Friday, August 31, 2012

Arrivederci, Roma

Even under regular circumstances, I talk to myself far more than is normal (assuming that there is a "normal" amount of talking to oneself), but traveling alone for days on end maybe amped it up a bit?

On my way out of Rome, I had to first make my way through Trastevere, which is comprised almost entirely of cobbled streets. Clumpety-clumpety-clumpety, I wheeled my suitcase joltingly behind me and had this little conversation. Aloud.
I'm so sorry, suitcase. No American is ever really prepared for cobbled streets. [pause] Of course, you're from China, so it's possible that you don't understand a word I'm saying.

Ah, yes.

And then I went to Florence for another whole seven days, but I tried to keep the suitcase chatting to a minimum.

Arrivederci, Roma. Piacere.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Yes, but what if I too have thoughts?

First off, I know there should be commas around that "too" up there, but I feel it will just be too comma-y. Sorry, punctuation. I'll check in with you later.

I choose not to enable comments on this blog. As I have a very small (but charming and distinguished, obviously) readership, I don't think this is likely to bring the blogosphere (I continue to loathe the word "blogosphere" in case you wondered) to its virtual knees. However, very occasionally, people mention the fact, either with curiosity or displeasure. A student once inquired as part of a class project she was doing about my blog. Let's just think about that for a minute, shall we? A student once did a class project about my blog. This remains one of the most astonishing and flattering things that has ever happened to me. If you're still out there, Sarah, hi. I addressed the issue in an email to her, but today Lisa Congdon has addressed the same issue right out in public. My reasons vary a bit from hers, but, in general, it's nice to know I'm not alone.

If you ever find yourself brimming with unexpressed thoughts about something I write, you can always email me. I know it's old fashioned, but then, so am I.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Lifesaving kindness

I just came across this on Mighty Girl and wanted to share it with you.

You know I have mixed feelings about the ubiquity of "comments" on the internet, but in this case, well. It's another opportunity to do something great with almost no effort. When you comment on her post, it will equal $20 to vaccinate a child in a developing country against measles, pneumonia, diarrhea, and polio. I'm all for that.

The comment prompt is: what is the nicest thing anyone has ever done for you? I hope that you have as much trouble narrowing this down as I did.

Here'e what I settled on:
People who love me have collectively done an incalculable number of nice things for me, but when I think of the nicest, I find I think of things done by people who didn’t know me at all.

Once, many years ago, during the morning rush hour, I fell in the Powell Street subway station–a bad fall; I thought I may have actually broken my back. A young man whose face I never saw (I was facing the wall and afraid to move) knelt down next to me and held my hand until the paramedics came. He didn’t abandon me to the ineffectual MUNI personnel who were first on the scene. I know staying with me made him very late to work. He is my hero.

Hasten over there; reflect on kindness; protect a child. Not bad for a Tuesday.


If my perfect Roman apartment had a favorite restaurant, this would be it.
Caffè Propaganda, I am in love with you. Say you miss me.

Foolishly, I neglected to take a picture of the restaurant (though I did take a picture of my dinner), but other people were not so remiss.

You should click on this one to see all of it. In fact, I insist.
It's is from here.

See that high table by the door? I sat right there. Quite near the charming hostess and within easy ogling distance of the gorgeous bar.
This one is from here, which is a very useful website, indeed.

After a tiresome/worrying delay waiting for the #87 bus, I only just made it before they stopped serving dinner, but the hostess, who was extremely charming (and beautiful and wearing very tall shoes that seemed not to give her the slightest trouble), took pity on me. I had Prosecco, green salad, and pasta della Nona, followed by Marco Polo tea from Mariage Frères, which is my very favorite tea. They were puzzled why I would be ordering tea at 11pm, but they still served it with fetchingly mismatched china, including a tall, long-spouted pot painted with flowers and lovers of yesteryear.
On the whole, I was dizzy with happiness. Upon my departure, I thanked the hostess very effusively for being so kind and we clutched each other's hands and beamed at each other dazzlingly as though we had shared some experience rather more bonding than a dinner which only one of us ate.

I could look at pictures of Caffè Propaganda all day long. In fact, I sometimes do. If you think we may have this in common, prego; here are lots.

Monday, August 27, 2012

School days

The students are back.

I am happy to report that, after the long, arid days of summer, eavesdropping is once more a fruitful activity. Welcome back, you crazy kids. You amuse me.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Friday confessional

I expect that you got excited there for a minute, didn't you? Thinking that "Friday Confessional" was going to be some new feature. Well, first of all, it should be pretty clear by now that this is a platform devoid of "features." Unless "I actually wrote something!" counts as a feature, which, for me, it does. Besides, there's a whole bunch of stuff that I'll never admit to you, so no. No regular confessions, but I have to get this off my chest. If you are in San Francisco, you might want to take a deep breath; this is probably going to upset you.

I like "Call Me, Maybe". Yes. I said it. Would I want it to be the only song I was able to hear for the rest of my life? No. But, if it comes on, I will turn up the radio in the car and I will sing along in a spirited fashion, especially relishing the part about "all the other boys try to chase me" a phenomenon of which I have no personal experience whatsoever. Partially, those Olympic swimmers really sealed it for me. Is there a more adorable girl in all the land than Missy Franklin? I think not. But even without Missy lip syncing in my mind, it's awfully catchy. If it comes on when I'm on my way to work, I arrive more cheerful than if it does not. So there.

Furthermore, I like "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together." That's right. I am a grown woman and I like "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together." Indeed, I have more than one past relationship where I wish I would have arrived at that very conclusion much sooner. Was I in high school at the time?

You know what else? I have never heard of a great many of the bands who played Outside Lands this year. And, finally, I recently discovered that I don't like Yeasayer. I tried. I failed.

There. I feel better. Have a good weekend. I invite you to dance in your living room or sing along soulfully into your hairbrush to whatever secretly makes you smiley.

Thursday, August 23, 2012


I'm going to tell you a dark secret. Please keep it to yourself. I wish I had not even gone to the Vatican Museum. I know. Shhhh. Believe me, I feel quite guilty about this, but it was just way, way too crowded for me. And hot, of course. I think it is what Coachella must be like, only with sculpture instead of music and no freedom to just sort of give up on the whole thing. Why? Because you are penned in on all sides by tour groups from 18 countries. Seriously, no matter how magnificent the spectacle, at no point do I want to be so close to hundreds of strangers that the overriding odor is not sweat, which, of course, was in abundant supply, but halitosis.

I felt horrible that I wasn't filled with awe. I tried very hard to be filled with awe, but by the time I got to the Sistine Chapel I was almost desperate to get out. I find this in my journal, "Catholic treasures, I'm sorry I couldn't better admire you. The Lord made too many people."

Still, it is quite amazing to be at the site of so much history, even if your overriding emotion is not one that Jesus advocated.

Here are some things I had room to enjoy:
If I happen to be in Rome some February, I'll go back and try again.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Well, that was easy

Just this very minute, I took something that was half-done on my Life List and completed it. That feels good.

Number 95. Contribute annually to NPR and Planned Parenthood. These are both organizations that matter to me. They are not the only organizations that I contribute to, but they are two that I found I was giving to some years and not others. I wanted to commit to send something, no matter how small the amount, every year, to each of them. In the last year or so, KQED introduced a monthly contribution plan among their membership options and I was quick to jump on board. I don't even feel the impact of the monthly $5, but I do feel proud about honoring a commitment I made to myself.

Still, I hadn't gotten it together on the Planned Parenthood front. Willy-nilly is not a great philanthropic strategy, but it seemed to be the one I was sticking to. Just now, it occurred to me to check if they had a similar monthly option. Of course, they do. Well, sheesh. Why didn't you just say so instead of sending me so many darn solicitation letters? Done.

Is it a great deal of money? No. But I don't have a great deal of money, so that's fair enough. Besides, this works out to slightly more than I would be giving if I wrote a check once a year and it's painless to spread it over twelve months. Besides, I know from my long experience in nonprofits, when they say any amount makes a difference, they mean it. If you're faltering, know that giving something truly is better than giving nothing--assuming, of course, you have anything available to give.

I really recommend the automatic monthly contribution; if only doing the right thing were always so easy. If you have greater financial capacity, by all means, dole out larger monthly allotments, but let's all stand up for things we care about, shall we? Maybe we could save the world, five bucks at a time. It's worth a shot, right?


From my journal July 17, 2012

4pm. Galleria Borghese.
I am nearly dead. I feel that Rick Steves must be some kind of superhero that he thinks it is sensible to walk here from anywhere, really. It's just too hot. And too far. I intended to take a bus from Largo Argentia, but weirdly both sides of the street seemed to feature buses going the wrong way. I asked a guy where to get the bus to Tritone and he told me I should just walk.

So I did, mais ce n'est pas evident du tout since everything involves piazzas and it's very hard to figure out where streets actually go. Plus, I have one of those hotel-style maps which involve the bare minimum of streets. And then there's the sign thing they do here--for these major tourist sites, they will have a small sign with an arrow on a major street, after which I guess they figure you'll just intuit your way through the twisting cobbled streets to find it. Perhaps several signs? Just an idea. In any case, I did finally happen upon the Pantheon, which has an opening at the top through which sun streams in. It's quite impressive. Then, by some miracle, I found the Trevi Fountain. And there it was being famous. And there I was seeing it. I made a wish.

From there, it is a significant walk to get here. It's strange to walk up what is basically the Champs Elysees of Rome (complete with Harry's Bar) while sweating profusely and feeling like an almost-bursting tomato. I'm not quite as bella as I imagined I'd be. Meanwhile, actual Romans look sexy all the time. They appear not to sweat.


The Galleria Borghese proved to be filled with breathtaking pieces. That Bernini knew a thing or two about sculpture, as it turns out. Also, I'd say, a thing or two about human emotion. You know who else was no slouch? Caravaggio. Si. È vero.

God bless whoever came up with the reservation system so that only 350 people are allowed in for a two-hour period. This allows you the physical space to actually see things and (dare I be terribly Californian about the whole thing?) the psychic space to actually feel something about what you're seeing. Ahem. I'm looking at you, Vatican Museum.

Also, as a bonus for small-breasted, very white, round-stomached women such as myself, a trip to the Borghese leaves you feeling that it's not so much that you're out of shape, it's more that you're out of step with the current ideals of, say, fitness-obsessed San Francisco. You are classical in form. Indeed, you would have probably been quite the dream girl of the 1600's.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Telling it on Tuesday

Are you my secret admirer? Do you live in the Bay Area? Are you not planning to kill me or do anything at all creepy? Great!

In that case, I feel able to tell you that I'm doing this show next Tuesday, August 28. Come on out.


During the first two days of my stay in the magical apartment, the building's front door was being reinstalled, which is to say, there was no front door. In the evenings, the workmen would stretch a kind of plasticy mesh thing over the doorway, mostly nailed in place. This meant that there was not a very large opening through which to come and go. Going out, I was obliged to sort of crouch down and burst forth into the busy pedestrian street: ta da! It was dramatic. I'll give it that. Coming home at night, it was a stealthier maneuver. Walking down the street, walking down the street, lift corner of netting, and pow! disappear. It was like being on the lam. On the whole, I enjoyed it.

I mention this mostly to prove that I did actually go out from time to time. I went to the Colisseum, which was quite awe-inspiring and I had a very lovely guide and learned interesting ancient facts. Guess what? I'm not going to tell you anything about it. You can go there; it will be better that way. You're welcome. Several times during the tour, I was pretty sure I was going to faint, though, happily, I never did. Eat before you go. Take water. Wear a hat. (I did wear a hat, though I failed on the other two fronts. However, had I not been wearing the hat, I might currently be dead.)

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The shoes of my dreams

Do you have dreams in which you own or somehow have access to clothes that delight you and then you wake, only to discover that that dress/blouse/suit was woven of nothing but imagination? It's a little bit heartbreaking, so if you've not experienced it, don't be sorry. I have these dreams periodically and the disappointment upon waking does not lessen over the years.

Last night I dreamed that I was in New York and passed a large shoe store with a rack of shoes out on the sidewalk. I picked one up and tried it on and it it me perfectly. Perfectly. I think this may be a fairly routine experience for many people, but shoes do not ever fit me perfectly; it's a cause of considerable angst in my life, in fact.

I went into the store to ask for the mate of the miracle shoe--a modified brogue with laces and a smart little heel. A trim, elegant shoe. And that is when the lady revealed that the shoe was so comfortable and cushiony because she had put several individually-wrapped cookies inside the display model. I was sorry that had accidentally crushed the cookies, but also wondered where I could get more because they made shoes so much like slippers. She told me that they were imported from Italy and showed me a large box of them. She was having trouble finding the mate to the perfect shoe and held up numerous other, ugly options. "Questo?" she asked, "Questo?" because suddenly she was Italian American. "No. Dispiace." I said sheepishly. "Ci sono molte scarpe qui non mi piace." [No. Sorry. There are many shoes I don't like.]

Do you understand the significance of this, gentle reader? I now speak Italian in my dreams! This is terribly exciting. Sure, it should have been "piacciono" not "piace" but even in the dream I was proud of myself for remembering the word for "shoes," rendering it plural and creating proper adjective agreement. Last year at this time I could not have formed that Italian sentence waking or sleeping. My life officially shows signs of progress. This is very heartening.

On the other hand, flawless footwear and almost correct foreign sentences. Why wake up? Maybe the key to success is to stay asleep.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


The vacanza is slipping further and further into the distance and the coverage is getting ever spottier. Mi dispiace.

For me, Rome was really the apartment. I tried to be equally enthusiastic about the cobbled streets over which Caesar himself may have traveled, but the apartment won. If I ever go missing, you might look for me there.

I did occasionally go out and look at famous things, but we don't have to talk about that right now. C'è sempre domani. For now, let's just enjoy the bathtub.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


We keep hearing about how cars are a significant contributor to climate change and to simply generating heat on already too-hot streets. What if we completely eradicate all consumer options except one. This one.

I borrowed this from here.
And this one from here.
Having been caught behind such a vehicle in traffic today, I have had time to develop my hypothesis. Namely, that if this hideous creation were the only option, many fewer people would drive.

The Blog Bully takes issue.
Quoth he: I know you don't claim to be writing a scientific journal, but can I proffer a petty correction on a pet interest of the blog bully. Cars are a contributor but not a "significant" contributor to climate change. Cars are responsible for about 35% of the transportation sources of US greenhouse gas emissions. Transportation accounts for about 28 percent of total US GGE making cars responsible for a little less than 10% of US GGE or climate change as we say. Applied worldwide, the number decreases.

I kind of like that car.

Voila. The most actual useful knowledge you will ever get here. Can you imagine if I did claim to be writing a scientific journal? What a disaster that would be. In any case, the Blog Bully knows this kind of thing backwards and forwards (he reads a lot, whereas I watch Breaking Bad) and I totally trust him. Except, sadly, we've all just learned that he has appalling taste in cars. I can only assume he also looks favorably upon the monstrosity that is the PT Cruiser. How are the mighty fallen.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Thought at 3AM

You know..."sweater" is a pretty disgusting word, actually.

Friday, August 10, 2012


David Rakoff, I will miss you, a fact that would no doubt surprise you, in that we never met. When I sat in the audience at the Herbst Theatre when you came for City Arts & Lectures, I was pretty sure that we could have been friends, had anyone ever thought to introduce us. I can imagine you having a few sardonic things to say about that particular fantasy, and I like you all the more for them.

Wherever you are now, I hope the music is fantastic, the men beautiful, and the cocktails exactly how you like them. If you happen to see Spalding Gray, say hello for me.

Buongiorno Roma

Easy Jet is a cheap airline for inter-European travel and it is sort of like a flying Greyhound bus. Still, it is a great deal quicker (and actually cheaper) than the train, so I found myself leaving a rainy Geneva and arriving quite soon thereafter in a blistering hot Rome. Was it after sunset? Why, yes. Yes, it was. Did sweat nevertheless pour off me in rivulets as soon as I left the air conditioned airport and made my way to the train? Funny you should ask.

However, that would be getting ahead of ourselves. It took a long, long time for me to get to that train platform. First, I got off the plane and, as you do, followed the signs to baggage claim. When I got there, I went to one of the electronic signs that indicates which carousel your flight's baggage will appear on. Except that my flight did not appear anywhere on the sign. At first, I assumed I had just gotten there a bit ahead of the notification, but as time went on, it started to feel suspicious. I wandered around aimlessly, checked some other flight from Geneva in the unlikely event someone had put my suitcase on it just for fun, and finally recognized a couple of guys from my flight. I have no idea where these guys were from, but we didn't seem to have a language in common. Still, we had each other. And three people without luggage in a city you've never been to is less lonely and sad than--um--fewer than three people without luggage, etc.

I asked an airport employee and he told us that Easy Jet bags did not come there and that we needed to exit and go to Terminal 3. While I did understand everything he said, it just seemed so completely implausible that we still wandered around a bit more, afraid to exit for fear of never being allowed back in. I approached an Alitalia agent who repeated in perfectly clear English that we must exit and go to Terminal 3. She then said something about a green door and the staff entrance, which I mostly ignored. I gathered up my silent friends and we walked out.

It is a considerable distance to Terminal 3 and my confidence did falter a few times. When we got there, of course, we found ourselves on the "let's wait here for our friends to arrive from a foreign country" side of the door, rather than the "let's get our bags from our foreign flight and then walk out into Rome" side of the door. We just sort of stood there staring at it. There was an information booth right in front of us, but the lady staffing it looked so blatantly exasperated and hostile that I was afraid to even begin to explain our situation. Still, I got in line in a noncommittal sort of way, so that, if necessary, I might be able to say "What? Oh is this a line? I had no idea. I was just idly passing the time in this general area." When I glanced around, I saw a family from our flight standing right next to us. They spoke French, so we were able to share our complete frustration/confusion, which made me feel better. Better still, I was able to assign the dad the task of talking to the scary lady. Which he did. Merci. Sure enough, just as the Alitalia lady had said, we had to go to the staff entrance and rescan our carry-on bags to be let into the Terminal 3 baggage claim. Huh. Nothing like this has ever happened to me. How is it even possible to end up in a different terminal than your suitcase? And what's did only seven people from a full flight have this experience? We found our bags by seeing our fellow passengers (all of whom may have been psychic?) gathered round the carousel. Really? Easy Jet, I have a few things to discuss with you.

Reunited with my stalwart suitcase, I made my way toward the station. There were additional delays in finding an ATM that wanted to deal with my card and then in finding a ticket machine that actually felt ready and able to dispense tickets, but eventually, I made it into town to the Termini Station. From there, it was only two metro stops to my hotel, which I assumed would take about 15 minutes. This is before I discovered that you have to walk about three miles underground before you even get to the right train (of which, incidentally, there are only two options). Truly, I walked such a distance that it began to be almost comical, and no doubt would have been, had I been sweating slightly less.

I wouldn't want this ramble to be devoid of public service, so let me give you this hot tip. When you are buying a metro ticket, you need to rest your coin in the slightly indented round spot on the ticket machine. You'll be pretty sure that it will fall on the floor, but it won't. And then, you put your thumb under the little lever and push it up, dumping your coin head over heels into the machine. If this seems too efficient for you, you can spend several minutes pushing things (your coin, the lever, the general area around your coin and the lever), or you can try pulling the lever down for quite a while. I mean, that's what I did, until the guy behind me intervened, but you might be in a hurry or something and want to skip all that. You're welcome.

I finally boarded the appropriate train and arrived at my station, at which point I wandered up and down the street trying to make sense of the English directions I had printed from their website. "Walk and follow, about 100 m, long Via Emanuele Filiberto up to No. 130 (in front of the No. 259)." Hmmm. What does it mean if 130 is in front of 259? Some kind of courtyard, perhaps? I got to 259, but the only thing in front of it was me, so I wandered back down the road feeling rather helpless. Some kind people at a little hotel next to the metro stop looked it up online for me and sent me back on my way. It turns out I had been looking on the wrong side of the street. Later I looked at the Italian version of the directions which state that you should "fino al n°130 (di fronte al n° 259)." I'm sorry to be the one to tell them this, but guess what "di fronte" translates to? "Across from." Ah. That would have been helpful.

I did at last find 130, which turns out to be a huge building which houses all manner of things. I was standing there [sweating] trying to make sense of the many signs outside the door, when a young man approached from further up the street and said pretty much the last thing I expected to hear: "Kari?"

It seemed like something out of a fairy tale. "Yes, magical creature? I am Kari. Have you come to rescue me?" But it was not so very odd, after all. The young man was Gianluca, the proprietor of Coliseum Rooms, and, as far as I could tell, the nicest person in Italy. Poor Gianluca had been waiting for me to arrive all that time that I had been wandering around the Rome airport, the Rome train station, the Rome metro, the immediate Rome neighborhood. He must have despaired that I would ever arrive (by that point, it was around 11pm). I felt terrible that I hadn't called to explain my delay, but I had no idea that he would be there just for me. He showed me to my spotless room, provided me with a towel, gave me a great many glasses of water, and pointed out many useful things on a map. Almost everything he mentioned, he described as "beautiful"-- everything from famous sites to having a profession where one meets people from all over the world-- beautiful. He asked me if I was visiting anyone in Rome and I told him that he was at that point officially the only person I knew in Italy. He said he was honored.(He probably also said that it was beautiful, but I don't remember.) I was so grateful for his kindness and hospitality that I wanted to hug him, but that seemed a trifle inappropriate, so I just said "thank you" a lot instead. He gave me my key, and went home. He let me keep the key for several hours past check-out the next day, and let me store my luggage there until the afternoon. When I was ready to head to the apartment I'd rented, he called a taxi for me, carried my bag down to the street and waited with me until the car arrived. He also gave me his card and told me that if I needed help with anything, I should call him. Mind you, I had stayed there for a total of one night.

All this to say, if you want an inexpensive, basic, spotless place to rest your head in Rome and you would like to have access to the nicest man in town: Coliseum Rooms. It's at 130 Via Emanuele Filiberto ACROSS THE STREET FROM #259.

Thursday, August 09, 2012


Upon my return to Lausanne (and French), Jules met me at the station which, despite the rush hour crowds, seemed entirely devoid of teenagers who wished to make me their personal nemesis. It made for a pleasant change.

We made our way up in the subway (the subway in Lausanne basically goes straight uphill or, obviously, downhill depending on your direction. As my subway experiences in all other towns involves level ground, it is quite notable. Clinging to poles is required so as not to topple over backwards) to meet Jules' boyfriend, Filippo, and a friend of theirs at the roof bar in L'Hotel. If you have the opportunity, do go to the roof bar at L'Hotel and enjoy the wide view over the city. If possible, go with some delightful people who will pretend that you speak perfect French. It will make you feel like one of the cool kids. Guaranteed.

Over the weekend, we went to Filippo's house a few towns away which made me feel like Switzerland might be showing off just a little bit. See what I mean?
That's just Filippo's garden. You know. No big deal.

Lunch at Filippo's looked like it came directly from my imagination. That's a cherry tree. I didn't even know cherry trees got that big.

Luckily for Filippo, I was quite allergic to his cats, otherwise I probably would have stayed there forever. He is so hospitable, he probably would have just let me, rather than risking rudeness in asking me to please move out of his guestroom. It was a perfect Swiss ending.

The following day, Jules and I went back to Lausanne, packed our bags, and headed to the Geneva airport, where we said farewell and headed off to two different countries. But not before we got really excited about the blooming honeysuckle on the balcony.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

La Suisse--Deux

"Yes, yes." you say. "That's all very well about the expensive muffins, but didn't you promise to say more about Switzerland?" Gold star to you, faithful reader. That shows real attentiveness on your part. I did say that. Donc, voila.

My cousin and her husband (let's just call them my cousins for simplicity's sake. Rest assured they are related to each other only by marriage) have been living in Switzerland for twenty years and though I have been kind of/sort of in the neighborhood many times, I have never managed to actually see them there. And so, I put it on the famous Life List and ta da! It happened. There was no magical teleporting or anything. Life Lists are good, but not that good. In this case, it helped that I was already in Lausanne and they live in Meiringen, which, from Lausanne, is quite nearby. I bought a (rather expensive*) train ticket from a Swiss Rail agent who was regretful that I didn't qualify for any discounts, but was otherwise positively bubbling over with happiness. While I have had no unpleasant experiences with Swiss Rail employees, they are not usually quite so cheerful, so I inquired. She told me that she had just gotten her exam results for her tourism degree and she'd passed, so we had a small festival of congratulations and smiling at guichet #7 and it took the sting out of the ticket price. I was all set to see my cousins the next day.

*Why something in Switzerland being expensive should come as a surprise to me, I couldn't tell you. Just the day before, I had had an extended conversation with a saleswoman at the pharmacy about the relative merits of having aluminum in deodorant. Ultimately, we agreed that it wasn't all that good for your health. Then she revealed that the aluminum-free deodorant was the equivalent of $20. If I suddenly drop dead, but still smell okay, you can assume it was the work of the aluminum in the $6 deodorant I bought instead.

I like trains. I particularly like trains in Switzerland because they have a highly reliable schedule, sure, but mostly because:

I mean, seriously? This is a fairly arbitrary photograph. You'll just have to trust me that things like this are just casually strewn about outside train windows all over Switzerland. I often tell people that Switzerland looks to me as though it were comprised entirely of illustrations from a children's book of fairy tales. It is truly breathtakingly beautiful.

Nevertheless, being a enthusiastic train passenger does not make me some kind of expert. Though the total journey was just an hour and a half, I had to take three different trains to get to Meiringen. Many train tickets have no assigned seats; you just do what you will. On the first train--the longest leg of the journey--I got in the very last car, as it was the least crowded. I did see a reserved sign over some seats, so, sensibly, I didn't sit in them. For about an hour, it was perfect. I sat in a nearly empty car next to a window watching the lake and vineyards and villages slip by (beautiful, beautiful, beautiful). Then, about twenty minutes from the station of my first transfer, the train stopped and my car flooded with about forty teenagers. Excited teenagers with significant luggage and loud American hip-hop. You know what's curious about Switzerland? One minute you are quite happily speaking French to all and sundry and the next, imperious teenage boys are speaking to you sternly and at length in German. It is not altogether pleasant. I came to understand that the reservation sign was not for the seats, but for the car. It is indicated on the sign that this car will be occupied by a school group from X station to Y station. Oh.

Still, I do not object to teenagers as a general concept, there were plenty of seats to spare, and, while I might have been in the way had I crashed their party for their entire journey, I was disembarking in just a few minutes, so I saw no reason to move. I endeavored to explain this to the girl sitting beside me and she seemed slightly alarmed that A) I was there and B) was speaking to her, but on the whole she seemed to think it was fine. I sat there smiling in my little corner while they all sang along with the English chorus of some song I'd never heard and felt quite inoffensive. Two boys did not agree. There was a great deal of glaring, which I ignored and some more angry German, which I also ignored. That was when they started wadding up bits of paper and throwing them at my head. Wha? Am I an adult? An adult who works at a high school? And are children actually throwing things at me? I ignored that too, but my heart rate increased; I'll admit it.

It took me a while to realize that the ringleader boy had seated himself behind me and was speaking English directed at me, while not being exactly addressed to me. He was speaking in a weird low voice with exaggerated slowness. I'll imitate it for you sometime. "Ma-dum" he said, pronouncing "madam" in the British manner, rather than the French. "Maaa-duumm. Come on. Pleeease move now, maadummm. Come on, maduumm. Come on. Pleeeeeassseee. Please go away now. Go to another seat now, maduummm." This went on and on and on. It is very strange to be harassed by an unknown teen who is calling you "madam." It was perhaps the most polite incivility I have ever experienced. Finally, I turned around and said, "Look. There are plenty of seats. I'm not in your way. And I'm getting off at Bern in ten minutes. Calm down. There's no problem." To which he said, "There is a problem. There is a big problem. It is reserved." So I punched him in his smug little show-off face. No, I didn't. But I wanted to. Most of all, I wanted one of the damn chaperones to come rescue me, but they didn't. I endured further paper balls and "maduming" until, praise God, we pulled into Bern.

And you know what happened then? ALL of us disembarked. I had assumed they were going to be in that train car for hours to come. My adversary said "bon voyage" as he passed. The little fu....Sorry. The chaperones were not far behind him and I told them how terribly charmant that boy was. I also apologized to them because I still didn't actually know the rules of reserved cars. Maybe I really was obliged to move. They waved away my apologies. The woman said, "I can only say I am very, very sorry." I told them I work at a high school and it was fine. They laughed. "There's always one," I said. She looked at me dolefully. "Oh. There's more than one." "In that case," I said, "I'm very sorry." "Thank you," she said. And then went off to have a truly terrible time for several days.

When I recounted this story to my cousin she told me that no one is obliged to move for these groups, if they have enough room. "It's not a requirement; it's more like a warning."

I finished the journey unmolested and arrived in the very small town of Meiringen, to find my cousin waiting for me on the platform with her groceries. It was moving in a way I can't quite articulate to see a member of my family in such a far-off place in such a dramatic landscape. We walked about a block to their flat where the Swiss Alps are framed in each window. This was the view from mine:

It looks like this everywhere. Everywhere. The building in the background to the left of the tree is the elegant Hotel du Suavage where Sherlock Holmes stayed before his fatal scuffle with Moriarty at Reichenbach Falls in 1891. Where is Reichenbach Falls, you ask? Why, it's that little white line in the mountains. Toward the right, about three quarters of the way up the picture.

There is a little Sherlock Holmes museum in that church. Kath tells me that people come on little Sherlock pilgrimages, clad in period costume. Sadly, there weren't any there that day.

What? Still no? How about now?

We had a drink at a restaurant and the Alps were nearby. Then we had dinner at home and the Alps were nearby. They were pretty much always right there. After dinner,we went to a graceful wooden church at the very foot of the mountain for a concert. Several very charming and enthusiastic musicians said many things in German and then played some Schubert very beautifully. When we walked home (about two blocks), it turned out the village fest was in full swing right outside the flat.

In addition to the alpine horns, the fest was comprised of some restaurants serving beer outside and some other musical groups. It was quite chilly out, so we didn't stick around, but I could hear plenty of accordion from the living room. Sadly, there wasn't any yodeling, which I was given to understand was quite a surprise, as pretty much every self-respecting Swiss fest has some yodeling. A concert and a fest all in one day was pretty major for Meiringen, so I'm glad I was able to make it that day. On my way back to Lausanne, I spent a few hours in Interlaken, which, for the record, is also not ugly. Additionally, I had some shockingly delicious ice cream at some snack bar near the train station. Bi-Rite Creamery? You've got nothing on Interlaken Snack Bar. I'm not kidding.

On the train back, I was in the last car. There was a reserved sign. I read it very carefully and got the hell out of there when we reached the appointed "reserved from X" station. A few stops later, from my new seat, I saw the group disembark. It was comprised entirely of girls and they were chaperoned by two nuns in full ankle-length habits.

I think I would have been safe.

Monday, August 06, 2012

I did try

Last night, I was unable to remember how to set my alarm clock, which I think is an indication that I have had a good summer. I figured it out, ultimately, which was fortunate since I was wide awake at 1:30am and there was no way I would have woken in time for work without assistance. Unsurprisingly, I had no trouble remembering how to operate the snooze alarm.

On my way to work, I stopped by the aforementioned concrete purveyor of treats to do some cake reconnaissance (you never know when you might need cake). I bought an expensive muffin and then, because I am nice (and also because I was quite late), I bought an almond financier for my boss. And guess what? My boss didn't come to work. Hrumph. So I ate my treat and then, several hours later, when right-thinking Americas would have had a balanced lunch, I ate his treat. Perhaps I will eat some vegetables later, but I doubt it.


When I flew to Switzerland, I was seated in the dreaded middle section of the plane, quite near the back (in a smelly toilet-adjacent region), but at least I was on an aisle. My two row companions were Swiss-Germans in matching uniforms sort of evocative of EMTs. Curious. I was busy working through my complicated emotions about the seating arrangements, so I didn't immediately notice that across the far aisle, where there should have been two people contentedly sitting by the window, there was instead a man in a hospital gown lying on a stretcher. There was a curtain rigged to theoretically shield him from view, but it was open so that the attendants sitting next to me could actually see the guy. I have never seen anyone in a plane on a stretcher and I have to tell you--it is incongruous. To accommodate hospital-style transit, they are obliged to fold down three sets of seats (folding them down forward, as you would with the driver's seat of a car, a thing I didn't know was possible.) and elevate the stretcher above them. So this guy was lying on his back approximately a foot below the ceiling for about 11 hours. Since the stretcher was on these spindly pole things, it wasn't all that smooth of a ride. I hope his pain meds were fantastic.

A nice man across the other aisle who kept wanting to chat with me told me that this was an element of Swiss health insurance. That is, if you are hospitalized in some foreign land, they will transport you home. He told me that his mother had once been brought home from Greece. Later, when I got to Jules' house and told him the story he said, "That's this thing with the Swiss insurance." I told him that some man had explained that to me. He said, "I'm not surprised. They are very proud of it. People are constantly telling me about it. Everyone has some relative who was brought home from somewhere." [The man across the aisle also told me I must watch The Intouchables, which was one of the movies available on our flight. (Altogether, round trip, I think I watched 8 movies. I have trouble sleeping on planes.) I watched it on my way home and he was right. It made me laugh in a shoulder-shaking type of way that I worried might wake up the guy in 30A. You should go see it too. Probably near people who are awake. I think it's in theatres now, so you don't even have to fly on Swiss Air to avail yourself of it.]

The Zurich airport is small but confusing. It involves an airtrain that is peculiarly poorly marked so that as you follow signs to your terminal you find yourself suddenly on the platform of a train you didn't know you were obliged to take. Once you do get on, it's a very short ride, but long enough to feature a medley of Swiss sounds played over the loudspeaker. There are some alpine horns, some yodeling, some cowbells, and, my favorite, some mooing. And then--voila--you are at your destination.

While waiting for my short [nevertheless, delayed] flight to Geneva, a pleasant, weirdly self-possessed teenage boy struck up a conversation with me. He was on his way home to Stuttgart after a semester of high school in Illinois, which seemed to work out well since his English was excellent. Then, later, just as I was about to slip into a terrible jetlag coma, a young Greek woman befriended me. She was also headed to Lausanne, so we took the train together and she offered me one of her ear buds, so we could listen to Greek pop music together.

I was in Lausanne to see my friend Jules whom I love very much and who lives, rather inconveniently, in...Switzerland. But he seems happy, so I guess he can stay. We ate a lot of pain au chocolat and watched many Noir films and talked and talked. Or I did, anyway. Jules is a good listener. We had a splendid time. He bought some new sheets just for me and I bought him some storage baskets. No end of excitement. I also discovered that getting copies of two keys costs about 70 bucks. From this you might suspect that A) keys in Switzerland are very complicated and B) Switzerland is very expensive. Both these things are true. It is also true that, in the end, one of the keys didn't work. Grrr. While I was there, Jules was making his way through a French book about Homeric era Greece (I was reading P.G. Wodehouse, because I am not as smart as Jules. Also because I really like P.G. Wodehouse.)

See? Here he is, reading it. He actually used his whole head to contemplate this book, even the part I inadvertently cut off.
And here he is pondering it. Homer was our daily companion. As was the balcony garden, which bloomed while I was in town to our great delight.

Oh, there's more; don't you worry. But not today. A bientot.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Home again, home again

At home, I use one of my dining room* chairs at my desk, purely because it is more aesthetically pleasing than some kind of appropriate desk chair. However, it also sucks for sitting and typing for any length of time. I wanted you to know I am suffering for my art/for your amusement, the two things being more or less intertwined. (The art [which is a term I employ in this context only while snorting with laughter] and your amusement, not suffering and your amusement. I like to think you're nicer than that.) Anyway, I just went to fetch a more comfortable chair from the kitchen and said to myself "A'ight. Let's do some blogging up in here." I find it very entertaining to talk to myself** (and select others) in the manner of a hip-hop star. I think this is partially because I am the least likely hip-hop star in the world and partially because I still can't quite believe that hip hop became a mainstream thing. Back in 1988 when Amy stayed with us for the summer and we came across my brother's copy of Word Up magazine, headlines such as "Flava Flav Dissed Melle Mel" did not seem to be comprised of real words. Did we laugh? Yes. Indeed, did we laugh all summer long and hide notes saying "Flava Flav Dissed Melle Mel" in the kitchen cabinets for each other to find? Um....yes. I guess you could say we dissed both Mr. Flav and Mr. Mel. But I think it's safe to say that they had the last laugh.

*I do not want to mislead you into thinking I have a dining room. I do not have a dining room, nor do I imagine being able to afford a place with a dining room any time in the foreseeable future. I do, however, have a table that would like to be in a dining room and that table has chairs. All of these reside in the living room, in close proximity to the [small] desk. You know who does have a dining room? Flava Flav. I know. Who's a joke now, sucka?

**I also talk to myself in a normal way all but constantly. If talking to oneself "in a normal way" is a thing that is possible. Beware of living alone for 15 years. Particularly if you are chatty.

Today was a typical San Francisco sort of day.
1. The sun never came out. I wore a wool coat.

2. I was going to take the J Church to an appointment that was about a block from the Van Ness station, but for some reason the J Church wasn't running today. In general, the J Church and I have a fairly antagonistic relationship. I took BART. BART does not go to the Van Ness station. I was late.

3. Despite the grey, grey, greyness, people were out summering. I had tea at Two Sisters Bar and Books which meets all my aesthetic needs (cozy, books, charming, atmosphere-appropriate soundtrack played at background volume. Nicely done.) and many other people went to the beer garden nearby, just as though it were sunny.

4. I walked home (ten million blocks. Take that, Olympians.) down Valencia and passed FOUR restaurants I have never seen before in my life. I was only gone a few weeks. Sheesh. Culinary San Francisco is a slippery character. One of the places is a fancy pizzaria with exciting tile and doors that I find pleasing. (They're newly painted with glossy black paint and they have enormous wooden doorknobs right in the middle. If I were a proper blogger, I would have an Instagram photo of them, obviously, but you know this is a pretty rinky dink operation. Here's a link. You can go there yourself and Instagram the HELL out of it.) I look forward to going there, stuffing myself with pizza, and pretending I'm still in Italy, which should be easy since it, much like Italy, will be full of Americans. Next to it is a concrete place (San Francisco, please stop making all your restaurants out of concrete. Thank you.) that apparently serves all sorts of treats. Nothing about concrete says "come get treats here" to me, but I'm not very cool. Their menu belies their industrial posturing.

5. I think my neighbors may be borrowing some additional child for the evening? A child that cries relentlessly in a manner not unlike a siren? By which I mean an ambulance siren or similar, not a sultry seductress of sailors. Sigh. Surely their own, slightly quieter, baby would suffice. For the record, in Switzerland, you can't hear the neighbors. Also, they have the Alps. Not that I require the Alps at all, but they are impressive.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Life List update. July 2012

Buongirono amici.
I'm back.

Which is not to say that I'm taking the "vacation is over" thing particularly well. I am clinging to the vestiges. To wit:

5:15pm. Prosecco with a splash of limoncello and the mint I bought at the market yesterday because it smelled intoxicating, though I have no practical use for mint. Vacation's over, you say? Ha, I say.

Before embarking on my journey, I made a note in my journal of the Life List items that might potentially be accomplished. They were:
#8. Go to Rome.
#9. Speak basic Italian.
#38. Have wine in Tuscany with an Italian.
#39. Own something from Carli.
#40. Own grown-up lingerie.
#50. Visit Kath and KC in Switzerland (and pray they don't make me scale anything).

Well, hold on to your hats, friends, because many of these things came to pass.

Go to Rome. Si! Sono andata a Roma. Veni, vidi, ho mangato gelato.

Speak basic Italian. Hmmm. Well, that one's kind of a moving target isn't it. Did I use the past tense twice just moments ago? Si. Am I therefore amazing? Si. Certo. Was I able to confidently ask for a table for one and express my preference for sparkling water? Si. Did I feel like I spoke basic Italian? Not really. Though, by some measures, I think maybe I do. Perhaps I want to actually speak Italian. I will give myself a "quasi" on this one. A mezzo-check, if you will. Italian? I totally like you. Oh, sorry. I mean, Italiano? Tu mi piaci molto.

Have some wine in Tuscany with an Italian. I'm going to say no. I did have wine in Tuscany near Italians. I was even given wine by an Italian, and I did purchase wine from Italians, but "let us sit together at this tavola and raise a bicchiere insieme" still lies in the future, I'm afraid.
Me having wine in close proximity to Italians.

Own something from Carli. Not only did this not happen, this will probably never happen. However, I give myself credit for going to Lucca expressly to find out. I have been thinking about Carli since I first encountered it seven years ago, but at that point I was too intimidated to set foot inside. This time, I went; I asked to see two rings from the (gorgeous, perfect) case; I tried them on; I was told they were each more than three thousand euro; I laughed loudly in an un-chic manner and soon thereafter, departed. But at least now I KNOW. A rich man who is besotted with me is required. I'll see what I can do.

Own grown-up lingerie. I've got this one covered, people. Admittedly, I had envisioned exquisite, gossamer things, possibly purchased at La Perla. Indeed, I did go in to La Perla and let's just say that you could buy three bras there, or a ring from Carli. Still. Lace has been achieved. Matching has been achieved. This marks significant progress. And it's all thanks to a pre-vacation sale at the Gap. You laugh, but I'm totally hot and I can still afford to pay my rent.
A sampling. Not that, strictly speaking, it's any of your bee's wax.

See Kath and KC in Switzerland (and pray they don't make me scale anything). Yes! And hooray. My cousin and her husband have been living in Switzerland for twenty years and I have never managed to see them there. They live in a tiny town with the most dramatic landscape imaginable. I was overjoyed to see them there, at last. I found it unexpectedly moving to visit a blood relation in such an improbable place.

So, in short, it's been good. Stick around. I've got stories to tell you. Soon.