Friday, April 29, 2011

The Chaos Kid

Okay, students: today's assignment is to find four words which best encapsulate/summarize your outlook, experience, and level of emotional development. It's a fun and telling exercise, and I'd enjoy hearing what you come up with.

Choosing my own four words was relatively easy:

1. chaos |kay-oss|, noun: complete disorder and confusion; Physics behavior so unpredictable as to appear random, owing to great sensitivity to small changes in conditions.

2. contradiction |kon-tra-dick-shun|, noun: a combination of statements, ideas, or features of a situation that are opposed to one another

3. egocentric |ee-go-cen-trick|, adjective: centered in or arising from a person's own existence or perspective

4. melodramatic |mel-o-dra-mat-ic|, adjective: characteristic of melodrama, esp. in being exaggerated, sensationalized, or overemotional

Putting them in order of influence may be a bit harder, since they often change position relatively easily, depending on circumstances, and there are large areas of overlap and interaction.

Mild chaos rules my life. I am never completely sure of anything and there is so much going on at the same time, and on so many levels, that any sustained form of order is next to impossible.

Contradiction is an integral part of chaos and colors most of my life. I am, for example extremely insecure, bordering on needy, while at the same time utterly convinced that I have some special talent or ability which gives me authority to influence other people's thinking and outlook. I often sincerely frighten myself with my self-loathing while at the same time being utterly convinced that my view of the world is the way everyone should view the world.

My egocentrism, which is pretty tightly interwoven with my other three key words, is rather like the 800 pound gorilla in the room, dominating these blogs and almost everything I write. But I like to think that my apparent self-absorption really isn't so much a matter of my thinking I'm so special (which I am, of course, as are you) but simply because I am the only human being for whom I can speak with any degree of confidence. My assumption that you share many of my views is total egocentrism; however, I find validation in the fact that you're reading my words now.

Because I still, to a great extent, react to the world emotionally on a child's level, I've always been given to melodrama. It adds spice to my life, and I like to fool myself into thinking it allows me to avoid the tight little boxes into which most people learn--wrongly--that they must lock their feelings. I feel emotions deeply. And yet, ironically, no matter how intensely I feel emotion--no matter how very much I might long to really, really cry, or cheer, or dance...there is something within me that does not allow it, and no matter how turbulent my inner emotions, externally I stand like a pillar of salt, admiring those who are not so restricted.

And there you have it: the four words--chaos, contradiction, ego, and melodrama--that underlie almost everything this one writer...this one human being...does, or says, or writes. I do encourage you to take a moment to think of four words upon which your own life is built, and I, for one, would be delighted to hear them.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Simple Things

One of the major problems I have always had in dealing with life is that things that should be simple so seldom are. Recently, someone suggested I put up an Author's Page on Amazon, and that I be sure to have an RSS feed. I'd heard of RSS feeds, though I still have only the muzziest of ideas of what they actually are. From my limited understanding, I gathered that with an RSS feed, anything I post on the net will appear not only where I post it, but on every site which is somehow...I of course haven't a clue as to how...linked to RSS.

Endlessly greedy to reach out to prospective readers, I hied myself to Amazon to find that I already had the skeleton of an Author's page, though no RSS feed. But in the directions, I noted the following:

Add a blog you already write using an RSS feed.

Perfect! With the boyish enthusiasm I apply to all new challenges (for the first 20 seconds, at any rate), I clicked on the underlining, and got this:

Author Central supports all versions of RSS and Atom blog feeds. Posts created before you add this feed will not be imported. If you want previous posts to appear on the Author Page, please re-post them on your home blog.

Excuse me? "Atom blog feeds"? What's an "Atom blog feed"? All I want is to click on something that says "Add RSS Feed" and get on with my life. What's so hard about that? Well, despite my 20 seconds of enthusiasm having long past, I uncharacteristically persevered and found:

Example RSS feed URLs:

Specify an RSS feed for your blog

What? There are three "example RSS feed URLs." Am I to pick from one of them? I click on each one. Nothing. How can I specify an RSS feed for my blog if I don't have the foggiest idea of what to specify?

But finally, after stumbling and bumbling along for what seemed like five minutes short of eternity, I found...and would never be able to find again...directions which I followed and which, to my utter surprise, it accepted. I was giddy with the sense of accomplishment! Bring on the world!

So now I'm on an RSS feed! I think. I won't know until I post this blog. Which raises yet another question: I currently have it set up (don't ask me how I did it, I couldn't remember if I tried) that anything posted to my main blog site ( opposed to my main website ( which it also appears thanks to the efforts of my tireless webmaster...also shows up on Facebook. Does this mean it's now going to show up twice? Still with me? All those parenthetical phrases and ellipses confuse you? Now you have an idea of how I feel.

Anyway, time will tell.

Now, what's this about an Atom RSS? Do I need it? How can I get one? How is it different from a regular RSS? And what's an "xml" and an "rdf"?

I think I'll just quit while I'm ahead.

Blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I hope you'll drop by.

Monday, April 25, 2011

An the Winner Is....

To say change is a part of life is one of those "the sun rises in the east" statements. But most of the changes in our individual lives is gradual, and requires retrospection to be fully recognized. But there are at times profound life changes--such as being hit by a bus--which are almost immediately apparent. My recent trip to Europe, the culmination of more than fifty-five years of anticipation, produced such a change, and I've still not adjusted to it.

As you know, if you've been following the journal notes I've posted here and on Facebook, I went to Europe primarily to achieve three goals: first, to find the small, battered quay in Cannes, France, with which I associate the happiest four days of my military service. I have relived those days with warmth and longing innumerable times over the years since. I didn't really expect to find it, assuming it surely would have been destroyed long ago. But I found it, exactly as it had been in July of 1956, and to actually stand on the exact spot where I'd stood so long ago was the closest to actual time travel I will ever come. For in that instant, my feet on the outer edge of the battered concrete slab and looking down into the astonishingly clear waters of the Mediterranean, I was twenty-two again, hearing and seeing and feeling all the things I heard and saw and felt so many years ago.

My second goal was to return to Pompeii; to once again walk the 2,000-year-old streets and imagine the magnificent lost city as it was when it, too, was young and alive. I achieved that goal, too, and sat in the atrium of an excavated villa, listening for the voices of the past in the utter silence.

But it was the failure to fully achieve my third goal--to descend again into the crater of Mt. Vesuvius--which had the most profound, and I suspect the most long-lasting, effect on me. I have always thought of myself as a Don Quixote; not nearly so noble, but harmlessly deluded, seeing what I wanted to see in the way I wanted to see it. Don Quixote's mortal enemy, the Knight of the Mirrors--reality--is also mine. I had ignored/avoided/evaded reality all my life...until, arriving by bus three-quarters of the way up Mt. Vesuvius as I had done so many years before, I learned that the chair lift which had carried me to the crater the first time had been taken down years before, and that now the only way to reach the summit from where the busses stopped was to climb nearly one thousand feet vertically, up a steep and winding slope. Confronted with the cumulative effect of all the walking I'd done since arriving in Europe, I made it only about a hundred feet vertically up the trail before realizing that reality had won, that I would not/could not make the climb.

There are no words to describe the effect that realization had on me, or how devastating it was. I had, for the first time in my life, been forced to fully surrender to reality.

There used to be a popular amusement park ride called "The Parachute", in which you were strapped into a swing-type seat beneath a "parachute" and lifted straight up a very tall tower. When the "parachute" touched the top, it was released (on guide wires) and you dropped quickly to the ground. It was the moment you heard the "click" of the release and felt the start of the drop that was the culmination of the ride.

For more than 50 years I had been strapped into this dream, awaiting the moment I could hear the "click" of release. And when it finally occurred, I found myself in an eerie state of emotional free-fall, if you will. I had achieved my dream; I had reached the top of the ride, and I was back on the ground.

It was not a matter of disappointment--the entire journey was, overall, everything I hoped it would be--nor was it a sense of "is that all there is?" but the odd sensation of being, somehow, lost--of being in some sort of vacuum. What will take the place of all the intense anticipation, the planing, the imagining upon which I have relied for 55 years? And how can I deal with the inescapable fact that I do not have another 55 years left to me to work toward another goal?

Reality rushes in with its limitations on the time for dreams, and I simply do not know how to handle it.

But don't get me wrong: I still intend to fight reality every inch of the's just that I must, however reluctantly, resolve to be a bit more accommodating. I will continue to set goals, but not project them beyond what I can logically hope to reach. And I must also learn not to put my full emotional weight on them.

And I find a great degree of irony in the fact that this new attitude might be considered "realistic."

We're hopefully getting back on track now with the regular posting of blogs by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I do hope you'll come back.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Still Here!

The blurry image which accompanies these words pretty much sums up my recently completed European adventure. I do apologize for having neglected my regular Monday/Wednesday/Friday blog posts, but hope you understand.

Life, as you may have noticed, is never simple. In an effort to reach out to as many friends, acquaintances, readers, and potential readers of my writings as possible, I discovered that I could set it up so that every post put up on my two main websites..."Welcome to Dorien Grey's World" (, and "Dorien Grey and Me ( would also automatically show up on Facebook. The problem there being that many people who come to one place often don't go to the others, so there is an inevitable and sometimes possibly confusing duplication. Posting separately to each place might be more logical were it not for the fact that doing so would require a lot of time--already in very short supply.

So I ask your indulgence one more time. I'm in the process of posting the last of more than 1,700 photos of my entire trip to Facebook (neither "Welcome to Dorien Grey's World" or "Dorien Grey and Me" having the practical capacity to host so many). For anyone who is for whatever reason unable to view them on Facebook, I plan to burn a CD (or however many it takes to get them all) which I can lend out.

I hope to get back to a more normal schedule this coming Monday.

Thank you!

Monday, April 18, 2011

04-09-11 From Sorrento to Rome

I'll be posting the first of several groups of photos taken in Rome on Facebook...the first group will be up shortly. I do hope you might check them out.

6:04 a.m. Saturday. And the final leg of my journey begins. A night of very strange dreams, probably my mind trying to wade through recent and anticipated events. For some reason, I am dreading the inevitable conflict, when I arrive in Naples to get the train for Rome, with one of those infuriating hustlers who won't take "no" for an answer and then charge you when you give in. Well, they'll take "no" for an answer this time.

And yesterday's traumatic concession to reality made me think of the very long flight of stairs from the local trains to the main station. My suitcase has not gotten any lighter and probably weighs sixty pounds or more. That this should bother me in itself bothers me.

Well, the hell with it. I'll play it as it comes.

Now to the shower and to head for Naples.

7:15 Sitting in the San Agnello station in Sorrento waiting for the 7:24 to Naples. The blinking, beeping sign above the ticket booth announces the arrival of the train bound for the line's last stop, the main Sorrento station. It will then switch directions and become the train I'm looking for. I'll undoubtedly have to stand for all 36 stations between here and Naples...nowhere, really, to put my suitcase without blocking someone.

So, onward, dear travelers. Onward.

9:30 Termini Centrale, Naples. A huge, modern terminal on several levels with lots of passageways. Busy, of course. No hasslers/hustlers, and an escalator to the main level, so no lugging the suitcase up the stairs, but apparently no elevators. As noted before, Europe on the whole is not handicapped-assessable. Awaiting the 9:50 to Rome. Found a coffee shop (you pay first before you get whatever you want, which can be a bit confusing pointing out exactly what it is that you want), got a cup of Cafe Americano and a small peach pastry.

The train should be boarding momentarily.

Trivia notes: As mentioned before, Europe is not handicapped friendly. There are escalators in the terminal (didn't see them before), but no elevators. For another thing, Europeans seem never to hand you your change...they always put it in a tray or on the counter.

Time to see about boarding.

9:48 Safely aboard. Coach 9 (it is a LONG train and I always seem to manage to be pretty close to the rear), Seat 61. I'm on the sunny side. Looks like a full load of passengers. I managed to stow my suitcase in the space between my four-seat section and the one behind.

9:51 and we're moving. A whole minute late. Still impressive.

10:07 A group of early-teenage girls looking at large posters of Justin Beber (Justin who?), one is cutting out his silhouette. Ah, heterosexual youth.

12:01 Rome! The Internet!!! (Of course they are having "problems" with it as I type, but at least there is hope!

The trip from Naples was largely through grey mists, but the sun is shining brightly. The Scott House hotel is within a two minute walk of the station, located on the 4th and 5th floors of a commercial building! Only 34 rooms and has a "tiny" feeling. My room is not much larger than the one in Sorrento, but I already like it much better. It has internet!!! (Or will if they correct the "problem".) I was given a walking map, and see I'm within about a mile of the colosseum and the Forum. Happy day! (We shall see if the map is accurate.) Will probably set out at about 1:00...I'm on no timetable and in no rush.

It is downright warm in Rome, and I suspect my hoodie days are behind me. The room has a mini-bar refrigerator and I just took a coke, of which I will probably drink no more than ten sips. As expected, on the third sip, it began to run out my nose. (Hey, I told you I wanted you to experience what I'm experiencing on the trip. 'Ya gotta take the bad with the good.)

3:05 p.m. Sitting on a low wall overlooking the Roman Forum. Ancient ruins everywhere around the Forum as well; archeological digs wherever you look. I'm sure the archeaologists are unhappy that the modern city is built over so many other priceless wonders. I'm debating on going down onto the floor of the forum today or save it for tomorrow. It's already 3:10 and I have a long walk back to the hotel.

And I've been dying for a gelato. About 50 little carts around offering gelato, but only in a cone, and I simply can't deal with a cone. It would end up dribbled all over my shirt and pants. Pity, because I love sugar cones. I was surprised at how close the Forum is to the Vittorio Emanuel monument (a.k.a. "the Wedding Cake"...when you see the photos you'll know why, if you don't already.) Nor had I remembered that it was from the balcony of a building in the square across from the monument that Mousolini haranged the adoring crowds (before they turned on him at the end of the war and hanged him upside down. Fickle, fickle Italians.) Anyone who has seen movie footage of WWII has seen the balcony.

Well, time to move on. Maybe I might find a gelato in a cup.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Climbing Vesuvius 04-08-11

Photos of the day will be joining all the other photos of my trip on Facebook shortly. If you do not currently belong to Facebook, it's easy to join. Just type in "Dorien Grey" in the "Search" box...I have several pages there, but look for the one with the Swan Lake logo.

6:40 a.m. A word of advice: never ever assume. I was thinking as I awoke a few minutes ago that my long no-contact-with-the-world drought would be ending tomorrow when I get to Rome. And then a simple thought: does my Rome hotel have internet service? Well of course it does! Every hotel today has internet service. (Uh, excuse me? I assumed this one had it and it didn't.) So I got out of bed and checked my papers for the Scott House Hotel in Rome. Very small; only 34 rooms. Not a word about internet. Therefore...I shall probably be without the internet for another five days!

I've already described the little internet "cafe" I found here in Sorrento, which is in the equivalent of a small convenience store with two computers in a small corner, and other than that I have seen not so much as even the mention of "Internet" anywhere. Nor have I seen anyone other than me, anywhere, using a laptop. Technology plays cruel games, getting us totally addicted to one of its devices then watching us suffer when we're deprived of them.

I intend to head out to Vesuvius today. Again, I'll probably be able to do it all on my own. I'll keep you posted.

8:27 Just returned from "breakfast": cafe Americano and juice. Teenagers just finishing and heading of en masse for...somewhere. I'll be going to the station shortly to catch the train for Vesuvius, but wanted to wait just a bit in case the teen hoards are also going to the station.

The elevator was not working this morning, probably deliberately turned off by the management (it can only hold 5 people, max, and there are at least 50 in the teen group). I noted, as I left my monk's cell on the way to breakfast that the door to one of the rooms across the way was open, and I saw it had three or four of the same mini-beds as my room, thus reconfirming my assumption (there I go again with another assumption!) that the hotel caters to large groups. The dining room is set up for around 80, and the hotel is not located in an area where I'd imagine many people seek it out for dining.

Charging my cell phone. Will need Gary's number if there is no internet available to me in Rome. Damn!

10:07 Took the 9:07 train from Sorrento to Pompeii. One set of roving musicians, two young mothers with infants, asking for money. I really find that demeaning on the part of those asking for money, and an awkward imposition upon those from whom the money is sought. Anyway, finally got to Pompeii, walked out of the station and onto a tour bus--built to look like a tram--for Vesuvio (15 euros. I was the only passenger). The tram then left for a swing through modern-day Pompeii, which was interesting if nondescript, and picked up six Americans. We are now back at the train station apparently hoping to catch more passengers getting off the next train.

I'm really glad I decided to do it this way. A lot more...uh...casual than getting on a plush modern tour bus with structured lectures and stops. (Two more passengers just got on.) The tram, however, rides much like a chariot when it comes to the cobblestones, and the wooden seats are not padded. Nor am I.

12:02 I have just lost a decisive battle in my life-long battle with reality, and I am saddened beyond expressing. The only one of my three major goals on returning to Europe remaining was to climb down into the crater of Mt. Vesuvius as I had done that cold, foggy morning 56 years ago. I remember riding up from where the busses stop--about three-quarters of the way up the mountain--on a chair lift to the summit. I remember how one side of my peacoat was covered in frost as we rode through the fog, unable to see anything around, above, or below.

So on April 8, 2011, I rode another bus three quarters of the way up the slopes of Mt. Vesuvius to where the road ends, and stood in a long line to pay 8 euros for what I assumed to be the ride to the top. (Do we sense a theme, here, children, in the subject of assumption? Do we by now recognize its dangers?) There IS no chair lift to the summit, I found. It was taken down years and years ago as being too dangerous. One walks. A long, long, steep walk. I was determined to do it. Reality bet I couldn't. And reality, sadly, won.

I tried to find some rationale in the fact that I have walked more in the past twenty days than I have in the past year, and I do a considerable amount of walking back home. I tried convincing myself that so much unaccustomed walking would, cumulatively, tire even the hardiest of souls. But despite all the excuses I make for myself in an attempt to salvage a bit of my dignity and the illusions to which I have clung so desperately all these years, I hear reality laughing and taunting "You're old, Roger, old! Look at that reflection in the your computer monitor. You're old!" And all the sadness and regret and denial in the world will not change the truth of that fact.

But what hurts most is that underneath the taunts I hear the small boy who is still me crying as though his heart has been broken. It has.

I am, indeed, become J. Alfred Prufrock.

Friday, April 15, 2011

2000 Years and Me

04-07-11, Pompeii

11:42 a.m. and I am sitting on the steps of a large, many-roomed building which appears to have been a smaller bathhouse. Some small patches of original artwork still visible.

Pompeii, too, has changed (I know...a silly thing to say) since my first visit. There are very few places where one is allowed to leave the main streets. Gates everywhere, so one can only get a rough idea of what these buildings/homes once were--though with a bit of imagination it's possible. But the biggest shock, and one I consider an inexcusable desecration, is the public drinking fountains, all over the city, which constantly spewed streams of water into a large square troughs for passersby. I distinctly remember one, a lion's head whose one side had been worn smooth by ancient Pompeiians rubbing their own faces against the stone while drinking. Now all the fanciful sculptures have common garden-hose variety spigots coming out of their mouths to be turned on and off as needed. Horrible!!

The rooms of the many small shops lining the streets are largely of the same dimension...15 feet square is the average; I imagine due to the constraints of length of available beams and supports. There are linking doors between some but not many. I bought a map, but it is for the most part not much help. The more famous buildings are labeled, and I've taken photos of those with numbers corresponding to explanations in the guidebook.

The streets are, for the most part, straight, often giving off to beautiful vistas of the surrounding countryside.

And above all, to the north, looms Vesuvius.

I brought along an extra battery for my camera and am pretty sure I'm going to need it.

12:44 sitting on a small column in the garden atrium of a Pompeii wealthy home, opening onto a vineyard. Very tourists passing by. Wonderfully restful, and I only have to imagine other people, at other times, doing the same. I should move, though, since I'm ruining a beautiful photograph for anyone looking in from the street.

3:18 Finally, after hours of walking, found the small amphitheater, where I am now sitting. The main amphitheater is still a long way away. Maps are very very helpful and also very very confusing. The street names on the maps are not necessarily the names on the streets, or at least I can't find them. Anyway, I am somewhat disappointed by the fact that I was able to actually enter any of the villas with the paintings. All locked up tighter than a drum. Did find several of the famous mosaic entry floors, but had to shoot through the barred gates.

The area where they have recently excavated or are currently excavating seem to be in much finer shape than other parts of the city. I suspect much of that is due to the fact of vastly improved archaelogical/preservation techniques.

It is now 3:26 and Pompeii closes at 5, so I'd better start trying to find my way back to the forum.
Two young girls are standing on the stage (or prescenium or whatever, singing to the applause of people in the stands). Fun touch.

So, thus is concluded the second of my primary reasons for this trip: the quay at Cannes and a return to Pompeii. And now back to the train.
The local trains in Italy, I've noticed, frequently have musicians wandering through the cars, playing for money. Some of them are quite good, but I have something of a prudish view of soliciting money. Coming back from Pompeii there was a man playing an accordion. With him was his son, a little boy around four, who held a plastic cup and went from person to person. The poor kid looked embarrassed and terribly shy. I knew full well the father was using his son as an organ grinder uses a trained monkey, but when the little boy came up to me and looked up at me with those big, hopefully-still innocent eyes, I couldn't resist. It took me a minute to dig some coins out of my pocket, but he stood there patiently, waiting. When I dropped it into the cup, his father said "Thank you." And they moved on.

5:05 p.m. Back at the hotel and took a load of laundry to the small laundromat a few door down. It will be ready at 7, and again it won't cost me $170.

Also discovered that there are three stops for Sorrento, and the second one is five minutes from the hotel, rather than the fifteen euro taxi ride from the end-of-the-line station. Checked when I got off coming back from Pompeii and found it's a one-hour ride (remember those 36 stops?) to the Napoli Centrale. My train for Rome leaves at 9:50, and there's a train from my closest stop leaving at 7:47 (there's one at 8-something, but I don't want to cut it too close). Oh, and an interesting thing about the stop closest to me. There is only one track, used by trains going in both directions. I imagine that requires some pretty fancy footwork on someone's part.

Going to have dinner here at the hotel, then pick up my laundry, and spend the evening sorting out and labeling today's photos. There'll be a real glut of them when I finally get back on line. (And yes, I'm still suffering internet withdrawal.)

Some 200 photos I took of Pompeii are being posted to Facebook. I hope you might look for them.

So, until later....

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Train to Sorrento

I do apologize for these journal entries being all screwed up. We can thank the fact that my hotel in Sorrento did not offer internet service and, contrary to what you've heard, the internet it not "everywhere." (Well, it might be, but not my ability to access it.)

Anyway, we go back now and pick up my in-real-time journey from Florence to Sorrento. (I'll be posting photos on Facebook as soon as possible.)

9:10 a.m. Tuesday, April 5, 2011. Train to Naples left on the minute. Sunny day, going to be warm. One problem with traveling in early spring is that you're never sure how to pack for the weather. I've been wearing just hoodies most of the time, with no shirt underneath, and usually carry my heavy coat's liner, which serves as a light jacket. Getting on the train (I walked the mile or so from the hotel) I shed both my hoodie and the liner. Still warm. I do hope I won't get off the train in Naples without them, but I certainly wouldn't put it past me.

No breakfast, though I did grab a cup of "cafe Americano" at a marvelous little cafe inside the terminal, called "McDonald's". As always, scalding hot and I had four sips before pitching it.

Sitting across from an Italian gay couple. We've not spoken.

Last night when getting ready for bed, I took off my neck pouch, which I would recommend for anyone traveling anywhere, to find the cord had broken. Had I not been wearing a tuck-in shirt, it may well have fallen out without my noticing, and I'd be without my train tickets and passport. So be advised...nothing is perfect; a "stop the presses!" bit of news to you, I'm sure.

Praying for no hassles from the conductor or anyone else. We shall see.

9:41 a.m. I'm seated facing backward, which brings my "life-as-a-train-ride" analogy back in focus. Beautiful countryside...lots and lots of tunnels, of course. Riding backward, something I'd like to photograph comes into view and by the time I get my camera out, it's gone. On reflection, this entire trip has been an example of the theory. Riding forward through time, I saw the trip coming long before it arrived and had lots of time for anticipation. Once the trip started, I changed seats, as it were, and now everything is going by so fast I barely have time to reflect on it. Thus, I suppose, why I've been taking so many photos.

Seem to have either left the mountainous region or are in a very big valley. Rich green grass, fields being either planted or prepared for planting. Trees beginning to bud. Long, low grey-bottomed cumulus clouds slowly trying to cover the entire sky.

10:41 Rome. Train pulled in five or six minutes ago. 3/4 of the passengers got off, including the gay couple, and while I'd assumed more would be getting on, none have, so far. Rome is a big city and coming into it is like coming into any big city anywhere...except for a section of an ancient aqueduct and the ruins of what appeared to have been a temple, surrounded now by the clutter of a major rail yard, haunted not so much by the ghosts of ancient Romans but the battered hulks of old trains.

10:50 Spoke too soon about no one getting on at Rome. New seatmates...a nice couple from Bermuda, traveling to Naples to catch the boat for Capri. She's a writer of bi-lingual (Italian and English) children's books and are meeting people in Capri to discuss distribution in Italy. We exchanged email addresses. Our fourth seatmate was an Italian young man who had planned to bring his girlfriend to see Naples and Capri, but she became ill so he left her in Rome. (And they say chivalry is dead!)

One of the reasons I loathe Naples (which is at least physically unrecognizable from when I was first here) is that the minute I got off the train I was harassed by taxi drivers and "guides" and people wanting to do things for me. One latched on and wouldn't let go. I told him I didn't need any services and that I was catching the train to Sorrento. He assured me he was a station employee. He ushered me to a ticket/lottery booth where I paid 5 euros for a ticket. He then led me to the downstairs platform from which local trains depart, my telling him every step of the way that thanks but no thanks I could do everything myself. Deaf ears. He insisted on carrying my suitcase down the stairs, then carefully explained which track and what to look for, then demanded 10 euros for his services. Damn, I hate that! I hate being taken advantage of.

So he left with 10 euros and I smoldered and watched the trains come in. Apparently the upstairs tracks are or the pretty trains; the lowe level trains are battered, dirty, little more than glorified el or subway cars. All jam-packed. So I got off the Florence train at 12:15 and boarded the "train" for Sorrento, where I stood for the entire trip. There are thirty-six...yes, that's right, thirty-six stops between Naples and Sorrento. Thirty-six. It took forever, and I know right now there is no way I will be able to leave here on the day I'm to get the 9:40 a.m. train from Naples to Rome. I don't know what time they start running, but I'd have to be on a train at 6 a.m. in order to make it. I'll just make it to Rome when I can and buy a ticket for Rome. Not like I haven't been double charged for a train ticket before.

So, arrived in Sorrento, the last stop on the train's route, finally. Got a cab to the hotel, way off in God's little green acre (a 30 minute walk to the sea, with the nearest restaurant a 15 minute walk). Friendly. I asked about internet. "Of course." I asked how to connect to it. Got no answer. It turns out, as I discovered after my walk to the sea, that they don't have internet. Apparently there's a shop somewhere nearby that has it. I'm writing this in advance, and will try to find it maybe later if it stops raining or maybe not until tomorrow. I know you'll be worried when you don't hear from me, but....

The room, btw, is comfortable enough but reminds me very much of a monk's room in a monastery...though it has a small bathroom about half the size of the bedroom.

So there you have it. And there, I hope you see, are the makings of the final straw in any future plans for foreign travel.

It has started to rain lightly and the power has gone out. No matter, since my hotel doesn't have internet service anyway. And the beat goes on.

While it has been a wonderful trip and I'd not have missed it for (power back on) world, I think this will be my last hurrah as far as international travel is concerned. Hassles and problems and frustrations and glitches are all part of the fun, but cumulatively they reach the point where I think "okay. Been there. Done that."

I don't really know how this internet thing is going to work out. It's really kind of sad how totally I have become dependent on it. Keep an eye out, but if you don't hear from me before Saturday, the 9th, in Rome, don't be surprised. Positive thoughts.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Arrivaderci, Roma

10:16 a.m. Looking out the window of Gate 6, Terminal 5 of Rome's vast, sprawling Fiumicino airport.
Caught the 8:22 train to the airport. Took over half an hour to get here. (An irrefutable fact of travel, either by train or plane: the gate/platform you want will be the absolute maximum distance from wherever you happen to be.) The train lets you off at Terminal 3, from which you take a 5 minute bus ride to Terminal 5, from which you walk six or seven miles (okay, so I exaggerate a bit) to check in at American Airlines which, surprisingly, has only 4 baggage check in points. U.S. Air has about three times that many. Checked in. Was directed to another bus which took me to the general vicinity of the gate I needed.

And here I am. Rather typical of Rome's mornings during my stay, it started off cool and overcast...actually raining a bit by the time I reached the airport. I wore a hoodie just to be safe. It warms up fast in Rome, but I didn't want to haul anything more than I had to, so opted just for the hoodie. I may roast on the plane, but I have no idea what the temps are in Chicago, and I put my light jacket on the top of my suitcase so I can get to it if I need it.

Odd how airport security differs subtly from airport to airport (I had absolutely no delays btw). As you know, I like to take photos of everything, so started to take a picture of the security point and was sharply dissuaded. Some confusion on their part about my boarding pass, involving the calling of a supervisor, but it all worked out and I was on my way.

Turning on my computer to write this, I saw indications that there were two free wi-fi-networks available. There weren't. Surprise?

Said it before, but it is so much easier, when it comes to jet-lag, traveling from east to west, where you travel with the sun, rather than traveling west to east, where you leave early evening and arrive early morning, totally deprived of a night (and regular sleep).

Hard to believe, in a way, my journey is over. What do I do now? The circles have been closed, the doors shut. I'll just have to establish a new set of dreams. (I'll be doing a blog later on completed circles and closed doors anon.)

Well, to spare my computer's battery, I'll sign off for the moment. Stay tuned. The next paragraph begins in the blink of an eye.

11:33 Okay, okay, I admit it. I am a hopeless, hopeless romantic. I'm on American Airlines flight 0111 and the plane has just begun to move. Listening to "New York, New York," and soon to be in the air heading home. Now, if that isn't an exhilarating moment, I don't know what is, and once more I am six years old. There have been several of these moments on my journey, and I am thrilled beyond description by each of them. A 10-hour flight lies ahead.

TVs are set above the center aisles...not easy for me to see. But there is no one sitting beside me, so I'll be able to move over to see better, and also be able to move around freely.

We have now begun taxiing.

So long,'s been fun.

2:22 p.m. Somewhere over the Atlantic...clouds below hiding the ocean. Still on Rome time, will probably stay on it until we land in Chicago. Just watched "The King's Speech"...I' always avoided it for some unexplained reason, but decided to watch and am glad I did. Excellent film and deserving of the Oscar. Lunch was spinach and mushroom lasagne, with salad, roll, butter, crackers, very nice cookies. I of course ate almost nothing...but I did eat the cookies.

3:47 30,000 feet+, looking down at the endless, cloud-speckled Atlantic ocean, listening to Puccini on the earphones. (I never can wear earphones without them constantly falling out; but it's worth it.) Same channel...there are 13 in English and switched to "Guys and Dolls"'s a tribute to New York's varied music. Enjoyable.

4:30 5 hours and 37 minutes to Chicago...almost exactly halfway. I was just looking through the ubiquitous "Sky Mall" magazines, offering wondrous, absolutely cannot live without items, most of which run $199 up. I went through it carefully, wondering "What? Who in the hell would possibly buy any of this crud?" I think my favorite, on page 20, is a futuristic looking banded device guaranteed to eliminate headaches and neck pain. About 30 pages on, what appears to be exactly the same device which promotes hair growth for balding men. Maybe balding men with headaches can buy both and wear them at the same time?

6:40 Rome time. Just made landfall (Newfoundland...snow covered). 3 hours 30 minutes to Chicago. Just watched another movie (can't think of the name...Steve Carrell film really silly but kind of grew on me), now watching "Top Chef". The airline has an arrangement with NBC and its many networks and features them throughout the flight. Chicago draws closer.

8:03 Rome/2:03 Chicago. Outside temp at 36,000 feet, -58. Still over Canada (they show the plane's location and progress on the tvs when shows aren't running). They'll be serving a "snack" shortly. I got a free drink (bourbon and seven) courtesy of the stewardess for no reason. Suspect when I get my bag in Chicago I'll have to take my jacket out. And I'll have to find an ATM. I have 3 euros to my name (all the American money I brought with me was stolen by the pickpockets in Paris. When I packed this morning, I put my billfold in my pants for the first time since the incident.

Landed in Chicago at 3:18, exactly on time. And so another door closes. Now to find a new one to open.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Last Day

Trying to keep up with writing this journal and downloading and captioning and putting up photos on Facebook has become a monumental task, and I leave Europe for home tomorrow morning at 11:30. So I'm just going to do what I can do when I can do it, and let it go at that. I do hope you'll understand.

But here is how today went:

8:30 a.m. (Writing real-time on my laptop.) On the tour bus to see some of the places I missed on my own. Took me a long time to get to sleep last night, no idea why. Was to be picked up in front of the hotel by a shuttle bus to the main bus at 7:45. Was out front by 7:30. They arrived at 8:05. Well, at least they showed.

Comfortable bus, though I know taking pictures through a window, especially when the bus is moving, is going to be a real challenge and I don't hold much hope for many good shots. They gave us headsets, though, which will help. I took a seat at the very rear, which for some reason has a ledge upon which I can conveniently put the laptop.

Okay, that ended the real-time writing. Now I'm back in my hotel after yet another full and, let's face it, tiring, day. Why do we come home from vacation more tired than when we left?

The tour was actually pretty enjoyable. We all follow the little lady holding a cane with a cloth around the top of it so we don't lose her in the crowds, and other than the strong temptation to say "Baaaaaaa" every few steps, I managed to follow like the good little tour taker. One advantage about a tour as opposed to winging it yourself as I've done the entire trip is that you do get a lot more specific information about the places you're seeing.

On this trip, most of which was walking, we saw the of my favorite buildings from my first trip, the Fountain of Trevi, which I'd not seen before, Castel Sant Angelo (a.k.a. Hadrian's Tomb...but only from the bus as it passed by). And we ended up back at the Vatican, where I'd been the other day. However, I was having some weird sort of camera problems and fully 1/3 of the shots didn't come out. I looked on this as a chance to re-photograph some that I wasn't able to get to come out the first time, like the Pieta, and the people touching the feet of the statue of St. Peter, and the statue of Pope Pius XII, with whom I'd had a mass audience in 1956. Dutifully reshot them all. Got back to the hotel to find fully 1/3 of the shots didn't come out, including the re-takes of the Pieta, the people touching the feet of the statue of St. Peter, and the statue of Pope Pius XII. I suspect someone is trying to tell me something.

One fascinating thing I found out, that I'd not known, is that there are no paintings in St. Peters. All those huge pictures are mosaics! Amazing.

Left the hotel at 8 a.m., got back at 1:30 p.m. My friend Con, who has spent a lot of time in Rome, told me about a museum within blocks of the Termini Roma station, and therefore within blocks of me: the Santa Maria degli Angeli museum, mostly marble sculptures gleaned from the ruins. I took time to download today's photos (I drained another battery...that's four full recharges so far: I'd taken 396 photos at the Vatican yesterday!), then set out for Santa Maria degli Angeli. I missed the entrance by not being able to lift my head high enough to catch the signs, if there were any, and started walking around the block looking for it. A long block. A very long block, and just what I needed, another long walk. But finally found it and am glad I did. Hundreds upon hundreds of busts and statues and sarcophagi and funerary monuments and who knows what, and I was once more in awe that every single one of them was hand carved. The cumulative man hours involved to produce all the sculptures and sculpting in Rome is mind blowing!

So my trip has ended, but the journey continues.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Catching up...Slowly

After being off line for several days totally screwed up my plan to have you along with me every step of the journey, I'm trying to figure out a way to take the lumps out of the gravy, as it were. So, having just posted the last of my photos from Florence to Facebook, here's my running but unpublished-til-now notes of my trip from Florence to Naples, where I caught a local train to Sorrento. I appreciate your bearing with me.

9:10 a.m. Tuesday, April 5, 2011. Train to Naples left on the minute. Sunny day, going to be warm. One problem with traveling to other countries in early spring is that you're never sure how to pack for the weather. I've been wearing just hoodies most of the time, with no shirt underneath, and usually carry my heavy coat's liner, which serves as a light jacket. Getting on the train (I walked the mile or so from the hotel) I shed both my hoodie and the liner. Still warm. I do hope I won't get off the train in Naples without them, but I certainly wouln't put it past me.

No breakfast, though I did grab a cup of "cafe Americano" at a marvelous little cafe inside the terminal, called "McDonald's". As always, scalding hot and I had four sips before pitching it.

Sitting across from an Italian gay couple. We've not spoken.

Last night when getting ready for bed, I took off my neck pouch, which I would recommend for anyone traveling anywhere, to find the cord had broken. Had I not been wearing a tuck-in shirt, it may well have fallen out without my noticing, and I'd be without my train tickets and passport. So be advised...nothing is perfect; a "stop the presses!" bit of news to you, I'm sure.

Praying for no hassles from the conductor or anyone else. We shall see.

9:41 a.m. I'm seated facing backward, which brings my "life-as-a-train-ride" analogy back in focus. Beautiful countryside...lots and lots of tunnels, of course. Riding backward, something I'd like to photograph comes into view and by the time I get my camera out, it's gone. On reflection, this entire trip has been an example of the theory. Riding forward through time, I saw it coming long before it arrived and had lots of time for anticipation. Once I got here, I changed seats, as it were and now everything is going by so fast I barely have time to reflect on it. Thus, I suppose, why I've been taking so many photos.

Seem to have either left the mountainous region or are in a very big valley. Rich green grass, fields being either planted or prepared for planting. Trees beginning to bud. Long, low grey-bottomed cumulus clouds slowly trying to cover the entire sky.

10:41 Rome. Train pulled in five or six minutes ago. 3/4 of the passengers got off, and while I'd assumed more would be getting on, none have, so far. Rome is a big city and coming into it is like coming into any big city anywhere...except for a section of an ancient aqueduct and the ruins of what appeared to have been a temple, surrounded now by the clutter of a major rail yard, haunted not so much by the ghosts of ancient Romans but the battered hulks of old trains.

10:50 New seatmates...a nice couple from Bermuda, traveling to Naples to catch the boat for Capri.
She's a writer of children's books.

Most pleasant conversation, and so nice to hear/speak English after a couple of weeks of traveling alone. Now to catch the local train for Sorrento. The adventure continues.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Notes from Florence

...or as we worldly travelers like to call it "Firenzi". Compared to Venice and Paris, Florence is a straightforward, no nonsense city with streets lined with--except for the many, many churches and a few embellished structures--straightforward, no nonsense, unmistakably Italian buildings. Very narrow sidewalks make for frequent stepping into the street to avoid oncoming people. Most streets in the heart of the city seem to be one way. Logical.

This is the first hotel I've stayed where no breakfast is provided. No big deal, considering how little I eat. In several of the hotels, a "double bed" is really two single beds pushed together and fitted with larger sheets. Practical, but not particularly comfortable for trying to lie in the middle. This particular hotel, the Meridiana, has an unusual system in that you use the key (old fashioned type) to open the door, then use the same key to lock the door from the inside.

I'd determined today to see Michaelangelo's David...the original in the Galeria del Acadamie, a copy in the Piazza della Signora, just outside the Uffizi. Given the 20 minute-+ walk to the Duomo (a photo of part of it attached), with the Uffizi some distance beyond it, I thought I'd ask the desk clerk (who, thank God, speaks good English and is cute to boot) if I could get there by bus. I was assured I could...the C 1, about a block away. I asked how much the fare was. 1 1/2 euros, but you had to buy a ticket. I thanked him, assuming with my usual lack of accuracy, that the tickets could be purchased at or near the bus stop, and set off. Found a bus stop in the general area of where he said it would be, but had no idea how one bought a ticket. Buying a ticket on the bus itself seemed a bit impractical. So back to the hotel to ask where to buy a ticket. "We sell them here," he said. Uh, excuse me? Wouldn't it have been nice if he'd said that when I asked about the bus. But, as I said, he's cute (though married) so I let it pass. I bought a ticket and then figured I'd just as well walk and perhaps use the ticket on the way back.

OK, then,here are, literally, some notes I took on my walk to (and it turns out, from) the Uffizi:

11:04 a.m. Monday, April 4, 2011. Standing in the center of the legendary Ponte Vecchio (photos posted on Facebook anon), Florence, Italy. Me. Just wanted to preserve the moment.

11:53 Sitting in the Piazza San Giovanni, directly behind the Duomo (the Piazza San Giovanni is attached to the Piazza del Duomo. I had specifically, when planning my trip, set aside two days (only one full) for the specific purpose of seeing Michaelangelo's David (the original in the Galleria del Academie) and the Ufizzi gallery. Now, knowing my luck, would you care to make a wild, wild guess as to what follows that last sentence? And of course you're right. Both are closed today, and I'm leaving for Sorrento in the morning. Well, I got a photo of the copy of David outside the Ufizzi, and outside shots of the Ufizzi. And I did get to see and walk across the Ponte Vecchio Beggars can't be choosers.

When I left the hotel it was quite cool--I was wearing a hoodie with a shirt underneath, which I don't usually do, so went back to my room for my light jacket. Now, at 12:03, it is getting warm enough to remove the light jacket.

Time to move on. Later.

And, slowly, I wended my way back to the hotel to write this. I think I'll go again to the same restaurant I ate at last night and have another bowl of soup...this time the spelt (no idea exactly what it is, but...)

The rail station is about a 20 minute walk from here...just about as far as the Duomo, but there is a bus at the corner, so I think I'll try for that.

And so, dear friends, here we are. Now to work on putting up more photos.

Again, "Having a wonderful time. Wish you were here."

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Aloha, Venice!

I'm running way behind in putting my photos up, but they will all appear on Facebook anon.

9:28 am Sunday, April 4, 2011. The train left the station exactly on time, and Venice is another just-passed telephone pole on the train ride of life. An indescribably beautiful city...the only one like it on earth. I'm sorry not to have been more consistent in writing, but it is hard to write and do anything else at the same time.

9:33 and we've crossed the water and are back on more identifiable land, with more or less neat rows of streets with cars and individual buildings separated from their neighbors. In short, back with the other 99.999 percent of the world.

Just as my camera and computer have batteries which run low, I've found as my journey progresses that it seems to have been a notable drain on my energy batteries...yet another skirmish in the battle between "I want!" and "I can"; the mind being the want, the body being the can. You have no idea how deeply I resent it.

A hundred passengers carting huge suitcases in both directions down the narrow center aisle makes for some classic bottlenecks. Far more bulky suitcases than places for them. Luckily, this car is a four-seats-facing arrangement with a small table that can be folded down for laptops (but too high to work on practically), and I managed to fit my case--which mysteriously gets heavier and fuller with each stop on the trip--in the space between the backs of two four-seat sections.

I am down to two pair of socks and on pair of shorts. Have to find a laundromat in Florence. Of course, it's being Sunday...But I'll by new underwear rather than pay $3.00 each to have the hotel send it out!

The train makes announcements in English, but in the fine tradition of train announcers everywhere, it's impossible to understand what they're saying.

10:42 Oh, dear Lord, the fun! This is, what, my fifth train in Europe. The conductor comes down the aisle, I show him my ticket, he stamps it and goes on his way. Not this time. He charged me and at least two other Americans in this car 50 euros for not having had our Europass tickets validated before we took our first train. When I boarded the train for Cannes in Paris, I had specifically asked if I needed to have anything validated before starting to use my tickets. "No." But this conductor would have none of it. He is right. You are wrong. End of discussion. He's the kind of man who takes great pride in not being employed by TrenItalia, but in being TrenItalia.

And I've not had a bit of trouble 'til now. This one refused to accept my ticket, saying it was only a voucher, though it was exactly the same ticket the other four or five conductors have merely only glanced, stamped, and handed back to me without question. Now, suddenly, I have to pay a 50 euros ($75?) as a "surcharge." Dear, sweet Lord! (I should note that the other Americans were equally and loudly pissed, one demanding that the conductor call the police at the next station-- Bologna, into which we have just pulled.) Oh, yes, and in order to look for my original EuroPass information, which thank God I'd kept, I had to haul out my suitcase, open it up, rummage through everything in order to find it, then force it closed it again and put it back in its cubbyhole.

Well, if I didn't want to risk challenges and problems, I'd have stayed home.

Interesting bit of trivia most people may not notice: 99% of the buildings in France and Italy have some sort of pitched roof.

(Passage of time, here.) Train pulled into Florence right on time. When I'd boarded in Venice, I put my jacket in the overhead rack, and reminded myself every 72 seconds: "Now don't forget your jacket when you get off." I forgot my jacket when I got off. Had to haul my 90-pound suitcase back onto the train, fight my way down the blocked aisles (people getting on), utterly convinced the train would pull out before I had a chance to get my jacket and get back out. Luckily I made it.

Caught a cab to the hotel (9 euros plus tip). Room is about on a par with the others I've stayed at. Comfortable and perfectly fine for my needs. Internet service costs 20 euros ($30 plus) for 24 hours. As I say, photos to come.

After I gather my wits together I'll go see about finding a laundromat, and then see what history and culture is available. Priorities, priorities.


Friday, April 01, 2011

A Note from the Piazza

Haven't been able to download my photos yet, but I'll post them on Facebook a.s.a.p.

It is 11:59 a.m. Friday, April 1, 2011, and I, the never-grown-up Roger Margason, am sitting in the Piazza San Marco in Venice, Italy, with my constant companion, the worldly and sophisticated (in his own mind) Dorien Grey. And now several church bells--including those in the tower--are just striking noon. I just descended from the tower (8 euros for the elevator ride up and down...well worth it) and can't imagine how deafening it must be for those standing under the bells. I'd still have been there, had my camera's batteries not, understandably, haven given up the ghost after taking so many photos on the walk to the Piazza. (I'd intended to walk to the train station and catch a vaporetto to the square but, with the luck reserved for Roger Margason, the vaporetti are on strike today, and there are no water busses running.)

So I walked. The way through the amazing warren of tiny streets and narrow passageways (some barely wide enough to allow for two people walking abreast) and over numerous bridges are all clearly marked with signs pointing to the Piazza, so it was easy (I did get waylaid once, but all I had to do was ask "San Marco" and be pointed in the right direction. The walk took less than 30 minutes.)

A four-piece orchestra, on a canopied platform in front of the restaurant at which I am seated, is playing familiar Italian songs--just finished "C'est Si Bon" and have just launched into Edith Piaf's "MiLord,"dd and I am again young and thrilled to be in Venice, Italy, and, in short, incredibly happy.

A white-coated waiter has just taken a photo for the people a couple tables away. I hope to have a photo that shows the restaurant, and I'll probably be returning here tomorrow with my friends Karl and Johan, who are coming down from Switzerland for a reunion. Can't wait to recharge my camera's batteries. Mine are already full.

Later, you can be sure.

A (Too?) Detailed Day in Venice

I hope I've figured out that anything posted to my regular blog site ( shows up on Facebook, I'm experimenting to see if that's true. If not, back to the drawing boards. Anyway....

After less than 2 hours sleep in the previous 36, I slept 10 hours last night. Badly needed. Got up and showered in the unique bathroom (photo to come later) and went down for breakfast. Stopped at the front desk to ask about laundry service (gun shy after being charged $168 for one load of laundry in Cannes). They do not offer laundry service, and the nearest laundromat is several blocks away and may or may not be open. Well, I have enough clothes to last me until Florence, at least.

The Hotel Falier is quaintly small and cozy. Entering the dining room, there was only one couple there, though a mother and daughter came in shortly thereafter. Deathly, deathly quiet. More like being in a cathedral than a dining room. The couple exchanged a few words, barely audibly, as did the mother and daughter, but the primary impression was silence. (Having no motor traffic noises to distract is a key, probably).

Refrigeration seems to be an unknown quality in Europe. Everything is served room temperature. The juice (orange or, in everyplace I've stayed, a combination of grapefruit and orange and something else) is room temp. The milk is room temp. I did get a regular-sized cup of cappuccino, though. Then back here to report.

Again, why am I doing all this recording of every belch and pin-drop? Selishly, of course, for me, so that I can cling as tightly and as immediately to my adventures as possible. But equally importantly because I really would like you to have the sense of being here with me and seeing things through my eyes.

Well, now for a walk to the Favoria (train station 5 blocks away on the Grand Canal) to catch Vaporetto (water boat, Venice's equivalent of busses) #1 to St. Mark's Square. Stay tuned.