Category Archives: Holidays

Good Reason to Fear European Travel

Since the Age of Exploration gave way to colonization of the Americas, folks living in our neck of the woods here in the U.S. of A. have feared travel back to the Old Country.

They feared crossing the ocean on a sailing vessel, a steamer, an ocean liner.  It is a big ocean.  (Remember the unsinkable Titanic)

They feared flying over the Atlantic in a dirgible (Remember the Hindenburg)

They feared flying over the Atlantic in an airplane because anything can happen.

But mostly they feared trying to get by in a language they could neither speak nor understand.  That, and they use different money over there!

In recent years, though, more and more Americans are venturing abroad.  Seeing the sights, the art, the scenery, the architecture that Europe is so justly famous for.

But all that will end soon.  Because there is something new in Europe to fear.

Vaginas.  Yup.  Vaginas.  Big ones.  At least that’s what I read over at Talking Points Memo

A Giant Vagina Attempted to Swallow An American Tourist (Photo AP Photo / Feuerwehr Tübingen via TalkingPointsMemo)

A Giant Vagina Attempted to Swallow An American Tourist (Photo AP Photo / Feuerwehr Tübingen via TalkingPointsMemo)

Giant Vagina Sculpture Traps US Student in Germany

An American exchange student who got stuck in a giant vagina sculpture was freed by firefighters in southwestern Germany.

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Filed under Adult Traumas, Conspicuous consumption, Diet tips, Holidays, Huh?, Humor, Stupidity, Wild Beasts

What’ll I Do?

“I have to believe,” Dad said smiling, looking across the table at the lot of us.  By an amazing coincidence (school vacations) we had an unplanned family gathering — all seven of us, plus respective spouses and grandkids there in Florida at the same time.

It was bitter-sweet, though, we all knew would be the last with all of us together.  Mom was fading quickly.

The laughter and individual conversations and one liners quieted down as we all expected Dad to give a toast.

“When I look at all five of you,” Dad paused, smiled, put his arm around Mom, “I have to believe … that your mom and I — are at least first cousins.”

The crowd roared.

My Dad wasn’t much for sentimentality.  He was a wise-ass, and a very funny man with terrific comedic timing.  But in his heart he was a romantic.  And he loved those sappy, romantic songs from the 1930s and 1940s.  Of course he did, he fell in love with Mom when she was singing them.

Actually, Dad wouldn’t tell me how he met Mom.  Well, he told me how they met many times.  A different story every single time I asked, with the more outrageous ones coming out if Mom was in the room.  It became a wonderful game for the two of us.  How he met the girl of his dreams.

“Dad?  How’d you meet Mom?”

“One day I found myself whistling a happy tune, turned the corner and saw her and figured out why I was whistling.”

“Dad?  How’d you meet Mom?”

“Who?”

“Dad?  How’d you meet Mom?”

“I was just walking down the street one day, and she chased after me.  She never DID let me go.”

“Dad?  How’d you meet Mom?” I asked when I was hospitalized for the first time.

“She was singing in a show.  She was the prettiest thing I’d ever seen.  So I went back stage.”

I don’t really know if that was the real answer, but I suspect it is.  Because Dad always had a soft spot for those old torch songs.  And he loved to hear Mom sing them — which she did with such style, even if she was washing dishes as she sang.

So here, for Dad and his lady, is one of Dad’s favorites.  I can remember him telling me the story of Irving Berlin and Ellin Mackay.  They fell in love but her father disapproved, and sent her off to Europe.  He wrote this song and married the girl.

Happy Father’s Day to my Dad, to my Husband (a wonderful Dad) and to all of you Dads.

(And Frank?  You guessed it — John HATES this song!)

 

 

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Filed under Bloggin' Buddies, Dad, Family, Holidays, Mom, Taking Care of Each Other

It’s In His Kiss

Fess up. It’s your fantasy and mine.

You’ve not only finished your book, but it was published. It wasn’t a best seller, but literary types – like us writer/bloggers – read it. Of course you don’t make any money, but writers are supposed to struggle.

At least until they get an offer from Hollywood, that is. And a flight to Palm Springs to discuss the film option with the head of a major studio and a cast of characters straight out of, well, Hollywood.

Vickie Lester (of Beguiling Hollywood) has a new book! It’s In His Kiss reads like a vintage photograph. Light and dark, blended into a page turner. Palm Springs in full bloom, Hollywood, stars and wanna-bes. Oh, and did I mention murder?

 

Available at Amazon.com

Available at Amazon.com

 

It’s out and available at Amazon.com .  A perfect book to take out to the cee-ment pond with you this summer.

Yup it’s your fantasy and mine. Except maybe the murder part.

 

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Filed under Bloggin' Buddies, Books, Holidays, Writing

Our Own Waterloo

Writing about Venice the other day sent memories of other trips we took while we lived in Geneva flooding into my head.  And of course, travel was one of the reasons we took our adventure in Europe.

Sometimes when I write these pieces, folks tell me that they want to go there, too.  And frankly, that makes me nervous.  Because sometimes when I’ve made travel plans based on what someone else thinks would be great, I’ve been disappointed.  Sorely disappointed.  Especially when someone is sure I’ll love it.

A little bit of background is needed here.

Just a few months before John was offered the job in Geneva, my Mom died, leaving my father devastated.  My parents had a wonderful marriage, and they were devoted to each other for the 51 years they were married.  I wrote a little bit about them here.  Dad was, as he said, “a lonely polecat” from the moment she passed.

In spite of the fact that I hardly ever write about him, Dad and I were close.  Very close.  He was nearly 80 years old when John got the job offer.  I wanted to go, but I worried about not being “close” to Dad geographically – we lived in Northern Virginia and he lived in Florida.  So close was relative.

“Are you nuts?” Dad said when I expressed my concern about being so far away from him.  “GO!  It’s the opportunity of a lifetime.  Think of what you’ll see.  Think of the places you’ll go.  Me?  I’ll be fine.  I know you’ll make me feel like I’m with you every place you go.”  And I promised to live up to that promise – I would send him all the details our our life in Switzerland and all the places we would see.

And of course, he came to see us, and traveled with us, too.  But that is another story for another day.

So whenever we traveled, it was like Dad was there too.  In churches across the continent I lit candles for Mom on Dad’s behalf.  I bought picture books, postcards and gifts and remembrances of each and every place we visited, and sent them to Dad along with detailed descriptions of everything we did.  I tried to look at the scenery and the architecture and look for details that Dad would find interesting or amusing.  It was a labor of love.

When I mentioned to Dad that we were planning to spend Easter break, 1999, in Belgium and Holland, Dad said “Oh, you have to go to Waterloo!  I’ve always wanted to go there.”  We discussed the fact that just like the 20th Century began with the end of WWI, the 19th Century began with Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo.  A turning point in the direction of the Western world.  We talked of history and how the world might be different had that battle ended differently.

Waterloo sounded good to me.  I’m interested in history, and I do find battlefields fascinating.  Touring battlefields was a concession I’d made early on to my history major husband.  By that time I’d gone with John to a zillion Civil War battlefields and to the WWII battlefields of Normandy twice.  I like learning what happened to whom, what quirks changed history, and I love to imagine what it must have been like.   I love to follow the displays that are all around preserved battlefields.  In fact, I depend on those signs because I can never, ever, remember the details, no matter how much I read before going.

I find it fascinating to stand where history was made – to look at a landscape and imagine dodging bullets, mud, looking for cover.  I spent my childhood playing soldier, I can’t help myself.

Convincing my boys to go to another battlefield was a snap, even though Waterloo was several hours away from where we were staying in Bruges (a favorite city).  We got up early one morning, and headed off.

In spite of its large place in history, the town of Waterloo is fairly small.  There were few indications that anything much had happened there, or that much had changed over the centuries.   It was farmland when the battle took place, and it was farmland when we visited.  I’m betting that it is still farmland now, 15 years later.

The main tourist destination starts here, in a building that did not witness the battle.  That should have been a clue.

Waterloo Visitors Center and Theater. (Google Image)

Waterloo Visitors Center and Theater.
(Google Image)

In we went.  We quickly realized that despite what we knew from history, and from what we’d recently read in preparation for the trip, Napoleon actually won at Waterloo.  Because everybody inside was speaking French.  Not English (la langue de la victors).  Not Flemmish, the language of the actual place where we were standing.  French, the language of the guy who lost.  Shit.

Important footnote here:  By the time we arrived at Waterloo, we’d been living in a French immersion program for nearly two years.   Still, our French sucked.  As usual I was our designated French speaker – not because I was any better at it than John or Jacob, but because I have no reservations about looking like a dope.  In fact, I’m a natural.

Bonjour, madam,” I said to the woman selling tickets, “je voudrais trois billets.”

“Zree ticket,” she said as she gave me the tickets.  “You must zee zee film.  Zee next showing of zee film begins in 10 minute.”

“Oh, there’s a film?  Ummm, what language is it in?  Do we need headphones or are there subtitles?” I peppered her with nervous questions.  The tickets were expensive and it would be a waste of money for us to watch it in French.  We might just as well get no direction at all!  And just in case she hadn’t realized it, I added:  “Our French isn’t very good.”

“Yes I see.  But you vill be fine,” she responded after a pause where she valiantly managed to not laugh.  “You vill understand zis film as well as anybod-ee else.”

John and I looked at each other.   Understand it as well as anybod-ee else?  Clearly the clerk was overestimating our linguistic skills.

“I guess everybody leaves this movie clueless!” joked John.

Some things are best left unsaid.

So into the theater we went.  In spite of the clerk’s introduction, we still expected to learn all about the Battle of Waterloo, The French, The Prussians, the English, and whoever the hell else participated in the Battle.   To get an impression to go with what we would later see outside.

We were mistaken.  Because the film was not what we expected.  It wasn’t in French, it was French.  Very French.  And by that I mean that it was lovely, had great music.  And it was incomprehensible.  Obscure.  It made no sense at all.

It said “You Americanz, you should have learnt your histoire better before you came to zee zis battlefield where we French were beaten glorious.” 

Because that film sure as hell didn’t tell us a thing about The Battle of Waterloo.  It didn’t mention Napoleon.  Or Wellington.  Or tell us the name of that Prussian general.  It didn’t help me put into context what I had read about the battle.  It didn’t match landmarks with armies, for example.  It didn’t tell us who, what, where, how or why.

Nope.  Because, apparently, that battle that’s in all the history books?  It all happened, um, in a dream.

At least, that’s the impression we got.  The film started out with three children in modern dress.  Two boys and a girl played in the yard of a centuries-old farmhouse.  They approached the house, and noted bullet holes in the walls.  Just as they touched one of them, the yard filled with smoke.  Gunfire was heard – and not far away.  It was coming from near the film’s children!

I started worrying about those kids in the film almost immediately.  I mean, didn’t they know they were playing on a battlefield?  Run, kids, Run!

Suddenly, there were soldiers surrounding the kids, wearing old-time uniforms and pointing old time guns.  Some even sported bayonets.  The soldiers pushed through the yard of the farmhouse, marching, stepping on everything in their way.  Shooting those guns at the unseen enemy.  Some soldiers wore blue; others wore red.  Everything was oh, so confusing!

Gasp!  The kids were caught in a battle!  Maybe even the Battle of Waterloo!

Jacob leaned over to John:

“Dad,” he said, “This is weird.  Why aren’t they telling us what happened?”

Based on what we learned from the film, the Battle of Waterloo occurred in a time warp – and it included soldiers in multicolored uniforms and kids in modern dress.  And smoke and noise.  With an occasional scream from the little girl, the wuss.

No Smoking!  (Google Image)

No Smoking!
And DON’T SHOOT THOSE STUPID FUTURE KIDS! (Google Image)

John, Jacob and I giggled throughout the movie.  In fact, we left pretty sure that the movie was a joke, played only for American visitors, because you see, we were the only people there that day — it was early in the season.  Yup, that film certainly didn’t tell us anything about what happened on June 18, 1815, in one of the most celebrated military encounters in world history.

Luckily, though, Jacob and I regularly traveled with our own military historian.  So without really any more understanding than any of us had gone in with, we headed out the door to the actual battlefield.

Sort of.

Because the landscape doesn’t look like it did when the battle we were not learning about allegedly took place.

Nope.  If Napoleon Bonaparte himself got caught in that very same time warp, he would take off his bicorne hat and scratched his head as well as his tummy.  His horse would be pretty confused, too.  As would Wellington and that Prussian guy, whatever his name was.

Napoleon and His Horse, who is clearly rearing as a result of the time warp. Painting by Jacques-Louis David

Which way to Wellington? Zat way? or Zis way?
Painting by Jacques-Louis David

Because where there was perfectly flat farmland in Napoleon’s recollection, there was now a mound.  A man-made hill.  An enormous pile of dirt covered by grass with a sculpture of a lion atop of a very long, steep staircase.

Google Image

Google Image

I thought of Dad as we climbed the 226 steps to the top of the 141 foot Butte du Lion (allegedly it’s the Lion’s Mound, but you do get the best view of the Lion’s butt) to view the battlefield.  The Lion’s Mound was not there when Napoleon and Wellington were; it was built as a memorial to the soldiers who died there.

And it was just as well that Dad wasn’t with us on this trip; the climb would have finished him off, for sure.  Plus he wouldn’t have learned any more for his climb.  I certainly didn’t.

You see, the view from the top was, ummm, boring.

In addition to the lion, a pretty cool sculpture, there was only a very narrow pedestrian area from which you can see the battlefield/newly plowed farm fields that surround the mound.  You get a panorama of farm fields, from where you see a few farmhouses (including the one in the film!) and the Visitor’s Centre.

And that is all.

There was no information up there about the battle.  Nothing.  Nada.  Not a map, not a pointer, not a clue.

Nothing up there told us what happened below to change the course of history. Nothing explained how what happened there stopped the French conquests under Napoleon which resulted, albeit indirectly, in my poor French.  There was no map, no arrow, no indicator pointing to where the troops had come from or where they went.  Where were the French?  Did the Prussians come from East or West?  And the Brits?  Where did they start?  Where did they finish.  What the hell happened here?

And why were those damn kids in the middle of all of it?

Fortunately for Jacob and I, John, who knows everything, pointed out to Jacob and I what had happened and where.  How the Brits and the Prussians joined forces, how Napoleon was defeated and fled on foot for a while before being captured.  And so we learned a lot, Jacob and I, in spite of the absence of information at the information center and on top of the mound.

And I knew that I would thoroughly enjoy explaining the Battle of Waterloo to Dad with my rendition of the Tourist Board’s film.

*     *     *

I wanted to go to Waterloo because my Dad wanted to go.  And since he couldn’t, well, I did.  We did.  And it was a riot – we had a blast.

That is the thing about travel – it’s important to temper what someone else enthusiastically loves or wants to see with what you want to see.  But no matter what you encounter, if you find the fun even in disappointment, well, you won’t be disappointed.

Unless you get your travel tips from my Dad, that is.*

*You didn’t click on the link like I told you to, did you?

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Filed under Adult Traumas, Dad, Family, Holidays, Huh?, Humor

Losing Hearts in Venice

Eight-year old Jacob looked at me as if I’d gone crazy.  He stopped in his tracks, put his hands on his hips, tilted his head and spoke to me in a tone that was a prelude of the teen years to come.  Looking back, he had some justification.

You see, I was talking to him about Florence, Italy.  I was telling him some of the things I’d learned about the city and its history in preparation for a visit we’d be taking there in about two weeks.  I finished up my quick summary of the history, the art, the architecture, the famous people who’d lived there.  I then offered an enticement.

“You know what, Jacob,” I said.  “I read that most Italians find Florence to be their most beautiful city.”

“Mom,” my son said with his hands on his hips and his lips pursed, “how can any city be more beautiful than Venice?”

Because like me, Jacob had fallen in love with Venice when we visited that city a year earlier.

We actually went to Venice twice.

In August 1998, John, Jacob and I had gone to visit American friends who  were staying in Trieste, which is on the other side of the Aegean Sea.  Venice could be easily reached via a short train ride.

Truthfully, I wasn’t all that excited.  Venice wasn’t really high on my list of places I had to see while we were in Europe.  But we were so close, so of course going seemed like a great idea.  We’d spend a day there, and then on other trips I could see Rome and Florence — the Italian cities I really wanted to visit.

Our train was delayed by a couple of hours, and the evening train cancelled.  So we had four hours to see the city.  It would be plenty, I was sure.

Until, that is, I stepped off the train and found that I really had been transported — we’d landed in a place that was nothing like I’d imagined.  A truly magical place.

I’d read that it feels like you’re back in time because there are no cars in Venice.

I’d heard about the light in Venice, that there is nothing quite like it.  The buildings, mostly built of marble of different hues, reflect the water and the water reflects the buildings.  They both seem to dance at the slightest breeze.

I’d learned about the architecture in Venice, a mixture of European, North African, Middle-Eastern with hints of Asian, styles and materials brought back from the known world by the traders and explorers that built the city and made it fabulously wealthy.

But nothing, nothing, had prepared me for the impact that the beautiful city had on my heart — from the moment we stepped off the train.

Our afternoon gave me a much too quick taste of the magic.

With two young boys and a baby in tow, our first stop was for a late lunch — pizza on the Grand Canal.

Marco just couldn't believe that he'd missed the ice cream boat!

Jacob and Marco, who just couldn’t believe that he’d missed the ice cream boat!

We crammed as much as we could into an afternoon.  August 31st, when everything was mobbed.  We spent time in St. Marco’s Square, visited the Basilica and the Doge’s Palace, crossed the Bridge of Sighs into the Doge’s prison.

When we got back to the train station, I made John promise me that Venice would be our next destination.  An afternoon was not nearly enough time, and my heart was breaking at leaving the magical city.

We started planning to go back to Venice the instant we arrived back home to Switzerland.  Jacob had a 5-day weekend in early October.  So we booked train tickets, a hotel, and got ready to go back.  We arrived at dawn, which is when all the guidebooks tell you to arrive in Venice.  Because the colors from the sunrise reflecting on the water and on the buildings that line the canals.  It is a sight that I will not even try to describe.  Indeed, I’ve never seen a photograph or read a description that did it justice.

Our visit was filled with beauty, from start to finish.  But it is the last night I want to tell you about.

We had done as much touring as you can do with a 7-year old.  A few museums, a lot of churches.  We climbed the campaniles (bell towers) of many churches to get the perfect view of the city that all three of us had fallen for.  We saw masterpieces by Titian, Tintoretto and others, still hanging where they were meant to hang — in the churches of Venice, and in the unique light of Venice.

We went on a gondola ride, of course.  It was wonderful AND schlocky.  We saw Marco Polo’s house.

PIC00022 (2)

But on the last night, Venice captured my heart, and Jacob’s.

We’d finished dinner, and wandered back into St. Mark’s Square.  Jacob wanted to climb the Campanile, the bell tower.

PIC00010

Jacob with the St Marco’s Square behind him. The Campanile standing tall behind him.

We’d climbed the Campanile once already, but Jacob wanted to see the city from that prospect one more time on our last night, hoping to view the city as the lights came up on the buildings.

We loved the view, but were surprised to find that the buildings weren’t illuminated.  We climbed back down into the square, which was completely empty except for the three of us.  Two rival orchestras that were setting up outside of two restaurants on opposite sides of the Square.

The three of us wandered into the center of the piazza when it happened.

Behind us, one of the orchestras began playing a Viennese waltz.  The sound transformed the square into our own personal ballroom.  The light was fading, but soft lights around the square glowed on the Basilica, the clock tower.  Jacob took my hand, bowed, and walked me into the middle of the square.  John, the non-dancer, gave Jacob and I our moment.

My son and I — we danced.  Just the two of us, all over the cobbled square.

The instant the first orchestra had played its last notes, the orchestra on the other side began.

I could have danced all night, from My Fair Lady.  It was true — I could have.

As people began to fill the Square, we thanked both orchestras and headed back down to the Grand Canal, for a last stroll past the Doge’s palace, Vivaldi’s church and the other buildings that had seen millions of people like us come and go.

We crossed a small bridge and stopped to look across the canal at the Church of Santa Maria della Salute, and the golden ball atop the customs house.  We gazed back at the gondolas covered and berthed for the night.  We turned towards the Bridge of Sighs, where prisoners crossed from the Doge’s palace into the Doge’s prison and sighed at their last breath of freedom.

Jacob stood on that bridge with tears running down his cheeks as he looked at the beauty that surrounded us.

“I can’t believe we have to leave Venice,” he said, his heart breaking along with mine and John’s.

Photo credit:  Photozonly.com

Photo credit: Photozonly.com

della Salute by Claude Monet.  He apparently liked Venice, too.

della Salute by Claude Monet. He apparently liked Venice, too.

Was Florence more beautiful than Venice?  I don’t honestly know.  We spent nearly a week in Florence, but it rained so hard that we literally never could see the views and the vistas of that city.  But if you’re going to have a vacation where it pours, I highly recommend Florence.  There are one or two things to look at.

But Venice.  Ah, Venice.  I have never been anywhere like Venice, a place I really wasn’t that anxious to visit.  It captured my heart, and John’s and especially Jacob’s.  It is a magical place.  Words and pictures, even by Monet, cannot capture its beauty or how it made me feel.

***

I was inspired to finally write this story by DJ Matticus of The Matticus Kingdom who wrote this lovely post.  In the last year or two, John of Johnbalaya sent me back to Venice not too long ago, as did Renee of Renee Johnson Writes.

Somehow, I’m always happy to go back.  Magic and Venice.  Yup.  I’m willing to do either any time!

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Filed under Family, Holidays, Humor, Travel Stories