going to practice, quit.

All of this in front of my mother. I was mortified.

On the suddenly very long drive home, Mom didn’t say a word about this epic dressing down. In fact, she never mentioned it, like, ever. I am so very grateful to her for that.

After the initial shock and humiliation, I understood that I had a choice to make. More out of wounded pride than received wisdom, I decided that I would show this guy (whom, incidentally, I never saw again) and my mother that I was not about to give up. I was still a whiney-ass kid, but I realized what it would take to become a really good accordion player. So, I got serious about doing the work.

And it paid off. A few years later, I was placing in national competitions in the exotic municipalities of Chicago (twice), St. Louis, and - the ne plus ultra - Cleveland.

The more you practice, the luckier you get.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Selected Shorts #02 - Nostalgia


At the beginning of my eighth decade, I find myself immersed in resistance, and not simply the unremitting struggle to persuade people that human hatred, greed, and stupidity are screwing up, like, everything. Nope, I mean the personal age-related variety of resistance, in which all of us who are fortunate enough to achieve “old age” engage.

Since so much depends on genetics, we are immutably limited in what we can do about physical deterioration. Don’t smoke, eat right, exercise, avoid stress, wear sunscreen, all that stuff. The mental part is trickier, however, assuming one does not fall victim to some godless, horrible degenerative disease. Keeping the mind engaged and the spirit strong takes work.

In my case, I read, practice music, and every so often write snarkly (snarkily?) about the ultramaroons in power. And, though I refrain from making a habit of it, occasionally indulge in a bit of nostalgia.

Nostalgia for its own sake is not helpful. The whole “but things were so much better when…” perspective is inherently flawed and can lead to some world-class dumbass thinking. For example, the 50s and early 60s were indisputably a damned good time to be a White male living in the U.S., so why can’t we just MAGA (“Make America Great Again”)? Which is transparently NARB (Nostalgia As Reactionary Bullshit).

But once in a while…

In 1963, The Beatles recorded songs for a BBC radio programme called “Pop Go The Beatles.” One of these was a cover version of “Soldier of Love,” first recorded by Arthur Alexander, an American soul singer and great favourite of the Fab Four. I had never heard of this song before now. The lyrics aren’t all that special, but it has classic chord changes, and the Beeb recording features a great lead vocal by 22 year-old John Lennon with marvelous background vocals. (The Beatles may have been the first great “boy band,” but they also had their “girl group” chops down cold.) All in all, it is a terrific piece of pop music. Naturally, I had to check out the original.

The basic arrangement is the same, although Alexander’s version, in a different key, is slower and more soulful. The instrumentation is basically an R & B combo instead of a guitar band, and it is a better recording. (The sax part is all kinds of awesome.) But the effect of both versions - the original by a young Black man from Alabama and the cover by a quartet of young White men from Liverpool - was, for this 70 year-old White man from Kentucky, the same: Exhilarating.

This is music from my teens and, although I had never heard “Soldier of Love” before, it took me back. I was reminded of that brief time when the musical integration of Black & White artists, what we called “Top 40,” was a wildly popular radio format and highly successful business model. It was a glourious thing, but of its time and not likely to return. The recordings, however, are still out there.

Sometimes it only takes an echo to give the spirit a lift.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Reflections From Roma #06

Reflections From Roma #06
03 luglio 2018

Hello there… Rodger French here.

July 4, 2018

U.S. embassies typically organize two events to commemorate Independence Day. There is an official reception for host country dignitaries and assorted other poobahs, and a separate community event for American and local staff, and their families. These community gatherings tend to be more relaxed and fun, as there are no tricky protocol issues, fewer security hassles, and definitely no suits.

The Ambassador hosts the official July 4 affair at the residence, and sometimes, if the embassy is unable to accommodate the crowd, the community festivities as well (on a different day, of course). Since the Rome Tri-Mission compound is ginormous, the 4thof July community party takes place in the parking lot, complete with tents, BBQ, a band, and activities designed to distract the kids. All in all, not a bad day to be part of the embassy community and celebrate what we have somewhat arrogantly come to call “American independence.”

But not for me, not this year.

I am profoundly ashamed of and for my country. The ideals that we purportedly gather to celebrate on the 4th- truth, justice, freedom - are under premeditated and relentless attack. The current regime is hell-bent on destroying the institutions and social contracts, foreign and domestic that, however imperfect, have served us well for many decades.

My country is in the hands of sleazy grifters and remorseless extremists, enabled by constituencies malevolent in their greed, appalling in their cruelty, and breathtaking in their hypocrisy. There is apparently no limit to their destructive disrespect, and I find celebration to be a hopelessly compromised and inappropriate response.

Patriotic expression takes different forms. On this 4thof July, my love of country is rooted in and kindled by a deep, smoldering rage at, and resistance to what we as a nation are becoming: A racist, paranoid, isolated state; dismissive of our allies, manipulated by our adversaries, and indifferent to simple decency.

Perhaps some folks will look for a way to use this Independence Day as an opportunity to reclaim those ideals that have traditionally made this desperately flawed “American experiment” worthy of redemption. Good on them. I hope they succeed.

But not me, not this year. I choose to sit this one out. See you on the other side.

Resist. Onward.


Thursday, June 28, 2018

Selected Shorts #01 - Civility


Talk about “civility” has been all the rage lately; which is something of an ironic joke, seeing as how the subject seems to come up only when someone perceived as “liberal” says or does something that offends the fee-fees of someone who is decidedly not. Apparently, rudeness is OK, nay, expected when it comes from quarters on the Right, but is otherwise untoward behavior, subject to pearl-clutching opprobrium.

Thus the spectacle of our most influential, allegedly liberal news sources reflexively equating actual violence against abortion providers with the act of informing an administration flunky, in very polite language, that she is not welcome in a restaurant. This is, to put it generously, a steaming pile of… false equivalency.

I’ve been observing this “civility” conundrum since I was a teenager. (I graduated from high school in 1965.) One example: I remember reading in Life Magazine that what really disturbed nice (white) middle-Americans about Vietnam War protesters was their use of “four-letter words.” Naively, I had assumed that the specter of useless slaughter and loss of loved ones might be more upsetting.

Another example: In the early 1980s, I attended a “Town Hall” held by our Congresscritter, a self-righteous slime worm… pardon me, Reagan Republican. This guy was a real class act, the kind of stalwart public servant who inevitably gets caught grifting and proceeds to blame his wife.

Anyway, there was much to “town hall” about, such as the incipient and illegal covert war in Central America and the planned evisceration of the social safety net. Serious stuff, so naturally they opened with a prayer. Some blow-dried Talibangelical called for God’s blessing and… wait for it… a “civil discussion” of the issues, thus presuming to represent any passionately rendered oppositional opinions as… what, unholy?

(I can only assume that his prayer was not meant to fall on the ears of the God of the Old Testament, a supremely uncivil deity.)

Look, I was raised to be a decent and polite person and still believe in “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The rest is commentary.” But there are times when certain “others” manifestly do not give a damn, civil or otherwise, about basic decency and are committed to imposing their will regardless of the cost.

In times like these - like now - a variety of responses seems appropriate. Working in the State Dept. has reinforced my belief that civility is essential in creating constructive understanding. But I maintain that there is also a case to be made for letting people who are dedicated to making your life miserable know, with all due respect but in no uncertain terms, that they are free to go fuck themselves.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Reflections From Roma #05

Reflections From Roma #05
03 giugno 2018

Photo Update Alert:
“Austria”  “Arezzo”

Extended Posting Alert(Got some catching up to do here.)

Hello there… Rodger French here.

Summer has arrived in Rome and, as one seasoned diplomat remarked, it’s going to be “like Pakistan, but with better ruins.” The ZOTA (ZOmbie Tourist Apocalypse) is already in full swing, as Anne and I enact our summer endurance strategies. Nothing fancy, just serious sun-avoidance and, if it is deemed necessary to visit a cultural hotspot, arrival as early as possible in order to elude those pesky busloads of visitors.

[Cultural Identity Sidebar- I am considering reclassifying myself as “Roman” for the next couple of years. Never mind that my Italian is patetico; Rome is 2771 years old and does not give a shit, so it might be worth a shot.]

A.J. has been traveling extensively as part of her job while I have been working mornings at the Embassy. But we have managed to squeeze in some (possibilmente) interesting activities, presented here in (più o meno) chronological order.

Arte- Roma is awash with great art and each of these exhibitions was wonderful, especially the Canaletto.

- “Visioni dal Giappone” - Japanese woodcuts by Utagawa Hiroshige. At Scuderie del Quirinale, our favourite gallery.

- “Opera della Tate” - Watercolors, many with Italian subjects, by William Turner.At Chiostro del Bramante.

- “Canaletto: 1697-1768” - Oil paintings, notably of Venice, by Giovanni Antonio Canal. AtMuseo di Roma-Palazzo Braschi.

Austria- We received an invitation to join my best friend from high school and his lovely wife for a week in the mountains near Grundlsee, about 80 km ESE of Salzburg. What a beautiful area, what a great trip. (Our hosts are dedicated hikers, so we had quite a few “I wonder where this goes?” moments. The answer was, invariably, “Up.”)

The Nightjet, an overnight Austrian train, cozily took us from Roma to Salzburg, where we were obligingly picked up and whisked off for a week of hiking, eating, and picture postcard scenery. The ZOTA was evident in some places, but not so much in others, and we managed to avoid it for the most part. It was a grand visit with dear friends, and we look forward to hosting them in Roma next year.

Then it was back to Salzburg for some casual touristing before taking the Nightjet home. Salzburg is a lovely city, but it is strong with the ZOTA for two unsurprising reasons: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and “The Sound of Music.” We took in an afternoon concert of Mozart violin sonatas performed by a couple of very talented young women, wandered in and out of churches, and had a drink at the charmingly 5-star Hotel Bristol.

Arezzo- Located 80 km SE of Firenze, Arezzo is much like Siena, albeit a third of the size and considerably less overrun by tourists. Arezzo is also the home of three legitimately historic figures:

Francesco Petrarca(Petrarch) - Scholar, poet, humanist. His rediscovery of Cicero's letters is credited with initiating the 14th-century Renaissance. He is also known for developing the concept of the “Dark Ages.”

Giorgio Vasari- Painter, architect, historian. Author of Le Vite de' più eccellenti pittori, scultori, e architettori(The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects), which basically originated the field of art history.

Guido Monaco (aka Guido d’Arezzo) - Medieval music theorist and inventor of modern musical (staff) notation. A notably BFD.

[Musical Review Sidebar- Anne and I chanced upon a concert at Teatro Petrarca called “Adesso Tango!” The performance featured Cesare Chiacchiaretta, an excellent bandoneonist, accompanied by a small string orchestra. And improvisational dancing. Begging your indulgence, I have notes:

- The solo bandoneon needed to be considerably more prominent in the mix.

- The orchestra played decently, but could have used a bit more punch (aggression, if you prefer) on some of the pieces by Astor Piazzolla. A piano would have helped greatly. Also, there were occasional intonation problems in the viola section.

- Under-rehearsed Tango improv dance that includes a “Dia de los Muertos” figure is not necessarily a great idea.

- Program Correction: For the record, “La Cumparsita” was written in 1916 by Gerardo Matos Rodríguez, not Julio Iglesias (b. 1943).

Grazie mille.

In addition to historic buildings and museums, Arezzo has 16 churches within its walls, with a cumulative boatload of ancient frescos (notably by Piero della Francesca)and crucifixes (including a 13thcentury Cimabue). Also worth a visit are Fortezza Medicea (excellent 16th-century military architecture), the house of Giorgio Vasari (highly decorated and altogether livable), and the clock tower at the Palazzo della Fraternita dei Laici. (Built in 1552, the clock is a mechanical masterpiece and still keeps great time.)

And, since it’s Toscana after all, the food deserves a shout-out. Highlights included tortellini with sausage and peas in a cream sauce, and veal (sorry) roasted with olive oil, rosemary, and juniper berries. For dessert, a pink grapefruit granita… which is actually Sicilian, but no need to be too picky.

Bonus Musical Pilgrimage- Some of you know that we have “una familia italiana.” These are folks we’ve known since 1980 and have visited a number of times. They have also come to the States (The Italian Drama Tour!) and, when A.J. and I were doing our hardship posting in Washington, DC, I was honored to escort two of their teenage sons on some slightly surreal and altogether excellent excursions into the wilds of DC, Baltimore, NJ, and New York City. Anyway…

The aforementioned lads are now grown-ass men. They are both great guys (ragazzi fantastici) and one of them is seriously pursuing a career as a musician, primarily as a singer in a duet called “Toys in the Attic” and a band called “Underwoods.” When it came time for the band to cut their first album, I found myself in a position to cough up some scratch, which I was delighted to do.

This resulted in an invitation to the album release party in Pallanza, located on Lago Maggiore in northern Italia, so I trained to Verbania via Milano and spent two nights with mia familia italiana. They are such nice people and it was so good to see them again. (Anne and I are looking forward to visiting again early next year.)

The party was very cool, with a smattering of older folks, mostly band family members, scattered among a sea of younger faces. And the band pulled it off, in spite of some technical difficulties. (Their music is quite complex, requiring the use of click tracks and extensive monitors.) But they resolved the problems and the concert was un grande successo. These kids are very good, hard-working musicians. With a bit of luck, they should do well.

Which brings us up to date, più o meno. Now we hunker down for awhile, giving the Roman sun all due respect and the ZOTA a wide berth. Be cool, and feel free to keep in touch, as you’re able.



Saturday, March 3, 2018

Reflections From Roma #4

Reflections From Roma #04
03 marzo 2018

Photo Update Alert:

Hello there… Rodger French here.

As time passes here in Roma, I find it more and more difficult to expeditiously execute these postings. I surmise a number of possible reasons:

1. So much has been written - often quite excellently - about this region, and especially this city and country, that I feel I run the risk of being redundant, nay, superfluous.

2. This is our last State Department posting and so - weirdly, paradoxically - motivation seems lacking.

3. Generating the forward inertia necessary to do the hard work of writing becomes burdensome with incipient old age.

Now we can add to this rather lame-ass list the fact that I will soon begin working part-time at the Embassy. Which is a good thing, what with two years left in our hitch. I will be part of a team (or cog in a machine, if you prefer), make good use of my Top Secret clearance (eat your heart out, Jared Kushner), and squirrel away some cash (places to go, sites to see).

And, of course, our Official 2018-2019 Visitor’s Spreadsheet must be maintained and guests graciously accommodated. So, yeah, I have accumulated a sufficient aggregate of sorry excuses for not writing. Nonetheless, in the interest of maintaining my diminishing bona fides as a globetrotting correspondent, permit me to offer these short, but brief observations:

Vatican Necropolis - If you can book this small-group tour, prepare to descend 30 feet and go back in time 2000 years. Utterly fascinating; and, you exit through St. Peter’s Basilica, there to skylark with the multitudes.

Pompei/Napoli - We took the quickie two-hour tour of Pompei. It was surprisingly poignant, but equally frustrating. If you’re seriously into checking it out, book a private tour guide and plan on staying all day.

Tourist ProTip - Taxis in Napoli do not have meters, so get a fixed price. Then, hang on… riding with Neapolitan cab drivers offers amusement park-level thrills, without those pesky seat belts.

Bonus Weather Report - The recent “historic” snowfall did, in fact, cripple “The Eternal City.” Two inches of snow. Shut the place down. Just like Atlanta, but with infinitely better scenery.

Unavoidable Political Sidebar - Italian national elections are scheduled for Sunday, 04 March. No one is quite sure what the turnout will be, but it is widely expected that the Fascists will do well and that Italia will once again be led (de facto, this time) by Silvio Berlusconi. Esto no saldrá bien.

I would promise to be more reliable in my future reportage, but… nah. Suffice to say, I’ll be in touch as I am able and the spirit moves me. That does not, however, mean that I am incommunicado. Recommendations are always welcome, and if you have a question that you think I might know, find, or make up an answer to, please ask. E grazie mille per la tua pazienzia.



Saturday, December 16, 2017

Reflections From Roma #03

Reflections From Roma #03
17 dicembre 2017

Photo Update Alert:

Hello there… Rodger French here.

We are some days returned from our trip to Toscano (Tuscany) and I have been trying to figure out how to write about it. We spent six nights in Firenze (Florence) and three in Siena (Siena), with a day trip to Lucca thrown into the mix. We traveled between cities by train and bus, and did some serious urban walking. We went to museums and churches and were moved and dazzled by endless displays of great art. We took photoz, collected post cards and assorted memorabilia, and even bought a lamp.

And we ate “cibo toscano” (Tuscan food). Molto cibo toscano.

All of which has left me overwhelmed, at least concerning this posting. So, since there are a zillion travel guides about Italia/Toscana, most written by people more skilled than I who are paid to write them, I have elected not to go into great detail about the wonderful places we visited. Which, I admit, is a bit lame on my part. Permit me to offer instead a few redundant yet useful tourist tips at no additional charge.

Preparation - Do your reading. Also, remember Rule #1: Wear the best walking shoes you can afford. And, of course, the Prime Directive: SECURE YOUR PASSPORT. The rest is commentary.

Logistics - Go in the off-season, when it’s colder/wetter. There are still loads of tourists, but not the typical ZTA (Zombie Tourist Apocalypse™). Stay somewhere close to il centro della città, so you can walk everywhere.

[Hospitality Sidebar - A comfortable pillow arrangement is essential to a good night’s sleep. Unfortunately, the odds of finding that in Italy are roughly the same as drawing to an inside straight. Or electing a Democrat in Alabama. It could happen, but don’t count on it.]

[Transportation Sidebar - Traveling by rail or bus here is quite user-friendly. When it’s time to board the train/bus, however, there is no screwing around. Get to the platform early and gird your loins. And should you have a general boarding ticket, choose your seats decisively and with an eye as to where you can stash your stuff. Common sense, true; but it helps avoid any unnecessary Italian drama.]

Attractions - Visit all the museums, palaces, and churches you can stand and get use to to looking up. If possible, arrive early and try to pace your visits to stay comfortably ahead of/behind the inevitable tour groups. Take loads of photoz, but no flash, and remember: Selfie sticks are Satan’s toothpicks.

Food - Look for dining opportunities away from the grand piazzas and major attractions. Finding small establishments on side streets with actual Italian butts in the seats is a worthwhile goal. Also, unless you actually enjoy queuing up for meals, arrive early (by Italian standards) and avoid the throngs.

Being relatively unenlightened, I still eat meat, although less than I use to. But, while I commend my vegetarian friends on making that choice, I have to say that if preparation of meat may be considered an art… well, we have had some fine dining experiences in Roma, but cibo toscano, especially in Siena, is just ridiculously good.

[Testimonial Sidebar - If you make it as far as Firenze, please plan on a trip to Siena. What a beautiful city. And make a point of visiting la Biblioteca Piccolomini nel Duomo di Siena. It is breathtaking to the event horizon of magic.]

So there you have it; a short, but brief posting, considerately unencumbered by a surplus of information. I reckon many of you have already been or are planning to come to Italy (and if you’re able, you really should), so you can fill in the details for yourself. Meanwhile, Anne and I are hunkering down for our first Italian Christmas, our major outing being to Teatro dell'Opera Roma for a production of “La Damnation da Faust” by Hector Berlioz. A lighthearted holiday musical.
Buon Natale. Onward.


Thursday, November 16, 2017

Reflections From Roma #02

Reflections From Roma #02
16 novembre 2017

Photo Update Alert:

Hello there… Rodger French here.

Good news! Our final shipment of furniture has arrived in Naples, so we will have everything in our apartment before Thanksgiving. With some shrewd household engineering and a bit of luck, we’ll make the place comfy and less like living in a large shipping container. And, most importantly, ready for guests.

We have been grossly negligent in fulfilling our sightseeing obligations, although we did get tickets for an evening guided tour of the Vatican, a time when there are theoretically fewer tourists. Yeah, right. Three words: Zombie. Tourist. Apocalypse. With selfie sticks. I recall visiting in 1980, when one could simply stroll in and hang out, but those days are long gone. The place was packed, like sardines packed. The Vatican is still a must-see when in Rome, but one must gird one’s loins.

[Agony and Ecstasy Sidebar - The climax of the tour was, naturally, the Sistine Chapel. I had not seen it since it was cleaned and restored… and it was breathtaking. The colors in Michelangelo’s paintings are vivid, vibrant, and a revelation to behold.]

Speaking of tourism, one of the benefits of being victimized by the idiotic federal hiring freeze is that I am at liberty to occasionally tag along with A.J. when she visits facilities out of town. Last week found us in Portugal, a country new to me. And I must say, I liked it very much. The people are nice, the food is terrific, and art and music flourish there.

I spent two days wandering solo around Lisboa (Lisbon). It is a lovely city, smaller and cleaner than Roma, with some very serious hills. I caught a taxi to the Museu Nacional do Azulejo (National Tile Museum), which I highly recommend. (Check out the photoz.) Otherwise, I simply skylarked, did some light shopping, and ate a lot of good bread.

Our next stop was Aveiro, a small town on the road from Lisboa to Porto. While A.J. went to work, I got dropped off in town, a very charming place, complete with canals, boats, and flamingos. I walked, took photoz, and bought some Fado CDs. I also stumbled upon a restaurant where I ordered grilled sardines, a Portuguese speciality, served with boiled potatoes and salad. That was an itch well scratched.

From Aveiro, it was off to Porto, Portugal’s second city, and a favourite tourist destination. We stayed at a place called Hotel da Música, located in Mercado Bom Sucesso, a renovated 50s-era marketplace. It is a short walk from Casa da Música, a concert venue of modern and confusing design (thank you, Rem Koolhaas), where we attended a performance by the Porto Big Band, a 15-piece outfit that played Ellington, Basie, and other swing music. Very cool.

Tourism aside, the principle industry in Porto is the making of Port wine. There are a boatload of establishments offering tours of their cellars where grapes from the Douro Valley are meticulously aged into many different varieties of Port. Naturally, there are tastings. And gift shops. We decided that Port wine, in all its permutations, is a good thing.

Then it was back to Lisboa by train. So. Civilized. We spent the day wandering about before ascending the Elevador de Santa Justa to take in the panorama before sunset. Then, back to our hotel, after a bit more walking, eating, and shopping for Fado sheet music. Our trip to Portugal was “um grande sucesso” and I hope to one day return.

[Zombie Tourist Apocalypse Sidebar - Lisboa has recently expanded port facilities to accommodate several cruise ships at once. It is my considered opinion that these vessels, specifically the gigantic floating skyscraper variety, are a worldwide pestilence and environmental menace.]

Back in Roma, it seems that Anne has some “use it or lose it” leave on the books. Alrighty, then. Next up: Florence and Siena - by train - for 10 days beginning at the end of this month. Then back for Natale a Roma.



Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Reflections From Roma #01

Reflections From Roma #01
04 ottobre 2017

Hello there… Rodger French here.

So… greetings from Rome. Finalmente. We’ve now been here for almost three weeks and I’ve been meaning to correspond, but have been kind of busy. I would like to report that we arrived and were immediately swept up in the history, beauty, and romance of the “Eternal City.” Yeah, that would be nice.

But, not so much. We’ve spent days getting over some heinous jetlag (Delta Airlines Official Motto: “Sure, our seats suck. So?”), getting organized, and taking care of official bidness. Tri-Mission Rome consists of the American Embassy in Rome, the American Embassy to the Holy See, and the U.S. Mission to the U.N. It is freaking enormous and there’s a lot of information to absorb. Fortunately, the local staff really has their collective shit together and provides excellent assistance.

The major hassle we face is that we are basically squatting in temporary housing while our actual apartment is being “made ready.” This can’t be helped, but it means (a) we’ll have to move - again - and (b) we won’t be able to receive our stuff for several more weeks. It’s a pain-in-the-neck, but it would be churlish to complain. Sometimes that’s part of the gig.

[Our Official DoS Motto: No car, no pets, no kids… no problem.]

Fortunately, Anne is getting up to speed nicely at work. Her boss has been great and the folks in her section seem very helpful. The Embassy itself is grand (statues; lots of statues), and provides many services. And, although our eventual permanent residence will be a bit closer, we’re currently still within walking distance to work, which we were counting on.

Since the (idiotic) federal hiring freeze remains in effect, I abide in a state of gainful unemployment. That hasn’t posed a problem as yet, what with all the schlepping, shopping, cooking, housekeeping (well…), and practicing of the accordion. And since the best thing we’ve found on TV is C.S.I. reruns dubbed in Italian (nobody dubs like the Italians), we watch less of it. But we’re really looking forward to our DVD collection catching up with us.

What else… oh, right. Rome. Well, it reminds me a bit of Buenos Aires, only smaller, denser, and with many more really old things. We’ve taken in some sights and done a bit of serious eating, but since the place is swarming with tourists at the moment, we’re planning to wait until the low season to see the major attractions. Mostly we’ve been exploring public transportation, scouting out where to obtain necessary goods and services, and walking our asses off. We’re very grateful that the weather has, so far, been terrific.

[Podiatric Sidebar: Rome is hard on the feet and legs. Ancient brick and cobblestone streets are picturesque but brutal, and the place is lousy with hills. Ergo, Rule #1: Bring the absolute best walking shoes you can afford.]

If we stay on the current schedule and have a bit of luck with our shipments, we should be completely settled in before Christmas. And yes, there will be a guest room. Meanwhile, we’ll continue to put one foot in front of the other, remember to be grateful, and try to make the most of our great buona fortuna.